The Story is in the Dash: The Art of Executive Storytelling

As a career consultant, I coach my outplacement candidates on how to effectively “tell their career story.” An important job search skill is the ability to relate a career journey in a compelling and exciting manner and make a potential employer take notice. When I first meet my candidates, I usually ask them to walk me through their resumes so I can understand their professional experiences and the trajectory of their careers.

What I normally hear is a litany of companies where they worked. It usually sounds something like “From 2000 – 2006 I worked at The ABC Company. Then, I was recruited to work for The XYZ Organization, and I was there from 2006 – 2010. Next, I went to The MNO Group from 2010 – 2014, where I was downsized. Now I am meeting with you.” When they share their stories, it’s as dry as listening to a series of professional obituaries. What I actually hear is, “I worked here and that job died. Then, I went there and that job died. Next, I went to another company. Now that job died as well.”

There is an art to executive storytelling. When done right, it becomes an exciting narrative that engrosses the listener. A career story is the story of a career journey. It’s the story of career decisions, experiences and the lessons learned from both the successes and failures. It’s about the managers who saw something and mentored and groomed someone for bigger and better things.

In short, the story is in the dash. One might have worked for a certain company from 2006 – 2010. However, the story that should be shared includes the experiences in that space. It’s a series of vignettes that explains one’s professional and personal evolution, how one grew and became the professional of today.

This is a story full of excitement, intrigue, big successes and some very important learning experiences — sometimes known as failure. The story is meaningful because it explains a person developed his/her unique combination of skills, perspectives and what makes him/her a more interesting job applicant than his/her peers.

In truth, the past is a small part of the story. The bigger story is where the candidate is going and how he/she plans to bring value to his/her next employer. The past provides credibility and makes a candidate’s claims more convincing because he/she has a strong track record to back it up. But what makes the story compelling is what he/she can do for the next employer to help grow his or her company.

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