Career Gurus Share Job-Search Storytelling Tips

Compiled by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

Ways job-seekers can use storytelling in their career/job-search…

TipsBe proactive in determining what your story will be. It’s very difficult to market yourself for opportunities before you really understand what you have to offer as it relates to the hiring managers’ needs. One tip: review job descriptions that interest you. Identify the problems the organizations are trying to solve and hone in on how YOU solve those problems. That is a great story to tell.

Once you determine what story interests your audience, use language and imagery best suited to reach them. Just as you wouldn’t order in French at a Chinese restaurant, don’t fill your resume and job-search materials with unfamiliar jargon or terms not explicitly related to your audience. When you know – and tell – your story clearly and succinctly, in a manner most accessible to them, you’ll be a head above the competition. – Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers

To tell your career story, use visual storytelling tools: presentations, infographics, portfolios, and social resumes. – Hannah Morgan, Career

Start with your “inside story” – the silent one inside your head! Emphasize gratitude over grumbling, opportunities over problems, and strengths over shortcomings. What we focus on grows! – Susan Britton Whitcomb,

Perhaps the most important storytelling issue for job-seekers and careerists alike is understanding, developing, enhancing, and communicating a consistent narrative that describes them as a worker/job-seeker/employee. Once you have your narrative – the theme of your career – you can use that narrative to help create your career brand and the stories that showcase that theme. –  Randall Hansen, Ph.D.,

Narratives should always be used during an interview. Job-seekers often hear that a great interview “should feel just like a good conversation.” That’s simply not true. A good interview should be a consistent but non-annoying sales pitch. Every question’s response should contain not just the answer but also the context – the narrative.

For example, very few people will answer the “what are your weaknesses?” question honestly. I’ve never heard a candidate say: “Well, actually, I have an explosive temper and clip my toenails in the office.” Most candidates will do that old turn-a-positive-into-a-negative strategy that they were teaching job-seekers in the 80s but that often backfires. I have heard candidates say things like “well, I am a perfectionist” or “I am a workaholic.” In the era prior to work-life balance, these responses might have been seen as a positive, but now they’re just not.

The best answer to a question like this one is a narrative. I usually give this formula when I’m coaching someone:

I used to have trouble with __________. I received feedback from my boss/my peers/my mentor that ____________ was affecting
my work. I listened to that feedback and worked hard on strategies to address it. I know that I’ve been successful in doing so because ____________.

Give me that narrative for an answer, and I know that you seek and respond to feedback, work well for bosses, or well with peers, or have a mentor. I also know that you can incorporate feedback and that you are motivated to self-assess progress. A narrative answer here is the A+ answer. – Maureen Crawford Hentz, recruiter and talent management guru

When it comes to attracting and relating on a resume or in a face-to-face meeting on a job interview or networking event, use the power of your story as a connector and point of relatability. Pretty much works every time. – Deborah Shane,

Good stories work whether you are hunting for a job, trying to get a promotion, or even running your own business. – David Couper, David Couper Consulting

Stories establish an emotional connection between storyteller and listener and inspire the listener’s investment in the storyteller’s success. When stories convey moving content and are told with feeling, the listener feels an emotional bond with the storyteller. Often the listener – for example, a hiring manager interviewing you for a job vacancy – can empathize or relate the story to an aspect of his or her own life. That bond instantly enables the listener to invest emotionally in your success.

The Information Age and the era of knowledge workers may seem cutting edge, but in his popular book, A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink asserts that society has moved beyond that mindset and into the Conceptual Age in which we are “creators and empathizers,” “pattern recognizers,” and “meaning makers.” Story is an important tool in this age because it enables us to “encapsulate, contextualize, and emotionalize.” Pink refers to story as “context enriched by emotion” and tells us that “story is high touch because stories almost always pack an emotional punch.” Gerry Lantz of Stories That Work, a firm that uses stories in branding, compares stories to information, noting that stories are accessible, involving, evocative, meaningful, and a product of the creative right brain, while information is processed through the rational left brain through analysis, interpretation, evaluation, and planning. Both information and stories are necessary.

Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.,

For more information, see also these sections of Quintessential Careers: Job Action Day 2014

This article is part of Job Action Day 2014.