We are getting VERYYYY close to that “new year, new me” phase of the year, where most of us start reflecting on what we accomplished and begin to plan for the next year.
Sometimes that reflection looks like going rereading a journal, going through the highlights in your career celebration jar, or going through the projects that you managed to slay while living through a global pandemic.
In addition to all of those things, something that I also do at the end of the year is to go over my career story. For me, that means taking a look at my professional bio and seeing if what is in the bio still accurately reflects the career story that I want to share with people.
Before I go into common mistakes that I see people making when telling their career story, I first want to share how I define a career story just so we are on the same page.
For me, a career story is a narrative about your professional journey that tells people some highlights about why you have chosen to do the work that you currently do, and also gives them a glimpse into the work that you want to be doing in the future. Das it. Simple and straightforward.
Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to hear hundreds of career stories from Black women at networking events, during podcasts, informational and job interviews, and there are some common mistakes that I have seen repeatedly, that I want us to reflect on during this year.
You have no real career story: You have not taken the time to actually think about your career journey and all of the jobs that you have had, so when you talk to people, you are only talking about the immediate things that you are doing, and you may mention previous jobs as an afterthought, but there is no story, just independent points. If you have not taken the time to really think about your career story, I would suggest checking out episode 64 of the I Choose the Ladder podcast, where we talk about how you put together an impactful career story.
You try to cram in too much information: I think we all have at least one experience when we asked someone about their work and are met with a 7-minute monologue. Where you tuned out at minute two, and just began to nod and smile. Because as Black women we are high achievers we are tempted to include all of our awards, all of our certifications, all of our internships, all of the people we know, etc. Like your resume, your career story is meant to be a highlight reel, not the entire movie. Fiercely edit the story so that only the best moments make the trailer so that people actually want to see the movie.
You don’t connect the dots: The days of working for the same company for your entire career and then retiring are long gone. That means that if you have not already, you are going to work for a few companies, maybe in different industries and in different functions. It is your job to make the career moves that you made make sense to the person listening to the story.
You aren’t clear on the impact that you want the story to have: For a lot of people when they tell the story of their career, it’s in an attempt to answer a question. Someone asks, “what do you do? at a networking event” or asks you to “Tell me about yourself?” in a job interview and all you are focused on is answering the question correctly. I would offer a slightly different perspective to consider. Instead of “how can I answer this question correctly to get _______________?” I would recommend that you ask yourself, “what do I want them to know and remember about me and my career from my answer?”
There is no personalization: You matter-of-factly state things, almost like you’re saying items on a list, so there is no way for the person listening to you to get a sense of who you are. I know as Black women, there can be a struggle between wanting to keep our personal and professional lives separate because we can be judged so harshly in professional settings, but having a couple of appropriate stories that help connect you to the story and also allows the listener to connect to you is what makes people remember you and your career story.
What I know for sure is that storytelling is one of those skills that if you can master, has a lasting impact on your career. Being intentional about crafting the narrative about you and your career will open doors that your talent alone will not, so take the time to reflect on the story that you want out in the world about you and your work.