Is Storytelling the Secret to a Successful Job Hunt?
Whether you’re fresh out of college, or a seasoned industry vet, many of us enter the job search process without a game plan. A four-page resume isn’t the answer. Nor is a rambling video interview describing every detail of your professional life.
Imagine for a moment that you are a corporate brand looking for brand recognition. The best candidates, like the best brands, build a compelling narrative around them. No recruiter will remember which high school you went to or the irrelevant details of your first internship. Work experience gained while in school has value but not as much as the details of your latest place of employment.
Knowing what to focus on and how to manage your personal brand can have a big impact on the success of your job application. Building a personal brand will also help you stand out from your peers and the hundreds of applications that land on a recruiter's desk any given day.
Know your audience
You can’t tell a compelling story if you don’t know who you’re speaking to. While crafting your application always keep in mind the person on the other end who might be reading it. Who is the person most likely to be reviewing your application? Is it a recruiter or a hiring manager? Tweak it to be personally relevant for that specific audience.
Writing to a recruiter
If you are writing to a recruiter, it is important to keep a few things in mind.
Keep it simple: Remember that recruiters are very busy people who rarely have more than a few minutes to devote to reading your resume. Therefore, when writing to recruiters, avoid unnecessary verbiage in your application. Stay on point and state your case as plainly as possible.
Get to know the recruiter: Do yourself a favor and build a relationship with the recruiter. Write to them on LinkedIn or via email and introduce yourself. Recruiters want to get to know you because it helps them identify your potential as a candidate. Recruiters respond better to candidates who:
1) Show that they have a real interest in their own career
2) Demonstrate their passion for the specific role
3) Show an awareness of the company culture
4) Demonstrate a clear understanding of the technology
5) Stick to the point
(for more details and insights about communicating with recruiters check out this “how-to” blog put together by PTP’s recruiting staff: https://www.ptechpartners.com/post/how-to-reach-out-to-a-recruiter )
Writing to a hiring manager
Hiring managers are usually managers from within the organization chosen for their understanding of the role to identify suitable candidates. Unlike recruiters, they do not specialize in HR and staffing processes but they do understand the requirements of the vacant position. Writing to a hiring manager will require a different approach compared to a recruiter.
Do your research: Conduct some extra research and find out what you can about the hiring manager. Their responsibilities at the organization, their area of expertise, and so on. Also, conduct additional research about the company itself. Skim through the company website, read any publicly available literature, and try to understand their business goals and challenges.
Add a cover letter: Most job ads these days ask for a cover letter to accompany your resume. Cover letters are a great way to speak directly to the hiring manager. They also let you supplement your resume with details that you would otherwise not be able to share.
Share your insights: Using your research, craft a narrative about your skills and the reasons why you would make an ideal candidate. Share your insights about the company and aspects of your professional history that will make you successful in your new role.
Highlight soft skills: This is also a chance to highlight your soft skills, something which you may not be able to describe in detail in your resume. Avoid jargon, but use your words to convey insight, something that will set you apart from other applicants.
This is also why it’s essential to customize every application to individual employers. Cookie-cutter resumes that attempt a “one-size-fits-all" format will inevitably fail because they lack customization and by extension, care.
Identify your core theme
Every good story has an overarching theme. The lynchpin of your narrative, your theme represents the big idea that you want to convey via your communication. This idea must be present in all your communications with potential employers, whether it’s a phone call, a message on LinkedIn, an email, or a formal interview.
Your theme helps employers understand exactly what you have to offer and what you can bring to their organization. It gives you greater control over your narrative and it’s also a way to stay memorable with recruiters.
Building a theme from your professional experience
For someone with prior professional experience, examine your work history and identify the skills, personality traits, and weaknesses, that have remained common across all your different roles.
Skill: What are the skills that have been the most useful to you in your career? Highlight them as an essential component of your brand.
Personality: What personality traits do you find yourself reverting to the most at work? Are you a natural organizer, bringing people together and getting things done? Maybe you have a knack for spontaneity and improvisation that has helped you out of challenging situations at work?
Weaknesses: It’s as important to identify your weaknesses as your strengths because it will give you more control over your brand. If you know where you are likely to be challenged, then you can work to divert focus away from those areas.
Building a theme from personal experience
If you are a new entrant into the job market or lack professional experience, you can still create a theme for yourself. The only difference is you won’t be drawing on your professional experience but your personal life to help you find your narrative.
The lack of a working background doesn’t negate your life experience. Your history, insights, and way of working are still unique to you and that means you have something to offer to potential employers. Use your understanding of yourself as the foundation for building your narratives and the kind of employee you would be if hired.
Use the STAR format
A recurring nightmare most recruiters have is having to read through paragraph after paragraph of a candidate’s work experience to find the details that best fit the job description. Sometimes, when faced with a solid, unbroken block of text, many recruiters would choose to skip to the next resume, rather than waste their time.
It’s important when detailing your professional experience, especially in situations where you have a lot to say, to make sure that the context and relevance of each role is clearly defined.
One useful way to create context would be to use the STAR method of formatting. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. When referencing an achievement at a previous job, instead of simply listing out all your responsibilities or quoting unverifiable statistics, break down the achievement in the following way:
Situation: Briefly, describe the role and your duties.
Task: Introduce a problem you had to solve or a goal you had to work towards.
Action: Talk about the steps you took to solve the problem or reach the goal.
Result: Describe how your actions in this situation created value, contributed to the business or led to a professional accomplishment.
Advantages of using the STAR format
Readability: The STAR format helps break up the experience section of your resume into readable chunks while also giving context to your previous accomplishments and responsibilities.
Highlight soft skills: It is especially useful for highlighting soft skills which are harder to gauge on paper or through assessments.
Add detail: You can also use the STAR format to detail challenges you’ve overcome in your personal life or to demonstrate your ability to navigate out of difficult situations.
Be the hero: By detailing your action with each task you get to place yourself at the center of your narrative and highlight your abilities.
Storytelling is a skill that all of us grow up with. We create little narratives about ourselves in our minds every day. Our identity, our self-image, our place in the world around us, all tell a story of who we are and what makes us unique.
By introducing storytelling to your job application, you get a chance to share with potential employers this personal narrative. A chance to personalize your resume and separate yourself from the pack. Remember, you’re always the hero of your own story. With a little imagination, you can find success by using your resume to tell that story.