Jane Freese Q&A
I believe I encountered Jane Freese during my usual wanderings and research for blog content and was thrilled to find yet another kindred spirit working with storytelling and career/job search. I am most excited to have her join the Q&A series.
Bio: Jane Freese guides job-seekers in storytelling techniques through her “Storytelling for Job Seekers” workshop in Las Vegas. A former journalist and retail manager, Freese formed the workshop after completing her master’s degree in library and information science. Eager to put her knowledge of business storytelling techniques to work, Freese created a way for people to help one another compete in a tight job market. In addition to facilitating the workshop, she operates her own writing and research business. Her blog about job hunting, personal branding, and storytelling can be found at www.TellingAboutYourself.com.
Q&A with Jane Freese:
Q: In this essay, you write about “emblematic moments in telling a story. Can you talk more about what you mean by emblematic moments?
A: An emblematic moment is a holographic event. It can be a pivotal moment in a person’s life or an event that epitomizes a greater context. A pivotal event can be a moment of realization, even when the recognition arises long after the actual experience.
For example, in the 2008 documentary, “Harlan Ellison: Dreams with Sharp Teeth,” Ellison relates a memory of standing over a bathroom sink after being beaten up by a gang of bullies. His mother is dabbing his wounds with a wet washcloth when she says to him, “Well, you must have said something.” Ellison is stunned by her remark, but he knows in that moment that he has no allies in the world except himself. This realization is sad yet liberating. It empowers him to become fiercely independent, a fiery individual, and one of our most celebrated science fiction authors.
A simple question such as, “When did you first come to the realization that you wanted to be a teacher?” can reveal an emblematic moment and lends itself to personal storytelling in a job interview.
Q: How did you initially become involved with story/storytelling/narrative? What attracted you to this field? What do you love about it?
A: I became involved in story through a storytelling course for information professionals taught by Elizabeth Figa at the University of North Texas School of Library and Information Science. Her course has won several awards, so I enrolled thinking it would be fun. It was more challenging than I expected.
Most of the other students were interested in how to use storytelling in their work as school librarians or in youth library services. I was interested in applying it to finding a job after graduation. Libraries are being hard hit financially, so I needed to expand my job search to information careers outside of libraries. I expected that I would need to market myself, and storytelling presented a method to do it. I didn’t expect to find as much information about storytelling in business as I did. Delighted to find your book, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling to Get Jobs and Propel Your Career, and other books about personal branding that stress the importance of storytelling in the job hunting and interview process, I wanted to share what I learned. Consequently, I formed the Storytelling for Job Seekers Workshop.
What interests me most is how storytelling impacts our inner lives. Once I became attuned to stories, I realized how the stories we tell to ourselves about ourselves guide our course through life. Our stories tell us what we value and believe. What I think we don’t realize is that how we view and interpret the events in our lives is a choice. It is our story, unique to us, and how we chose to tell it to ourselves and others is under our control. For job-seekers, storytelling is a powerful tool to highlight skills, experience, character, and values. Armed with self-knowledge, we can target employment we are best suited for and communicate authentically what we have to offer.
The rule of thumb for resumes is that any experience prior to 10 years ago is irrelevant. For older job-seekers, this discounts their best assets: knowledge and maturity. Storytelling offers them an opportunity to present their valuable past experience.
Image credit: California Teachers Exchange
Q: Your discovery of applied storytelling for business and job search sounds a lot like mine in that it came about during an academic program. Can you tell that story and the story of how you developed that knowledge into a workshop?
A: I took a course in storytelling for information professionals through University of North Texas. It was my last semester. I didn’t expect that storytelling could be applied to job seeking. I found, to my surprise, a tremendous amount of information about storytelling in business.
Interviewers want to know who you are. Storytelling is a wonderful tool for making job applicants memorable. Facts can be presented on the resume and application, but the cover letter and interview is a job-seeker’s opportunity to create a more rounded representation of his or her values, experience, and character.
Books by Katharine Hansen, Stephen Denning, Robin Fisher Roffer, and Annette Simmons were helpful in developing the objectives for my workshop. By using examples from the life stories of people such as Nelson Mandela, Harlan Ellison, and Ida B. Wells, to name a few, I advance five storytelling objectives: Identify emblematic moments for use in telling a story.
- The value of using details in storytelling.
- The value of being authentic.
- Acknowledging lessons learned.
- How stories can implicitly reveal a person’s character.
Q: You recently held your first Telling About Yourself workshop. How did it go, and to what extent will you tweak it for the next time?
A: “Storytelling for Job Seekers” was a confusing title for many since it is an unfamiliar concept. I’ve tweaked the title to simply, “Job Finders Workshop.” The storytelling aspects have surfaced naturally. I’ve discovered that when people talk about themselves they are unaware of the story elements embedded in their narrative. It is useful to repeat back to them, in story form, what they said. I listen to them so they can listen to themselves. Once I explain storytelling and its uses, workshop participants are eager to learn more. They appreciate how storytelling can be used to create a full picture of who they are to potential employers.
In a flooded job market, there are hundreds of applications for one job. Job-seekers need a way to stand out. Personal branding is a way of distilling a person’s story into a few key elements — a mission statement and a tag line. It is the foundation on which to build a strong, memorable, personal brand.
[Image credit: Self portrait as a puzzle by Tony Karp]
Q: If you could identify a person or organization who desperately needs to tell a better story, who or what would it be?
A: Political liberals need better stories to market their ideas. Conservatives can frame their arguments within a context of what is already known and accepted. Progressives have a greater challenge in that change targets the unknown and the unknown is frightening. Cognitive linguist George Lakoff founded the liberal think tank, the Rockridge Institute, as a way to study and advance liberal ideas through framing — use of stories and metaphors. Sadly, the institute closed in 2008, but in his book, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, he discusses how political arguments have an implicit and explicit narrative structure. Presenting a persuasive argument means telling a convincing story replete with heroes and villains.
President Obama won the election largely on the appeal of his personal story and what it said about us as a society. What the president needs now is a winning progressive story that inspires us to change direction. Compromise is rational and doesn’t stir emotions. In his jobs speech on September 8, 2011, President Obama referred to the political position, held my many conservatives, that rugged individualism requires we tell everyone they’re on their own. “[T]hat’s not who we are,” he said. “That is not the story of America.” We are beginning to understand that a great country needs a great story, one that reflects our highest aspirations.