How to Tell Your Career Story (Trouble Spots and All!)

December 18, 2013

One of the most important skills for your IT job search is the ability to tell a compelling story. More specifically, you need to be able to tell your career story in a compelling way. How do you do this?

Make sure you include all aspects of a successful story: a beginning, a middle, and a happy end. You may be saying, “My career story doesn’t have a happy end if I’m searching for a job.” But it does! You’re not only searching for a job; you’re also searching for future opportunities to grow personally and professionally. The happy end to your career story thus far is having optimism for your future career path. 

So what if the middle of your career story isn’t great? Maybe you had a long period of unemployment, or you were laid off by your previous employer. Telling this part of your story isn’t easy, but the key is to avoid turning yourself into the victim. Here are a few examples:

                Scenario #1: You were laid off after a change in management. You didn’t get along with your new boss, and were therefore singled out and let go. Talking negatively about this experience will likely make a potential employer conclude that you can’t handle change or you weren’t pulling your weight; and now you’re simply making excuses for why you were laid off.  What you could say instead is that you tried to adjust to the new leadership, you know you could’ve done more to make things work, but in the end the goals of the new leadership didn’t align with your career goals or personal values. Focus on what you accomplished while you worked there and what you learned from the experience.

                Scenario #2: You have a long gap in your employment history. Explaining why you were out of work for so long can be difficult. This chapter of your story should be about how you spent your time in between jobs. Did you volunteer? Or further your education? Talk about what skills you gained during this time. Personal and professional growth doesn’t only happen on the job, so you shouldn’t focus on the fact that you were unemployed.

The beginning of your career story should be brief and informative. You set the stage by touching on your education and early career, but the main focus is how it set you on your current career path.

Make it a work of non-fiction. Remember the old adage, honesty is the best policy. You should never lie about why you left a previous employer or about your skill set. If you lie on your resume or in an interview to stand out from other applicants, the truth will come out further down the road when the stakes are higher. If you’re completely honest, even about your downfalls, you’re showing a potential employer that you have a realistic perspective on your abilities and that you are enthusiastic to improve your skills.

Play to your audience. A good story teller knows his/her audience, and adjusts their story to make the biggest impact. You should practice telling your story, but avoid being over-rehearsed in an interview. Tie your story into the interviewer’s questions, and ask questions of your own, to make smooth transitions to each chapter of your career story.

Posted By: Madeline Stone

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