Getting your message across effectively is key to reaching your career change goals.
So what does that mean in practical terms?
Follow the five steps below to create your own powerful career stories.
Use Story to Show your Skills and Career Accomplishments
As we discussed last time, your can strengthen your career communication by applying story structure.
For career changers, it’s essential to share your career accomplishments in ways that make sense both in conversations and in writing. This requires more than providing information. You need to showcase your skills in credible and engaging ways.
Many professionals are not accustomed to talking in this way about their career achievements. A story makes this easier because you can “show” rather than just “tell.” As you’ll see below, by following a step-by-step process, you can create your own career stories.
Choose a Simple Story Structure To Organize your Career Communication
Let’s begin with the most basic 3-part story structure – beginning, middle and end. One of the ways this has been adapted specifically for careers is the 3-part structure of challenge, action, results (often described by the acronym CAR). This type of framework makes it easier to organize your information. Yet it’s flexible enough to adapt to your personal situation.
The CAR model is often recommended as a support for interview preparation. But you can use it in a variety of career communication contexts, from in-person networking conversations to formal written career documents, such as your resume or CV.
As you might imagine, there are other frameworks available. The five steps below combine the best of several models. The important thing is to choose a structure that makes sense for you. Make it yours by adding content from your own experience.
1. Set the Scene for your Career Story
Your first goal is to engage your readers or listeners. To get their attention, you need tell them what you will be talking about. You might think of this step as introducing them to the landscape or lay-of-the-land.
Your audience needs just the right amount of background information to help them make sense of what you are saying. They need enough information to begin to relate what they hear from you to something they already know. But not so much detail that they “switch off” and you lose their attention.
2. Beginning your Specific Career Story
Next, you share information that helps the reader or listener connect to your specific career story. How you do this will depend on your style and personal situation. Typically this is a description of a challenge, problem, or dilemma that you experienced.
Tell your audience what they need to know to understand your challenge. Choose the most important details. At this point, your audience doesn’t yet know the outcome. This element of uncertainty or suspense enables emotional connection to your story.
3. The Career Story – Middle
Once you have briefly described the problem, your next task is to tell your listeners or readers how your responded to the challenge or problem you encountered. This is the action part of the story. Challenges are often complex. You may have had to make difficult decisions. The middle may be messy and it’s important to choose the right amount of detail.
Describe how you handled the situation. This might include how you assessed and analyzed the problem, your decision-making processes, any actions you took, and how you addressed any issues that emerged.
Work-related problems are often solved by teams rather than individuals. This doesn’t mean that you can’t share this type of career story. When preparing, get clear about your personal role and what you were responsible for so that you demonstrate your skills in this type of context.
4. The Career Story – End Results
Now that you’ve described what you did to overcome the challenge or solve the problem, it’s time to bring your story to a close. Do this by sharing the results or outcomes with your audience.
What was the impact of the change you have described in your career story? Prepare by asking yourself questions about the results of the change. Who benefited? How did they benefit? How did you know? How did coworkers or managers know?
Consider describing benefits in quantifiable form where appropriate. For instance, maybe customer satisfaction increased by 21%. Or 8% fewer patients missed their clinic appointments. Maybe the project met a deadline that was in danger of being missed. The results will be specific to your situation.
5. The Difference you Made
Finish strong by connecting your career story to things that concern your audience. Don’t assume that the significance of your contribution is clear.
Help your readers or listeners “connect the dots” by stating clearly the benefits, not just for your current or previous employer, but also in the future. For example, you might initiate a discussion that relates your career story to some of the challenges prospective employers want to solve by hiring you.
Although many of the professionals I work with are highly competent, that doesn’t mean they find it easy to talk about how and why their contributions matter. Applying a story framework can help you get clear about what you want to say and how to communicate more powerfully about your career achievements.
A story approach is not just for career change situations. You can also use career stories when updating your LinkedIn profile, posting on social media, networking, or preparing for a performance or salary review.
Taking the time to reflect and organize your information in this way build confidence. Having a solid base of unique stories helps you communicate in ways that bring your career achievements to life.
Jennifer Bradley helps professionals get unstuck and move forward in their career and work life. She offers individual coaching and consulting, leads workshops, and writes about personal and professional transitions.