How to Tell Your Career Story

By: Christina Stokes
Feb. 1, 2020
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Every day, I sit across the table from bright, talented professionals. These people are from all walks of life and at many points in their individual careers.

Regardless of the position I might be interviewing them for, I always want to understand their story. I want to go beyond the surface, past the résumé, and see who they are, as a person and as a specialist in their chosen field. In the early days of my talent acquisition career, my mentors took my insatiable curiosity and instilled in me the importance of how to best apply it to candidate identification. 

I find the “whys” and the “hows” to be fascinating, so I dig into those questions with the applicants that I speak to on the phone and meet in person. Why did you pick your major? Why did you leave your first job? How did you transition into this field? How did you shape the narrative regarding that complicated client issue? The “whats” are also interesting to me. What motivates you? What do you want to accomplish next in your career? 

What is your career narrative? 

A career story is more than a simple timeline of job transitions. It is an account of your professional life that allows you to highlight your values, decisions and successes. Not all interviewers are generous with conversation prompts. When you are engaging in interviews, you should be able to take a listener through your personal career story with ease, touching on your qualifications and experiences before circling back around to why you’d be a good fit for the role at hand. Think about how you got to be where you are, what inspires you, what standout moments there have been, and then figure out how all of that aligns with the job opportunity in front of you. 

I find a well-crafted career story to be full of thought-provoking and relevant anecdotes about specific experiences that led a person from one point to the other. This is especially crucial if you have extended gaps between jobs or if you’re changing industries. Be mindful to “read the room,” too. It’s usually not a good thing if you’re the only one talking for a long period of time, especially on a call. Make sure that you leave room for a recruiter or hiring manager to interject and ask you questions. You want to be sure that you can move to another example with ease if you’re asked to do so, and also be agile enough to be able to shift gears to the next part of your story if the interviewer seems less engaged than they previously were. 

It is wise to place the emphasis on the parts of your story that are most relevant to the position you are discussing in the moment. That way, the person interviewing you will become more engaged, and it will keep the conversation on track. 

You want to be able to showcase that the role is the next best step for you in your career trajectory. Practice telling your story to a trusted friend or colleague. Your confidence will increase and your delivery will become natural, giving you the opportunity to shine in the interview room.

Allow your excitement about your accomplishments to be in the room with you. When someone asks you hard questions, look at these as more opportunities to share your story. If the interviewer seems only politely engaged, or outright disengaged, then move on to another topic, ask a question of your own, or give them more room to steer the ship. An authentic, flowing conversation that is based on a well-told story is one that will be more memorable during deliberations. When you write your career story, think about how you would want to be introduced, and go from there. Bring your résumé to life, create human connections and arm yourself with this critical job-hunting tool today. 

In the end, remember that your career story is just that — your story. 


photo credit: golden sikorka