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The Shakespeare Effect: Good Storytelling for Great Jobs

Words by 3p Contributor
Leadership & Transparency
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By Shannon Houde

Recruiters and hiring managers are suffering from information fatigue. Can you blame them? CVs, LinkedIn profiles, internal job application forms, bios, Twitter feeds and references ... It's crazy out there in the post-information age. There's just too much of it!

So, as a jobseeker trying to express your own competitive advantage in the crowded, noisy, unstructured sustainability jobs market, what do you do?

Simple: Don't dazzle hiring managers with facts and figures. Instead, entice them with a good story, just like sustainability practitioners have to do with their stakeholders. Narratives are what spark the imagination, weaving themes out of facts in a prose that's readable, relatable and -- most importantly -- memorable. Making it easy for a hiring manager to get a sense of your career story will set you apart from the hundreds of other candidates, which is is why being a great storyteller is so important if you're on the hunt for your next role.

The media seems to agree -- a recent article on Entrepreneur.com claimed that "storytelling seemed to be the major business lesson of 2014" while the Harvard Business Review waxed lyrical over "the irresistible power of classic storytelling." The New York Times summed it up, though: "You need to be compelling, unforgettable, funny and smart. Magnetic, even. You need to be able to answer the question that might be lingering in the minds of the people you’re trying to persuade: What makes you so special?"

There are a number of tools I use with career coaching clients to help them tell an authentic, effective career story that conveys real passion, relatable experiences and demonstrable skillsets. But before I let them loose, I make my jobseekers drill down on what I believe to be the three most important considerations in effectively marketing yourself:


  1. Know your audience. This is what makes you relevant to the employer -- it's about knowing what the market wants.

  2. Know your skills. This is what helps you be confident in what you are ‘selling’ -- it's about knowing what you're great at and being able to prove it.

  3. Know your passions. This is what sets you apart -- it's about knowing what issues you want to have and impact on and why.

Take a pen and a blank sheet of paper and write down the words that come to mind under each of these headings. Use colour, draw pictures, get creative and brainstorm! Once you've got your responses ready, it's time to start thinking about how you can string them all together into a coherent 'whole'.

Ask yourself, What's the common theme? What's the one narrative thread that will help you tie it all together? For me, the theme has been helping people to convert their passions into purpose and pay. I’ve had to work hard to define this common denominator - my previous roles include accountant, strategic planner, staffing assistant, eco-tour operator, entrepreneur, and finally career coach. But eventually I got there - I'm living proof that it can be done, no matter how diverse your career history!

This exercise is crucial in laying the groundwork for the personal branding tools that you'll put out into the jobs marketplace. The micro-bio you use on Twitter, the elevator pitch you save for conferences, the 4-line personal profile that sits on top of your CV, the smart-casual summary that graces your LinkedIn profile and the one-page job proposal you draft to impress a new client are all just extensions of this.

So there you have it. Bypass the information overload that's plaguing employers by crafting a compelling story out of your job history and becoming your own career Shakespeare. If you'd like some one-to-one support to help you weave the tale, try a 30-minute CV critique taster session with me to discuss your positioning, challenges and career in more detail.

Image credit: See Li, via Flickr

Shannon Houde is founder of Walk of Life Consulting, the first international career coaching business focused solely on the environmental, sustainability and corporate responsibility fields.

3p Contributor

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