In a recent conversation with a coaching client in career transition, we were discussing the importance of personal branding in creating the value that she wants to impart to a recruiter or potential hiring manager. Coming from a scholarly background, she responded, “you mean branding is a way of curating your career.”
Curate is a term that is commonly associated with museum exhibitions, where the work on display is selected by someone knowledgeable in a particular period of art. The actual definition according to the Oxford English Dictionary is to select, organize, and present information, typically using professional or expert knowledge.” The definition is particularly appropriate when it comes to how you choose to explain your career history and future plans.
How storytelling makes you memorable
Stories are important because they establish commonality and shared values. From the earliest stories warning us against walking alone in the dark or why we need to be wary of strangers, stories are the mechanism we use to create and share meaning. Your career story is more than a collection of jobs and skills. It’s an opportunity to explain your path in a way that creates a connection with the hiring manager.
According to Lisa Cron author of Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science, “ Stories are what make us human. Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to a story. A powerful narrative helps the listener empathize with the protagonist. Story or narrative takes those big ideas, abstract concepts, dry facts and translates them into something very specific that we can experience, and so feel, and that’s what tells us how we feel about it, what it means to us and that’s what moves us to action,” Cron says.
The University of California-Los Angeles’ social cognitive neuroscience lab director Matthew D. Lieberman studied social interaction and reflects on those connections in his book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.” He has said, “This is what our brains were wired for: reaching out and interacting with others.” Stories seem to contain that timeless thread of human connection, even if that connection is just through words on a page or screen, or words heard on a podcast.
Like any good story, your career narrative contains the key elements that keep the listener engaged:
1. A protagonist who is on some sort of quest — you!
2. A premise that defines your beliefs, convictions and wants.
3. An antagonist or situation of some sort bent on stopping you, the hero. If there is nothing at stake, there is no story. What obstacles were you up against?
4. Movement where things progress or where you encounter and overcome difficulties.
5. Awareness, the “Aha!” moment in your story? A time where you or others realize something about you they were not previously aware of.
6. Transformation. What impact have you had on the business you’re engaged in or on others? What has changed as a result of actions you took? You needn’t thwart some mythical villain or discover a cure for cancer; a personal success or small change can illustrate the skills and strengths that are uniquely yours.
Create an emotional connection
As you develop the story of you, here are some questions to keep in mind:
• What inspired you to pursue your current career?
• What path did you take to get to the place you are today?
• What obstacles did you encounter?
• What values do you hold close and are expressed in your work?
• What accomplishments are you particularly proud of?
• How would colleagues describe you?
Crafting the story of your personal brand is more than communicating your ability to handle a particular job. It’s much like the story of a product or service’s brand – the goal is to reach your audience on an emotional level.