This article was written by Jenn Reichelt, Senior Associate at the Novak Consulting Group.
Growing up, I was a voracious reader. I still love to get lost in a good story, though today, I can just as easily get sucked into the plot of a great novel or television series. We are drawn to characters who overcome conflict or adversity or have learned some great life lesson. Storytelling is something we all tend to do naturally, but it’s time we become better at sharing our professional story.
What is your favorite story? Why is it your favorite? Why do you remember it?
The cover letter, resume, and interview give us a unique opportunity to share our story. Throughout the interview process, you want to tell a story that the hiring panel will remember.
The Cover Letter
Compare the cover letter to an introductory paragraph of a book or the cold open of a TV show (the first minutes before the title sequence). These tools introduce the characters and the storyline and keep your interest without giving everything away. Your cover letter doesn’t need to be extremely long or detailed, but it should be well-written and organized. The goal is to grab the reader’s attention, so they are interested in learning more.
Your cover letter introduces you to the hiring panel. It explains why you are interested in the position and why your previous experiences and background make you the right fit. You may also want to highlight a couple of items that are specifically relevant to this job without reiterating everything you have already included on your resume.
Would you read a book with chapters that just gave you a list of characters, their occupations, and their state of residence? You want more than that! You want to know what they achieved, how they did it, and how their story ended. A good resume does the same thing. It lets the reader get to know you and what you’ve accomplished throughout your career.
Instead of listing your job duties or your job description, you should include key projects and accomplishments for each position. Add details and quantify results. For example, if you supervise people, include the number of staff. Manage a budget? Received grant funds? Served as the project manager on a capital project? Quantify it. Include facts, figures, and results when appropriate, as well as educational credentials, certifications, and highly specialized training. However, think of the space on your resume as valuable real estate and use it wisely. If you list every class you have attended, you will lose your audience.
While your resume helps tell your story, it should be more of a synopsis rather than a novel. Leave something for the interview. Use only two to three paragraphs or a short paragraph and a series of bullets to describe each position.
The interview is when you get to share your story in greater detail, and we want the hiring panel to remember you. So, you need to provide them meaningful information. Come prepared. While we tend to be good storytellers with our friends and family (i.e., when we explain what happened over the weekend), we aren’t always the best storytellers when it comes to talking about our jobs. We need to practice our stories and examples in advance of the interview.
Spend time reflecting on your experiences and background and how they relate to the position. Jot down the reasons you’re interested in the job and the organization. Be ready to share real experiences, examples, and projects, as well as your successes and challenges, and how these might relate to their organization and the position. You don’t want to ramble or go into a long-winded explanation of something off-topic. You want to provide a focused answer that is clear, to the point, and easy to remember.
One of the most important elements of sharing your story is practice. It builds confidence, gives you the chance to consider your responses to difficult questions, and can provide you with immediate feedback. Write out your answers and practice in front of the mirror, record yourself, or ask a friend or colleague to video you and provide feedback.
Sharing your Story
Sometimes we find it difficult to talk about ourselves, especially during interviews. We get nervous and forget what we planned to say, or we’re just reluctant to share our accomplishments. However, when we don’t tell our story, we limit our opportunities. “Great stories — whether on paper, film, or just over coffee — provoke a reaction from their audience. They energize, electrify, and animate. You want to do the same with your interviewer.”
So, what’s your story?