Stories are like karma

via Flickr / jips

“I came back with real currency…Everybody wants a good story.” I’m giving full credit for this idea to Sunny Bates in her TEDxMiddlebury talk last October. Watch the video because it starts with identifying your passion and moves to the point of this post and then beyond.

I wrote about rethinking the start of a job search last time. But I guarantee you 98% of people who read my last article didn’t do a single thing to start their job search. So what are you waiting for? Go do it.

Today I will argue that a good story will get you a good job. Okay, I just oversold that a little. But really, a story is a powerful thing. Every job seeker should have a story, actually multiple stories, that help you simultaneously encapsulate what you’re looking for in a job AND why you’re qualified to do the job.

The trick with college grads is that most of us don’t have a discernible story. I’m sorry, your graduation from Middlebury is not a story. You know that already. Your story has to be something that starts as a seed and grows on people and you do that with an anecdote that is short, unique, memorable, and repeatable. And the best way to craft a story is from your passion, experience, and desires. So let’s dive in to an example that’s partially real.

Compare: “I’m good with numbers and Excel spreadsheets. We do it all the time for my Economics class. I want a job at a startup.” vs. “Before, our student-run cafe had to be subsidized and could barely keep track of expenses. But I starting using Excel to track and budget. It’s like I take what I learn in my Economics class and use it to be the CFO of coffee and pastries. All of a sudden the cafe is profitable this year. It’s exciting.” The first example is a weak attempt to use buzzwords like “Excel” and “numbers” which you think is what people want to hear. Wrong. The second example is a story with much more of an arc. Notice how it’s:

  • Short: I did not tell a 5 minute story. By “story” I mean more like a quick anecdote of a couple of sentences but it must have a beginning, middle, and end (or static state, action and result, if that’s easier)
  • Unique: Tell people something that they don’t hear in everyday language. Who calls themselves the CFO of an on-campus cafe? You don’t hear that.
  • Memorable for the right reasons: The kid knows Excel, takes Economics courses, and wants a job that puts entrepreneurial talent to work. What a person remembers from your story should illustrate why you have experience and what kind of job you want without explicitly saying those things.
  • Repeatable: A person should easily be able to tell your story almost word-for-word.

The goal should be crafting a story that can travel by word of mouth to a lot of people. You are making it easy for people to remember your story and tell your story over and over. One person tells their friends, and those friends tell their friends, etc. Pay attention to the way you construct your story because that is what is going to represent you to people who you will not meet, won’t know your name, and will never see your resume.

If you just read the above example and said, “I haven’t done anything like that,” then you’re wrong. Middlebury (like America?) is built on opportunity. In the classroom, in the lab, on the stage, or on the field, this is where you take an example of something you’re proud of and use it to show your passion. And, like expository writing, it’s show not tell. That’s the difference between a story and a brag sesh.

Also worthy of mention is that, as mentioned in my last post, you are not choosing a specific job or industry here. Your story is purposefully focused but open-ended enough such that someone can see/make the connection between your skills and a job opening that might fit. You’d be surprised how others can make connections that you didn’t anticipate.

The next step after crafting a story is to craft another story. You need at least two, preferably more. Why? Because you are going to ruthlessly test your stories on your network — which one works better? Don’t be a broken record: constantly adjusting and reworking your story is the best way to figure out what story is helping you find a job. If something doesn’t seem to be clicking when you tell it, then change it the next time. You will have plenty of opportunities to circle back to people you know especially because you know how many times people ask you: “What are your plans after graduation?” Try it on friends and family first, then expand from there.

Did you just catch that mention in the last paragraph? I used the N-word — network, networking. I’m the first to admit that I hate networking — why do I feel so sleazy? That’s the topic for the next post: applying stories based on your passions to networks.

In the comments, try out (anonymously, if you want) some of your stories. Help each other out in crafting short, unique, memorable, and repeatable anecdotes.

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