Blurring the Lines and Building the Backstory

In Back to the Future: How to Find a New Vision in Your Back Story, Dr. Juliet Bruce notes: “In this constantly shifting marketplace, there’s no longer a strong segmentation [among] job seekers, consultants, and solopreneurs.”

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Therefore, when many of us strive to tell our stories with the goal of getting work, the definition of “getting work” can take on multiple permutations.

Bruce’s point, though, is that developing your backstory will benefit any of these efforts, whether you’re looking for a job, a consulting gig, or clients. She presents the background of a real-estate consultant, whose story “illustrates how taking a good hard look at your back story can lead to an inspired vision for your future.”

Bruce offers a terrific set of questions aimed at developing one’s backstory:

  1. What have you done that’s meaningful in your work history? What have you enjoyed most? Least?
  2. In what kinds of environments, with what kinds of bosses, co-workers, employees, customers, do you do your best work? Where and whom do you hope never to run into again?
  3. What challenges have you met along the way? How did you deal with these obstacles?
  4. Of what are you proudest? When have you been a hero to yourself or others?
  5. What areas of weakness in yourself have you had to address? What mistakes did you make? (Did you know that people more easily trust someone when they’re honest about mistakes or failures? One of the hardest lessons to learn in our culture is that “vulnerability is strength.”
  6. What have you learned from your journey?
  7. What do you now bring to the market place that will benefit others?

Bruce then provides five questions relating to one’s “business vision.” These questions are clearly aimed at solopreneurs but can easily be adapted for job-seekers. They can help job-seekers envision their ideal job, the strengths they bring to that job, and any gaps in the way of obtaining the job. As an example of adapting the questions for job-seekers, “How does your offering make life better for those who purchase it?” could become “How will your qualifications make work life easier for your new employer?”

Finally, Bruce presents “customer vision” questions, which again are geared to solopreneurs but can be adapted for job-seekers. In most cases, the job-seeker’s customer is primarily the prospective employer, and secondarily, the employer’s customers, especially if the job you seek includes customer interface. Here, a sample switch of solopreneur wording vs. job-seeker wording: “What’s your call to action or main point you want them to remember about your offering? Ultimately, what’s the emotional quality or personality of your brand?” becomes “What’s your call to action or main point you want them to remember about your qualifications? [What's your unique selling proposition?] Ultimately, what’s the emotional quality or personality of yourself?”

A couple of folks I’ve come across recently have communicated their backstories in interesting ways:

Tara Hunt, founder and CEO of Buyosphere has a rich “About” page that creates an emotional connection with readers through an incongruous backstory and lots of fun facts.

Marco Kaye’s tongue-in-cheek THE WORLD’S FIRST AND ONLY COMPLETELY HONEST RÉSUMÉ OF A GRAPHIC DESIGNER has gained significant buzz. Here, perhaps is the long elusive storytelling resume I’ve quested after. Who knows if the story fragments it contains are true; they are certainly amusing. Still, the backstory Kaye portrays is probably not one that most job-seekers would want to communicate. Here’s a sampling:
> Here at this mismanaged company, I am the Creative Director for clients including McClure Financial, Take 2 Television, and Señor Pepe’s Frozen Foods, a Foodjoy Brand. For five hair-thinning years I have attempted to infuse iconic graphic artistry in everything from printed brochures to online banner ads. I lead a crew of energetic but woefully trendy young designers who have never learned to set type by hand and never will. My account team is combative and seems to delight in miscommunicating with clients.