Job Seekers: What’s Your Narrative?
When you visit Hollywood and ask people what they do, every second person (or so it seems) says, “I’m an actor”. What are these ‘actors’ doing when you ask this question? More often than not, they are serving cocktails in a bar on the strip, driving minibus tours around Beverly Hills showing off the homes of movie stars or flipping beef patties at In-N-Out Burger.
These actors don’t define themselves by the ‘job’ they are doing for a paycheque. They know who they are, what their goals are and what they have been studying or working towards, often for many years.
Our identities can become intertwined with our job titles and the organisations we work for. When we leave a role, we need to think about who we are and how we describe ourselves. I had a confronting situation a few years back. I was between roles and taking time out of the paid workforce with caring responsibilities. I needed to complete some paperwork which asked for my details. My name, address and phone number were easy but it asked me for my occupation. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure what to write.
Often in the corporate world, we have an elevator pitch – that 30 second summary of who we are and what we do which rolls of our tongue when we meet a potential client or someone at a networking event. We need to develop an elevator pitch when we are looking for work, but more than that, we need a well thought out and well-crafted narrative.
Take time to think about how you want to be seen by the world. Choose your words and phrases carefully. People generally believe what we tell them, especially if it’s presented confidently – just look at how successful con artists are! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating being dishonest in any way. Authenticity is crucial in your career and in life, but you get what I mean.
What I am advocating, is taking time to think strategically about the words you use to present yourself to others. Write down words and phrases that represent you. You can ask others to help with this. Pick a few people whom you have worked with previously – colleagues, managers, mentors, people who reported to you, clients or suppliers – ask them each for three words they would use to describe you if they were talking about you to someone you don’t know. You may be surprised at what you hear (pleasantly, I hope).
Deconstruct and reframe things you may perceive as being negative. Rather than saying, “I don’t have a lot to offer. I’ve just worked in a shop for five years,” think about the positives in that statement. What I hear is:
- You’ve proven yourself as a long-term employee – you must be loyal and reliable;
- You have good customer service skills – you can communicate well and keep customers happy;
- You’re a team player – you can get along with others;
- You can work under pressure – you’ve handled the craziness of retail in peak periods.
The narrative you use impacts how you feel about yourself and how other people see you. Lose the limiting language – words like just, only, don’t, never, can’t, but. Think about what you say. Be bold. The power to tell your story is in your hands.