Like most millenials, I’ve always been a junkie for a well-told story– I’ve been devouring books, graphic novels, television, and movies since l can remember. I love stories so much that I have spent a good chunk of my life trying to tell them, moving through acting, improv, and writing over the years.
As a grader at HireArt, I read hundreds of applications each week. While the questions for individual positions range wildly, all applications have one prompt in common: “Tell us what you’ve been doing most recently and why you are looking to make a change.” It did not take long to realize that the best responses to this prompt tell a story, and the more powerful that story, the better the application.
Here are some tips on how to tell your career story in a compelling way.
Create a narrative
Let’s go all the way back to primary school, when your teacher first taught you what went into a story. What is the most important part? Above all else, a story has a narrative: a beginning, middle, and end. Pick a point that makes sense chronologically (often, your college graduation, but earlier if you are a recent graduate). Tell your story in your own words, moving from experience to experience, and transitioning between them.
The best told stories have graceful transitions– and the best applications do as well. One of the most memorable “About You” responses I have seen was from a military veteran who explained how and why she had transitioned into the civilian life and business world.
Your story should end in the present, and bring you to why you are submitting your application today. Be sure to explain why you’re interested in a particular role or career. The best applicants are very clearly able to articulate why the role they are applying for is an obvious choice given what they’ve done before.
Show how challenges have made you stronger
Every hero goes through trials. That’s part of what makes a story interesting—if Harry Potter hadn’t had some new, worse-than-ever-before challenge during each of his school years, we wouldn’t bother reading about him. Challenges also make it easy to identify with the hero of a story—and similarly, they can help a job candidate come across as real and relatable.
Because of my job at HireArt, I field a lot of questions from friends and acquaintances about how best to handle a sensitive period in their work history, be it a short-lived job that just wasn’t the right fit or a stint running a start-up that ultimately tanked. My advice is almost always the same– don’t ignore “weak spots” in your application, as the recruiter or job poster surely won’t. Instead, turn yourself into the hero of your story, with an emphasis on how your experiences shaped you into being the professional you are today.
One candidate that I’ve come across had a mysterious gap of two years in an otherwise pretty straightforward career in logistics management. He successfully used his video answer to explain that he had quit his job to become a stay at home dad for two years, while his wife returned to the workforce. In his video, he interwove an explanation of why he had chosen to do this and how it made him a better professional. In the end, he got the job.
Mold your story to your audience
The best storytellers, from Homer to Shakespeare to the Breaking Bad writers know that the best stories are told with a particular audience in mind.
Your audience in this case consists of recruiters. The easiest way to tailor your application to recruiters is to put yourself in their shoes. What would you be looking for if you had to fill this position? What information would be helpful—and what information would be irrelevant?
One final cardinal rule of storytelling: don’t bore your audience. A good place to start is by making sure you heed the word or time limits on your prompt. You would be surprised at the long responses that I see almost every day, almost none of which have enough content to justify their length.
Although your resume might look like a career laundry list, an “about you” video or a cover letter gives you the chance to turn it into a story. The most important things is that you seize this opportunity to tell a compelling enough story about yourself such that the recruiter wants to learn more.