I was talking to a job-seeker yesterday and asked him my favorite question, “What’s your story?”
He reservedly rambled through a few bullet-point facts about his past employment, eyes slightly downcast. I asked him a few more questions and as we got to talking, more tidbits about his experience and abilities started to come out.
I stopped him dead in his tracks and said, “You’ve got to own your story! You are the shit and you don’t know it!” (“The shit”, of course, being a technical recruiting term).
He told me he’d gone into one field, realized it wasn’t for him, left, gotten a solid job, gotten laid off, and now is looking for the next thing. A massive undersell. He had a killer combo of past experiences, ranging from intellectual to nitty gritty. He had a history of great communication, customer service, training, and high attention to detail and organization.
In the process of the twenty-minute conversation, there were at least two points at which I stopped him and said, “What you just said right there is a killer pitch! Say that!”
I was able to tease out some words, and more importantly, a vibe that was so much clearer, more decisive, and exciting than his original attempt to tell a story. This is a common experience. I can often tell someone’s story back to them, or get them to retell it to me, in a way that gets them and everyone else fired up.
But this isn’t some rare gift I possess. It’s not out of reach for anyone. It’s one of the oldest and most human of all skills: storytelling. The most important audience is you, and the most important story to learn to tell is your story.
Sell yourself and tell your story
As you proceed on the job hunt, don’t just focus on selling yourself to others. Sell yourself to yourself. Constantly practice telling yourself your own story. See yourself from several angles. There’s a version where you’re the underdog and one where you’re the king – all based on the same facts.
Play around with your self-perception. Explore it. Think about how people who know you would describe you or tell your story. Think about how you change a situation when you enter it. Get to know your story, own it, and be proud of it. Don’t lie or embellish, but don’t downplay how the various facts come together into a narrative either. You are on a hero’s journey.
When you begin to see yourself as full of possibility, so will employers.