Founder of StoryResumes Touts: Marketing Savvy + Story = Get Noticed Faster in Your Job Search

Storytelling continues to emerge as a mainstream technique in job-search communication, a technique we celebrate and explore during this year’s JobActionDay2014LogoJob Action Day.

To get noticed in your job hunt, you don’t have to create and mail out 400 action figures of yourself as Jens Lennartsson did, create imitation medicine boxes as pharmaceutical copywriter Jon Ryder did, or lose a fake passport at ad agencies like design student Miruna Macri did – although admittedly, those creative resume tactics are ingenious.

You do have to stop, reassess what you’ve achieved in your career and what you’d now most like to achieve, and then weave your value into a compelling story that is custom-made for your dream role/company.

Thus, you need to invest time in articulating your value, instead of rush typing your resume in your lunch break. It also means that you need to invest time in researching your dream role/company and then presenting yourself (usually via your cover letter and resume) in an impactful and memorable way that matches that specific role/company.

To create impact, more and more marketing-savvy candidates are turning to creative resumes that help grab a recruiter’s attention faster. Creative resumes can be problematic if they cannot be read by the Applicant Tracking Software that most employers use to harness the constant inundation of resumes. Creative resumes, however, can be worth considering to complement (not replace) your traditional resume.

storyresumeslogoOne new company that can help you with a creative resume is Story Resumes. The company creates customized, eye-catching resumes via infographics, illustrations, and animated videos (which cannot be read by employer software). Founder Andrea Martins reached out to me when her service launched earlier this year.

Andrea created Story Resumes after her frustrating experience as a job-seeker. When she was not being noticed in her job hunt, she used her initiative and turned her resume into a story, then commissioned illustrations to match. Soon after, Andrea was receiving phone calls from recruiters, interviews and job offers.

This success in itself demonstrates both the power of story, and what candidates can achieve if they are proactive in their job search. But perhaps what I love most about the service is that it practices exactly what I have advocated for so many years:

Marketing Savvy + Story = Get Noticed Faster in Your Job Search.

Whether you demonstrate marketing savvy via an infographic resume, an action figure or just a brilliantly articulated cover letter and resume, this formula is one of the best-hidden weapons in your job search arsenal. Use it.



Storytelling: Underused in Online Teaching

Using stories and storytelling in online teaching is an underused method of increasing student engagement and interest.  Here are just five of many Modern_Instructor__Success_Strategies_for_the_Online_Professor_-_Kindle_edition_by_Dani_Babb__Tara_Ross__Christopher_Kline__Deborah_Gilbert__Kathy_Hansen__Mark_Lawler__Josephine_Lipuma__Dawn_O_Day__Diane_Pawar__Tomeka_Prescott__Carissa_Pelltakeaways from recent writings about story in teaching:

Present and encourage narrative in case studies. Case studies are inherently stories. In his book, How to Do Your Case Study, author Gary Thomas emphasizes the narrative aspects of case studies, especially in the sciences. “Assume that whatever you want to study,” Thomas writes, “has, not causes, but a history, a story, a narrative, a ‘first this happened, then that happened, and then the other happened, and it ended up like this.’ With this view we understand the occurrence of events by learning the steps in the process by which they came to happen, rather than by learning the conditions that made their existence necessary.”

Introduce new material in story form. Presenting material in story form improves comprehension and memory. Again looking at the sciences, Arya and Maul tested the presentation of content in “typical expository fashion or in terms of a personal story of the scientist,” relates Daniel Willingham in The Washington Post. The advantage of story over expository was significant.

Engage student learning by evoking anticipation through stories. Ray Jimenez, a significant guru of story-based eLearning design, whom I cite in my chapter of Modern Instructor: Success Strategies for the Online Professor, espouses the idea that “Story-based eLearning design is effective because it creates an environment where learners are compelled to anticipate. The vagueness of ‘what’s next’ keeps the mind engrossed until the story finds a resolution. Very few people can resist the power of a good story.”

Let students construct endings to unconcluded stories. Consider learning activities in which students speculate on a story with no ending – or one with an enigmatic ending. Jimenez cites the famed blackout ending to the “Sopranos” TV series, in which any number of outcomes have been speculated. “After hooking the learners with a well-written and engaging story, the open-ended ending allow[ed] the viewers [to] decide how to end their story,” Jimenez notes. Instructors can apply that approach to online learning: “As the learners attempt to put an ending to an unconcluded story,” he says, “different insights contribute to the development of the lesson.” In his post about unconcluded stories, Jimenez offers guidelines on how to create a story-based elearning lesson with an impactful open ending.

Use short bursts of learning, counter-intuitive story principles, and social-media tools. That’s the advice of organizational consultant, trainer, and author Terrence Gargiulo, who offers an information-packed how-to on LinkedIn. Gargiulo refers to “conversationally driven web-based live online learning programs” containing what he calls the ‘Triple Threat of Storytelling:’ telling stories, listening to stories and triggering stories.” The capacity for learning to trigger stories in participants, he says is key.

The permutations of possibility for using story are nearly endless. You can learn more in Modern Instructor: Success Strategies for the Online Professor.

A Story of the Story-Gathering Informational-Interview Technique

I’m republishing this post in conjunction with publication today of my second in a series of short books on highly focused career and job-search topics. The book is Quick and Quintessential Guide: The Best-Kept Networking Secret; it’s just 99 cents till Jan. 18.

I am a huge believer in the not-well-known practice of informational 1-NetworkingMediuminterviewing. While informational interviewing has a setup similar to a job interview, getting a job is not its purpose, at least not directly. As David Rothacker explains in a blog post about his daughter’s experience with informational interviewing, a person driving the info-interview process might be “in search of knowledge specific to marketing in her town, its players of influence and career advice.”

Essentially, informational interviewing, invented by hallowed career guru/author Richard Bolles of What Color Is Your Parachute fame, is research into jobs, careers, and employers. But it’s also a subset of networking because the process enables the job-seeker to make new contacts and ask for referrals, as Rothacker’s daughter Victoria did:

When the conversation was over, Victoria asked, “Can you please refer me to someone who would be willing to have a similar conversation with me?” Mr. Jones recommended the CEO of a medium-sized companay and made an introductory call for Victoria the next day.

Rothacker describes the professional package of leave-behinds Victoria gave to her interviewees and the fact that she always wrote them thank-you notes. Significantly, she made a informational interviewing into a very deliberate and concerted program that was the centerpiece of her job-search efforts for a period:

This process continued for six months with Victoria meeting on average, one person per week. Due to the referrals, she stayed consistently at the CEO, owner and marketing director levels. As conducting informational interviews was a primary focus throughout this period, she scored several appointments with individuals outside of this direct line of referrals as well.

Here’s where good planning comes in. Job-seekers who are in a position to mount a slow, deliberate approach — such a college students approaching graduation or prospective career-changers already employed — can gain much ground through informational interviewing without the pressure of a frantic job search and actual job interviews. The process also provides invaluable practice in interview and interpersonal-communication skills that will boost the job-seeker down the line. Rothacker explains that Victoria got a job outside the circle of the informational interviews she conducted, but that the sessions had still been invaluable to her search:

Victoria’s adventure taught her how to talk with owners and executives. It taught her how to interview and how to be interviewed. It taught her how to talk about herself and it sharpened her listening and communication skills. It also provided a broad, invaluable glimpse into the real world of business – one that most young people do not have the advantage of before starting their career. Finally, and in Victoria’s case, it provided one very powerful caveat: many of the people who Victoria interviewed with, turned out to people in authority of companies whom she needed to conduct business with in her new position.

Rothacker titles the blog post “The Story Seeker,” and indeed, one of the most valuable aspects of informational interviewing is that it enables the job-seeker not only to collect the stories of her interviewees but to share her own. Through this story exchange, an emotional connection is established, and both interviewer and interviewee become memorable to each other. Victoria maintained contact with her informational-interviewees long after she got a job.

I became an evangelist for informational interviewing after my students experienced remarkable results with them. One semester I gathered metrics that showed 21 percent of my roughly 100 students had received job or internship offers through informational interviewing. Not a high number, but impressive when you consider that getting offers isn’t even the purpose of the process

Based on that experience, I wanted to write a book about informational interviewing. My publisher found the topic too narrow, so I ended up writing a book about networking (A Foot in the Door), with about a third of it dedicated to the story-gathering process that is informational interviewing. I cannot recommend informational interviewing highly enough. Those who’d like to try it can check out my tutorial, one of the links I most often share with job-seekers.

For his part, Rothacker has created a Facebook page, Standing out in a Sea of Sameness, which he describes this way:

Standing out in a Sea of Sameness is where students come to learn about storytelling, to learn how to solve problems, make new stuff and make stuff better and more pleasing by developing a mindset and following a process. It’s about how to stand out from their peers.


Business Parable Teaches Networking: Bonuses Come with Oct. 1 Release

This blog has frequently reflected my long-time fascination with business books told as fables, stories, or parables.

A new one to be published Oct. 1 is at the core of what A Storied Career is about: storytelling and job search and career. (Disclaimer: I haven’t read it.)gI_85579_21 Days to Success

Authors Sukenick and Williams present a range of real-world situations, insights, and challenges through the eyes of a fictional character with whom, they assert, “almost anyone can relate.” Gnik Rowten (that’s “networking” spelled backward) has made a fresh start in a new city where he has few if any friends, prospects, or business contacts.

The book traces Gnik’s life over a 3-week period, as each day he discovers and learns tools, techniques, and strategies for effective business networking. Through sharing his successes, failures, and “Aha!” moments, readers learn to extend, deepen, and effectively utilize their personal and business networks.

“It’s a common misconception that you need to be naturally outgoing and tech-savvy to master the art of networking,” Sukenick says. “What many people and organizations don’t recognize is that networking, like any other skill, can be learned through study and practice.”

The experiences depicted in 21 Days to Success Through Networking are realistic, the authors claim, and its lessons are easy to customize and apply. A companion website allows readers to “connect” with the book’s fictional protagonist Gnik Rowten, who can also be followed on Twitter.

Author Bonus Offer to Amazon Buyers for One Day Only—Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013

Sukenick announced that he will offer an array of online and offline tools at no cost to anyone who purchases 21 Days to Success Through Networking on Amazon on Oct. 1. Details here. Or email Sukenick. See a 9-minute interview with the authors.

SlideShare Holding “Startup Story” Contest

I’ve written a number of times in this space about SlideShare’s story-oriented slide-presentation contests, the winners of which, I opined, were not always successful in telling stories with slides.


The site’s September Upload Contest has an interesting premise: My Startup Story. “Every person, product, team and company started somewhere — tell us that story,” the site requests. Interesting that SlideShare includes “person” as the possible center of a startup story.

More from the site about the contest:

What were your beginnings and how did you get to where you are now? What were the challenges, turning points, aha moments and lessons learned? Upload your startup story by Sept. 30, 2013, and be sure to tag it MyStartupStory for the chance to win a free SlideShare PRO account and be reviewed by Silicon Valley gurus Guy Kawasaki, Dave McClure, Hunter Walk and Douglas Crets!

Even if you have no interest in entering, you can see startup-story slideshows here, where you can also learn more about the contest.

New Dimensions in Story-Based Job Search

I’m always on the lookout for ways to apply storytelling to job search and career. Here are a few I’ve encountered recently:

An article on the (Bill) Moyers & Company site by, I believe, Marshall two-ways-of-knowingGanz, is aimed at how organizers of social movements can tell their stories. But the article offers great advice to job-seekers, too. The author states, “A story of self tells why we have been called to serve. It expresses the values or experiences that call each person to take leadership on a given issue.” (The graphic shows how “the key to storytelling is understanding that values inspire action through emotion. We experience our values emotionally — they are what actually move us to act. Because stories allow us to express our values not as abstract principles, but as lived experience, they have the power to move others to action as well.”)

The same can be said about why we do our jobs and progress in our careers. The author goes on to talk about “choice points: moments in our lives when values are formed because of a need to choose in the face of great uncertainty.”

The author’s story structure focused on choice points is analogous the the many variations on story structures for job-seekers that go something like: Situation –> Action –> Result.

In this case, the formula is Challenge —> Choice —> Outcome.

For the most part the questions the author recommends around this structure are completely appropriate for constructing stories a job-seeker can use in an interview or even a resume or cover letter:

Challenge: What was the specific challenge you faced? Why did you feel it was a challenge? What was so challenging about it? Why was it your challenge?

Choice: What was the specific choice you made? Why did you make the choice you did? Where did you get the courage (or not)? Where did you get the hope (or not)? How did it feel?

Outcome: What happened as a result of your choice? What hope can it give us? How did the outcome feel? Why did it feel that way? What did it teach you? What do you want to teach us? How do you want us to feel?

I’ve long advised job-seekers that they don’t have to collect a massive number of stories to respond to interview questions because a single story can be manipulated in response to a multitude of questions. Ten stories is a good number to shoot for, but you can get by with seven, five, or even three (see my Three Success Stories exercise handout), as Rebecca Thorman affirmed in a recent article:

Instead of trying to prepare 50 answers for 50 different possible interview questions, go through your résumé and cover letter and pick three key work experiences that you’re proud of and that illustrate your relevant skills, experience and lessons learned. … By exploring a few stories from your past, you don’t have to worry about memorizing all the right answers to a myriad of potential questions.

case-studyA case study is essentially a story. Branding expert Dan Schawbel advises using case studies to advance one’s career – in other words, stories of your experience and accomplishments. But what if you don’t have much experience, or it’s in the wrong field?

“When you have no experience or are looking to make a career change,” Schawbel writes, “using yourself as a case study is one strategy that can bail you out and help you form a foundation to build on.” If you don’t have the experience or the right experience, he says, “do what you would be doing for a company for yourself first.”

Schawbel, for example, designed Web sites for his own interests while in college and then used case studies of those creations to obtain clients.

To advance your career, sometimes, you need to not only tell your story in the form of a case study but create the story to tell.

Quick Dispatches from the Story World

Even at my most consistent and prolific on this blog, I wasn’t great at one of the features that distinguishes blogs – presenting new information on the blog’s topic quickly, being among the first to disseminate news.

As I duck in to make one of my (very ) sporadic appearances, I present a few items that aren’t exactly brand-spanking new but are somewhat recent:

On Facebook, I came across a site I hadn’t heard of before, I wasn’t exactly enamored of the title as selling is not my favorite use of story, and I didn’t like the way a video instantly played when I visited the site. Worse, I couldn’t get into the site without entering my name and email. I beat a hasty retreat. But then I learned that Madelyn Blair*, whom I great admire and respect, was among the participants on the site in a free 21-day TeleSummit on the site. The presentations are in interview format.


I saw that other story folks I’ve encountered are also participating: Julie Ann Turner, Michelle James, and Susan Luke*. So I’ve signed up for the series. The interviews began Aug. 6 are are continuing for 21 days; Madelyn’s is scheduled for this Tuesday the 13th. If you sign up (here), you also get access for a limited time to the interviews that have already take place. Here’a a summary of the early ones:

Felicia Slattery interview – Tell Your Story with Your Signature Speech

Most important takeaways:

  1. Drop all the hype and simply communicate who you are and what you do to those you can best serve
  2. A fast and effective way to network with a whole room full of people at one time – and do it in a way that allows you to tell your story and be memorable.

Craig Harrison interview: Homegrown Humor – Prospecting Our Past to Find Hidden Story Treasures

Most important takeaways:

  1. Find past personal stories you can polish and share with others to teach, inspire and entertain with “homegrown” humor from your own life,
  2. Look with new eyes at disappointments, missteps and mishaps, and even tragedy (which, over time may turn into comedy).
  3. Explore the universal values, lessons and learning points embedded in your own personal stories.

Julie Ann Turner interview – SHIFT YOUR STORY ARC: Crafting the Trajectory of Your Life, Work & World

Most important takeaways:

  1. Shift Your Story Arc and Craft the Trajectory of Your Life, Work & World
  2. See that your life, work and world are shaped by story, by the stories you tell – and by the stories you believe.
  3. Recognize the story YOU are telling the world and learn to fully express your core meaning and message and to reach your highest potential

Julie Ann delivered what sounds like a similar presentation* during last year’s Reinvention Summit.

Gina Graves interview – How to Harness the Power of Story in Social Media

Most important takeaways:

  1. Use your story in every aspect of developing your on line business with Gina’s five core systems necessary to build a successful on line business.
  2. Discover how to grow RICH through Gina’s five core systems and the secret power of your story on the internet!

The five systems are:

1. Mindset System
2. Relationship Building system
3. Monetization System
4. Leveraging System
5. Traffic and lead-generating system

Lisa Rosetti*, who has participated in my Q&A series, will soon have a new ebook out with co-author Tony Wall. I’ll be previewing the book, entitled Story Skills for Managers: Nurturing Motivation with Teams, for probable testimonial purposes.


Another Q&A subject, Mike Wittenstein*, also has a new project, a revamped Web site, which he describes as having “a whole new look with multi-language editions, new video, and a user-friendly Speaker’s Kit.” Mike says he assembled the talent to design, develop and bring to life a website that reflects his work in customer experience and service design as a speaker and practicing consultant.

Users can sign up for exclusive content by subscription that is not available on the website. “You can opt out at any time, but we think you’re really going to like it,” Mike says.

A couple of blog posts gaining traction for story guru Thaler Pekar* (still another Q&A subject) have been Hearing the Stories within the Stories and What Will Replace the Hero’s Journey?, both on Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Thaler reports that the posts were inspired by “the smart students in my Story and Narrative Persuasion course at Syracuse University’s Executive Masters in Communications Management, and by our wise clients.” (I will keep these in mind this fall as I prepare to teach PR for nonprofits to doctoral students.)

StoriesofImpactShe also notes that the Atlantic Philanthropies has launched a Stories of Impact section on its website, featuring written and videotaped stories gathered and produced by Thaler Pekar & Partners.

“One of those stories,” Thaler writes, “this three-minute video about Witness to Innocence – went viral after being featured on Upworthy, generating over 31,000 views in just one day (it’s been viewed more than 56,000 times since launching), 1,325 shares, 2,670 likes, and 239 Facebook comments. A terrific example of the power of story to engage people and inspire action.”

John Capecci and Timothy Cage, authors of Living Proof: Telling Your LivingProofStory to Make a Difference, have a lively new blog. (I wrote about the authors’ participation in last year’s Reinvention Summit here.)

I just bought their book as a possible text for the nonprofit PR class I’ll be teaching. I decided it’s not quite right for the class, but it’s an excellent book for spokespersons and advocates.

*Sorry about the formatting on the old Q&As; they date back to my blog’s former platform. One of these days, I’ll spiff them up.

Anthology of Millennials’ Stories Documents Lost Generation’s Quest for Answers

ShareorDieNeal Gorenflo, co-founder Shareable Magazine, a nonprofit online magazine about sharing, and Malcolm Harris, senior editor of the New Inquiry, have just released Share or Die, an anthology with stories by recent graduates and twenty-something experimenters “who are finding (and sharing) their own answers to negotiating the new economic order.”

Because the nonprofit Shareable is dedicated to (as you might expect) sharing, Shareable offers the book for free online here under a Creative Commons license.

The creators have also given permission to publish credited excerpts; I chose the one below because it reminds me of the dilemma that faced many of my former students. I left on-ground teaching in 2007; many of my students graduated the next year, 2008, when the bottom fell out of the economy. While many hatched creative solutions – starting businesses, teaching English overseas – others struggled with protracted job searches, took low-level retail and server jobs, or decided to become single parents.

This excerpt describes the struggle that Millennials have faced these past few years but offers hope of a way out.

An excerpt: Unprepared: From Elite College to The Job Market

I’ve lived in Chicago, first as a student, then as a working resident, for six and a half years now. But I didn’t vote in the pivotal mayoral race held here recently.

I still list my parents’ address in Pennsylvania as my “permanent address” on anything requiring one.

I don’t have health insurance through my employer, a travel company in downtown Chicago, because I’m still on my Pennsylvania plan, even though I’ve worked here for nearly three years.

I don’t have a dentist here. Or an opthalmologist. I’ve never even been to the new primary care physician I selected through my insurance.

And I still hold a Pennsylvania driver’s license.

Why is this? The answer is fairly simple: I still don’t consider myself a full-fledged resident of Chicago. But the reason for that is a bit more complicated.

In high school, I was smart. Really smart. I knocked out A’s like I was baking cupcakes. Teachers loved that they could count on me. But I was small-town, public-school smart, the kind of girl genius who plows through her secondary education without too much resistance. Deep down, despite my excellent grades and my involvement in a bunch of extracurricular activities, I knew that I hadn’t been challenged enough to be as cocky as I was. When it came to college, I had two options: I could play it safe, stay close to home and go to school in Pittsburgh where I would benefit from the “big fish in a small pond” effect. Or I could take a leap and accept my offer of admission from the University of Chicago.

The prospect thrilled and terrified me. Everything the school promised sounded utopian: the academic rigor, the immersive intellectual energy, the dense core curriculum filled with great books that sparked constant meaningful discussion. But the school also prominently promised on all of their prospecting materials to challenge me. They said they would force me to defend myself and the positions I took, that they would force me to think deeply, to see all the angles. I knew I’d been handled with kid gloves so far, and that Chicago would be an insane leap outside of my comfort zone. Not to mention the shock of being so far away from home (what was this alleged “Midwest?”) in a place where I knew virtually no one.

But in the end, I decided: nothing ventured, nothing gained. I flopped like an enthusiastic mudfish out of the small pond and into the lake.

Now, like anything, school had its ups and downs. Not every class is inspiring, not every teacher is interesting, and, of course, not every assignment will take precedence over a new and interesting social life. But ultimately, it would be nearly impossible to count the ways in which I benefited from my education (much, in the end, thanks to that social life). I was, as I suspected I would be, somewhat behind from the start, and the learning curve was steep. Most of the time those first two years it felt like just about everyone I met was a genius. My friends were brilliant. My classmates were all well-read and eloquent. I was so green and, I thought, underprepared. I had an embarrassing moment during a movie night with my new dorm-mates when I revealed I didn’t know what NATO was. Despite what a guidance counselor might have thought from my high school transcript, I didn’t have the natural ability or aptitude for the University’s rigorous academic and intellectual life; I had to learn it. But surrounded by and in the constant presence of people as smart or smarter than me, exerting their influence in class, at dinner, hanging out in someone’s dorm room, everywhere I was in contact with other people, I learned quickly. It was like taking up a foreign language through immersion.

Eventually, I got more comfortable with the rhythms of things. I learned to ask questions, to read carefully, to be inquisitive, to poke around in all of the dark corners of a text or a thought and to follow the strands of thought wherever they may lead. I felt like I was aging in dog years, absorbing more, learning and maturing more quickly than I literally could have imagined possible for myself. But that kernel of insufficiency planted there in the beginning still never goes away. It changes shape, maybe, becomes something slightly different, but it instilled in me a driving force, my raison d’etre: to be better, and to learn more. Constantly and forever. My life’s quest became and has remained the struggle for self-improvement through knowledge. Because learning, truly learning, is like cracking open the door to a universe: once you’ve experienced it, everything else spreads on and on right before your eyes. The more you learn, the more you find to learn. You can never know enough. I had found what people go to college to find: direction.

Unfortunately for me and my fellow classmates, the culture of learning is not necessarily compatible with the culture of the market. I was an English major, and not one who was diligent seeking internships while in school. My expertise was literary analysis. What I considered to be probably my highest achievement was my exploration of Milorad Pavić’s postmodern hypertextual novel Dictionary of the Khazars, for which I found myself researching and downloading examples of the obscure genre of hypertext fiction (way bigger in the 90′s) and writing about the subjectivity of names and definitions, the existential crisis of reading a book without its own narrative velocity, and the futility of the self-guided attempt to achieve simultaneity of all the information in the text. Who wouldn’t want an employee who could do that?

Of course, the thing I hadn’t yet faced was that my literary skill would not directly translate to a job. The ideals I had internalized and learned to dedicate myself to made me the kind of University of Chicago student they let rave in the brochure, but they weren’t the same skills I would need to survive in the real world.

“The real world” as an expression is apt. For all of my feverish intellectualism, I was in a charmed environment. Perhaps it was a necessary part of my education, but college functioned as a  protection, a safe haven, a free pass of sorts, and it did not reflect the reality of life outside of it. For me and my classmates, the transition was destined to be particularly difficult. We had less warning than most other people; we had so much less time and energy to spend focusing on the future. The kind of education I got, priceless though it was, is tricky to spin into a proper post-college career even in the best of economic times if you don’t have a sense for where you’re going once you step outside. I did not have that sense. Most of my friends, largely students of the humanities and/or theater, didn’t either.

Inevitably, the clock ran out on us all. Graduation rolled around and dumped us on the other side, where we were within grace periods for our student loans but not for long. A life philosophy of inquiry and a fairly elite diploma didn’t protect us from the immediate exigencies of rent, jobs, and stress.

I knew I was at a disadvantage, not having the same career-boosting professional degrees some of my more technically minded peers had. Like my friends, I had a world-class education and ambitions to be great, but only the vaguest of ideas about what I even wanted to do.

Some people, though no one I was close with, were fortunate enough to have parents who were able and willing to foot the bills for a grace-period of post-college finding oneself. The rest of us had to do it on the fly, scrambling for work in what we knew was a quickly deteriorating economy, while trying to work out what sort of path we wanted for ourselves. The word “job” was precious enough; the word “career” seemed outlandish, absurd, almost unseemly. My ambitions had shrunk alongside my options; we went from expecting greatness to expecting respectable work to hoping for something that paid.

I was naïve about the real world much in the same way that I was naïve about academic life. I searched for jobs primarily on Craigslist. I didn’t know what to do with my resume. I only had enough money from my graduation gifts to last a couple of months unemployed in Chicago; after that, it would be back to suburban Pennsylvania. Looking at job postings, I realized I had no idea what I was even looking for. Jobs were scarce, let alone appealing gigs. Furthermore, I was totally unqualified, based on the advertised requirements, for anything but clerical administrative work. All that I had learned, all that I had overcome and accomplished, and here I was scanning dozens upon dozens of ads looking for the rare few with the words “administrative assistant” in them.

Not knowing what else to do, not having any clue or any direction, feeling the hot breath of unemployment breathing down my neck, I applied to all of them.

I managed to get lucky – and despite my degree, it does feel like luck. I had a job by July, one of the applications for which I had, by this point tired and getting lazy, attached my resume to an email and just dashed off a paragraph in the body about how great and bright I was. This is the same job I still have now, almost three years later—a gig at a small travel company typing and printing travel documents for unbelievably wealthy, entitled globetrotters who won’t read any of them. This was about as far from the highbrow literature of my undergraduate years as construction work. I was terrified to start an actual 9 to 5 job; it seemed like a myth, something surreal, something that couldn’t touch my life.

After starting, the disbelief soon gave way to misery. The day-to-day experience left me feeling utterly crushed. I wasn’t creating anything, I wasn’t even really doing anything of any consequence at all. I got on the bus every morning, exhausted, with all the other people who worked in offices downtown. I walked into the office every day, sat at the same desk, in the same chair, did the same things. I adopted the same bubbly, pleasant attitude as my coworkers, with whom I felt no connection at all. It made no sense to see them as real people I might connect with, since after all, I felt like this was not where I belonged: an office in an industry that had nothing to do with my life, in a job in which I had no real interest. I had nothing invested in my job or my employer, I did what I had to do: hammer out the work, play nice. But I felt all day long that I was inhabiting a strange bubble, separate from where I really lived my life, removed from anything that affected me or that I cared about.

But the bubble expanded to fill such a large part of my days that I started to despair. During office lunches, when I sat at the conference table eating pizza while my coworkers talked about the best time during the week to pick up ornamental plants at Home Depot, I sometimes felt so detached that I saw myself hovering above the table, watching the me sitting below. I was an alien who had just woken up in a strange place with a broken compass. Several nights in the first few months I came home, took off my coat, sat on the couch, and starting sobbing inexplicably and inconsolably. I had crying jags in the bathroom at work. I was falling into a dark hopelessness. I hadn’t read a book or written anything new since before graduation. I finally started to appreciate why TV is so popular: when you’re working a day job who has the energy or will to do anything more at the end of the day than collapse on the couch with a bag of chips and an NCIS rerun? I gained fifteen pounds in six months.

And still, I did not leave my job.

It sounds like stupid or self-destructive behavior. I was suffering. I was miserable. For my own good, I should have left long before now.

But I stayed because I was too terrified to leave. The economical situation was bleak and not improving. All I had to do was look around at my friends, the best and the brightest, to see it. One woke every day at four in the morning for the morning shift at Starbucks, trying to get enough hours every week to make the minimum for health insurance. One interned in local government, but afterward was forced to take up his old job at the zoo. One had to move back with his parents in Iowa. Several waited tables. Two toiled miserably in low-level jobs at law firms. Out of everyone I knew, there was only one real success story—only one person who secured a job in the appropriate field that set her on the career path she wanted. More school was an option for the shell-shocked or potentially so; my boyfriend took refuge in another year. One friend defected to grad school in Austin, Texas. Everyone seemed to be in the midst of the application phase at any given time, working on getting into grad school for something or other, anywhere but here, anywhere but the real world, where there was no work, and even less fulfilling work.

My job was almost insultingly low-paying, and I was living paycheck to paycheck, as we all were, cutting it too close to quit with no other offers. When I got home, I trolled the web for hope of better opportunities, but jobs were so few that I found just about nothing, and certainly nothing that I would want to do more than what I was already doing. I was interested in the arts, but with the economy tanking and arts funding even more constricted than in normal lean times, a paying job was a far-off dream, and I couldn’t afford to do an unpaid, or even low-paid, internship.

It was jarring. Not just for me, for all of us. It seemed to make so little sense. The banal necessities of the actual struggle for survival in the world were at odds with our sense of the world as some kind of meritocracy brimming with possibilities for genuine intellectual growth, a place whose purpose is to provide those opportunities. Having been bestowed with the unquenchable need for knowledge that we all had worked hard to develop, we had also acquired a unique capability for dissatisfaction—something most of our parents had never had the luxury to experience, especially so acutely and so early in life. This dissatisfaction is a luxury, but also a curse. My peers and I, perhaps sometimes even despite ourselves, believe in the higher purposes we learned in class, the value—sacredness, even—of knowledge, inquiry, curiosity, justice, the pursuit of truth. If we can be said to have a collective moral compass, that’s what’s in it. My friends and I trust in the values our liberal arts education set out and succeeded to instill in us. But sitting in an office typing away meaninglessly? How were we supposed to understand that as part of the world we had imagined, or had been taught to imagine?

This disconnect made me think I might be going insane. Like my head had been metaphorically severed from my body. The realization that I had little beyond my job to fill my days and justify my existence terrified me. Was this who I was now? A stranger to myself, typing away inconsequentially in an office somewhere in the West Loop, with no bright shining future?

I felt stranded, lost, paralyzed. And I resisted dropping anchor in a place so toxic. My attitude toward my work was distanced; it was impossible to develop any feelings of loyalty or any desire to chase upward mobility or permanence when I couldn’t stand the thought of actually caring about such a dull job. I remained unsettled, like a nomad pitching a tent on fallow ground, refusing to get too comfortable. It was bad enough that I was totally rudderless, that I had no clear professional aims or goals to speak of, but add to that what had become our culture’s collective recession-fueled terror—I couldn’t even say how many times I heard the warning, “At least you have a job”—and you have a bona fide total inability to climb out of my rut. Unable to keep the nine-to-five levees in tact, my work situation had metastasized into a very miserable work/life situation. The expansive, freeing sense that I had once felt, seemingly lifetimes ago, that my life’s possibilities were endless had shrunk down to the size of a pinhead. The area of possible movement seemed to be so very small, not just for me, but for all of us. We still wanted great things, but they seemed so impossibly distant, so indulgent, when the basic fact of work wasn’t even a given.

Everything we wanted, everything we really valued, was offset by the reality of “normal,” traditional work. We had no idea how to navigate this world, but our education didn’t fail us—it instilled in us a dissatisfaction for this kind of life.

I didn’t have the confidence to go searching for personal success. I had the momentum, the take-the-bull-by-the-horns wind, sucked right out of my sails. For almost three years the kernel of dissatisfaction has grown inside me while I allowed the things I truly valued to be subsumed by the empty immediacy of survival. I doubt we will see the full effects on this generation for decades to come, when we’ll start to understand just how far-reaching the tentativeness that has developed within us these last few years really is.

But now I’m preparing to take another leap, just like I did when I went away to college. I’m going to try to marry the ideals I am so loyal to with the very same life necessities that generated my stagnancy and depression. I want to integrate the spirit of inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge into the way I make my living and create my own version of the real world—a lesson I never learned in school, and for which I have absolutely no blueprint. Again, I enter a new situation underprepared, but optimistic that my capacity for dissatisfaction will actually me well this time as a trustworthy guide.

I’m planning to leave Chicago this summer to start over. I’ll move somewhere where I can finally put my feet on the ground: grow roots, get a new driver’s license, get a new permanent address. I want to make friends and build a community with interests deeper than the potted plants at Home Depot. The goal is to stop feeling like such a listless wanderer in the story of my own life. Maybe I’ll even find a new dentist.

This essay appears in the new Shareable ebook collection Share or Die, which is now available in downloadable and free online forms. For the next article (cartoon!) in Share or Die, Emi Gennis’s “Quitter”, click here.

Integrating Story into Online Learning

Cross-posted in my blog about online teaching..

A major reason that I’ve been delinquent in getting A Storied Career back on track is that I have been trying to build a new career in online teaching. Here’s a post that combines my passion for applied storytelling with my emerging career.

As I embark on a career in online teaching, I know I will integrate my passion of the last eight years, applied storytelling, into my courses. In fact, I already have. In the enhancements I added to my Principles of Management course for StraighterLine, I integrated storied videos, both those I created myself and others I found from other sources.

I’m not just using storytelling because I love it, of course, but because stories promote learning. As Roger Courville points out, “the primary research all agrees that story help us more readily comprehend and retain information.”

In this post, I’m listing some concepts and resources I’ve come across in my early efforts to incorporate story with eLearning. The list is by no means all-ecompassing but represents a microcosm of a vast sea of available material.

Vignettes Learning: A generous and remarkable resource. I’ve VignettesOfferingsblogged before about Vignettes and its founder Dr. Ray Jimenez (this post has funky formatting because most of my older posts have not yet been carried over to my blog’s newer WordPress theme). As the graphic at right shows, Vignettes offers a huge variety of resources for those interested in story- and scenario-based learning. Dr. Jimenez and his colleagues offers many free webinars (including one tomorrow – April 26, “Truths and Lies: Keeping Authenticity in eLearning Stories“) with free handouts whether you attend the webinar or not, as well as publications, such as Story Impacts, which offers eLearning interactive mini-stories and source files. Still another amazing offering is 10 Models of Interactive Stories.


Interactivity: Dr. Jimenez also offers a blog, in which one of his recent posts stresses the importance for learning of stories that are interactive. “My interest in Story-Based eLearning Design,” he writes, “led me to conclude that interactive stories are valuable agents in transferring knowledge into applications.” He cites the article, Storytelling as a Link between Formal Knowledge and Actual Performance in a Critical Transformative Design Environment, by Paul Oord and Cecile Crutzen, in which the authors note: “Telling about their own experiences, reading and reflecting on experiences of other students in a learning environment could broaden their view on the use of technology in future design processes and in other interaction communities.”

In ‘Story Editing’ as a Technique for Improving eLearning notes that his decades of experience as an eLearning developer have enabled him “to observe how people react to interactive teaching methods. By simulating real-life scenarios in our learning modules, learners experience the learning process with impact. The learning strategy of Story-Based eLearning Design places our participants in a simulated environment that mirrors real-life situations.” He point to Vignettes’ interactive eLearning videos (which I’ve used in my course designs) that “simulate actual life scenarios, the participants experience the urgency of the situation and discover their responses.” (Dr. Jimenez cites “story-editing” as a term set forth by author Timothy D. Wilson that refers to giving people “information that suggests a new way of interpreting their situation.”)

Self-disclosure stories. Taking the idea of sharing student experiences a step further, David Lee cites Peter Bregman, who “by sharing his inner world, including his fears, insecurities, and human imperfections, … makes it safe for people to do the same.” To paraphrase Lee in the context of teaching and learning, Bregman, by sharing his internal world along with his missteps, he invites the learner to vicariously do the same. So, here we’re seeing the idea of the instructor modeling the sharing of experience stories to encourage students to do the same. Lee’s post lists six examples of self-discolosure stories that, in this case an instructor, can use. An especially effective kind for teachers is the “I blew it” story, which “enables [him or her] to be a powerful teacher while at the same time, not coming across as a Know-It-All ‘I’m the guru and you’re not’ way that some authorities adopt.”

Collecting, Curating, and Telling Stories. In a webinar I attended not long ago, Roger Courville discussed the power of story in the virtual classroom, and included guidance on finding stories and integrating them into an online-learning experience. In 10 tips for storytelling in the virtual classroom – part one and part two, Courville talks about using stories to illustrate points, how to curate stories in light of aspects unique to the virtual classroom, and how to practice stories for effective delivery. Part two also contains a nice list of resources about storytelling.

Tools for storytelling. As I mentioned, I found myself delving into creating video stories – both talking-head versions and stories evolving from slideshows – for my new Principles of Management course for StraighterLine. An absolute flood of tools for creating multimedia stories grows every day, and my work barely even scratched the surface. An article that also just scratches the surface (focusing on iPad apps) is Digital Storytelling and Stories with the iPad, which not only suggests apps, but also takes the instructor through the steps for creating stories this way.

Storyboarding is another aspect of creating storied multimedia learning experiences, and educator Chiara Ojeda of Tweak My Slides offers a wonderfully illustrative tutorial on four ways of organizing slides for storied presentations.

I’m excited to know that as I seek to add storied approaches to my online teaching, I can rely on a ton of excellent resources. Check them out!     


How Would You Fix This Story?

Lead with Story author Paul Smith has a nifty recent post in which he presents a story a client submitted to him for improvement suggestions.


Paul offers his suggestions, but he also invited some of the luminaries of the applied-story world to give theirs.

David HutchensAndrew Nemiccolo, and Annette Simmons have responded.

How would you fix the story?

Paul is considering making this type of exercise a regular feature. I hope he does; it’s a brilliant idea.