Narrative: Use It to Answer“Tell Me About Yourself”

Whether you’ve been working for years or this is your first or second job out of college, this one’s enough to keep us up at night. But never fear: we’re going to take the work you did last month on the nuts and bolts of your professional narrative to help you answer this question clearly and confidently.

And in case you’re stumbling across this blog and want to do the work from last month first (recommended) here is the info!

Keep in mind before we get started that there is no ONE way to actually answer this interview, and maybe you’ve seen another perspective elsewhere. That’s great! The main thing to keep in mind is that you check the boxes on the checklist I’ve provided in this post.

 

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narrative

Some of the items on the checklist are self explanatory (like make sure you tell a chronological story), so I’m going to focus on the three items you will find on page 2 of the resource guide: 1) how your past experience supports the position you’re applying for 2) how do you connect with the company’s mission and 3) your story arc. Let’s take one at a time. Also, note that we’re not putting the story together yet, but instead working on the composite parts. You’ll weave this together at the end once you’ve nailed these.

Let’s take a sample job description. I’m working with a client now on an application for a culinary instruction position. We’ll work from this job description for the three above areas so you can see how it’s done for your narrative.

JOB DESCRIPTION We’ll Use for This Narrative Exercise:

As Base Coach, you will be responsible for the implementation of Culinary Instruction in the Drive Change kitchen-classroom. Our “prep-time” is not just “work-time” €“ it is an opportunity for the culinary curriculum to be implemented to our Fellows. The kitchen experience should be an educational experience geared toward preparing Fellows for their next opportunity; in addition to imparting culinary skills and food-specific education; you are responsible for setting the tone in the kitchen as it reflects the desired assessments of the Drive Change Fellowship. For example, Fellows should be able to work in groups and independently; Fellows should be able to follow instructions/recipes; manage their time and work efficiently; kitchen protocol should be used as a tool to instill specific culinary requirements as well as generate workplace expectations that translate beyond the kitchen and into any future work environment. It is the responsibility of the Base Coach to communicate with Fellows on their progress and output; both verbal and written feedback is required. Base Coach must have a deep understanding of the kitchen (operations, inventory, ingredients, protocol) and must use that knowledge to teach the Fellows. The Base Coach must be able to address issues as they arise holding to the value of Fellowship first and maintaining our commitment to be a high performing operation.

About You:
Your commitment to the understanding that every moment within the Drive Change Fellowship experience is an opportunity for learning/coaching is the most important feature of this role and your success as Base Coach. The kitchen is not merely a time for production; it is a time for active observation, feedback, and teachable moments. You must be acutely aware of surroundings and balance the task of empowering Fellows to deliver outlined objectives in preparation for weekly service. As a chef/instructor, you recognize that the diligence you bring to the Drive Change kitchen will be infused into the minds/hearts of Fellows. You will be directly involved in the hard and essential skill development of Fellows. You must be able to read the environment and propose solutions for improvement; your input on curriculum will be valued greatly by the Culinary Arts Director and Fellowship Experience Designer.
• 3-5 years professional culinary experience
• Passionate about food and food systems
• 3+ years MGMT experience
• Positive energy and enthusiasm €“ your ability to empower Fellows is essential
• You are a hands on person; desk-job seekers need not apply
• You must be observant and able to confront Fellows on areas to work on as well as areas that they are excelling in
• Ability to work well with others €“ you will be working directly with the Fellowship team and your feedback to them is crucial for Fellow’s success
• Organized and outcomes driven

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Narrative Takeaways of Job Description

 

Right off the bat, you can tell there’s a nurturing aspect to this job in addition to the nuts and bolts of cooking instruction. It’s more than just teaching- it’s about instilling confidence, empowering people and making the world a better place. How do we infuse both into our narrative to answer the interview question then?

 

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1. How Your Past Experience Supports the Position. Take a look at the job description. Pull out the core essence of the job. This is usually pretty simple, since the most important parts of a job description are listed first.
For this position, we want to highlight the following:
• Any and all volunteer work surrounding youth outreach and mentoring
• Results surrounding empowering employees and team members. What did you do and how did it turn out? Any metrics in terms of employee retention when it comes to company-based experiences and youth progression when it comes to the community outreach experiences will be useful, but are not always readily available, so be as specific you can regarding the BENEFITS your job duties in these areas – not just what you did, but how it impacted the intended recipients!
• Actual culinary experience- developing recipes, teaching others, etc

2. Tying Company Values to Your Own – Showing complete alignment with the stated company mission and values also has another benefit for your narrative- it is a test to illuminate whether you should even be interviewing with the company to begin with. If you don’t align with the company’s mission in a clear and direct way, then maybe it’s not the right company for you. But I digress. Let’s say you do align – how do you convey that to the company? List out the company’s values by reading the mission statement. (Sometimes companies will show both, but sometimes you have to suss it out from the mission statement or from watching clips from speeches from company representatives, or reading articles about the company. Then, clearly show how you have demonstrated that value in a professional capacity over and over again in your narrative.

Back to the Drive Change description, it’s clear they’re looking for someone who believes in teaching, equal opportunities, mentoring/fostering an environment by which people can grow, etc. When you talk about your experience to date in the ‘tell me about yourself’ question, make sure you’re infusing the company’s mission and values in your answer. You can even say things like, “Throughout my career, teaching others to help them grow has always been an important value to me- and I’ve seen from what I’ve read and seen about Drive Change that you’re all about that too. So from an early point on in my career, I’ve sought out opportunities to teach, so I’m going to take you through my resume with that lens in mind.” So you can almost have a “theme” to your answer to this question to really drive home the value/mission bit without adding it in clunkily at the end. AND because companies are looking for culture fits sometimes above all else, you want to make sure your infusing the values stuff throughout your answer, not as a bolted on, clunky answer at the end.
3. Story Arc: Prospective employers not only want to see how you’ve grown, but they want any perceived changes in direction to be explained clearly to them. Why did you make the change? If something you did doesn’t fit your narrative for this job, but it’s not possible to take it out altogether, talk about what you learned and how you grew from that experience. “It made me realize that,” “Once I learned XYZ, I knew it would have major ramifications for my future career direction- specifically….” Are two good openers you can use to make it super clear to your listener. Try out your arc in the notes portion of the worksheet.

Ok, so the last phase of doing this work is to put it all together in a ‘script’ you can use in the interview. Script is in quotes because we don’t really want you rehearsing this to death so you sound like a robot in the interview. Keep it loose. If this means you just have a series of bullet points, great! Do that. Follow the checklist (page 1) and your notes from the three key components of your story on page 2 and create your story. This process isn’t the same for everyone so we’ve included some space on page 3 of the tool for you to play with it.

When you’re done, send me what you’ve come up with and one specific question you have about your work and I’ll help a sister (or brother, or person) out!

Your Professional Narrative: How To Get It Right Without Going Insane

Why is it SO DARN HARD to articulate who we are and what we want career-wise? It’s like, you could totally talk about your love for historical references and antique maps till the cows come home, but when it comes to- oh wait, that’s just me? Awkward.

What I’m saying is this: there is something about plainly stating who you are and what you want- in any setting, but I’m talking career here- that feels limiting, scary, uncertain, like you’re baring all, or any combination thereof. 

Let’s take this narrative stuff one step further. Have you ever thought any (or all) of the following?

  • What if I decide on one career avenue, and then I’m cutting myself off from everything else out there?
  • What if choosing means a huge portion of my network will no longer be able to help me?
  • Isn’t going broad going to get me noticed by the most eyeballs?
  • Positioning myself for something specific is too difficult, so I might as well stay a generalist and I’ll get picked up by the search engines on LinkedIn or noticed by recruiters.

I have talked to countless people- clients and prospective clients, friends, neighbors, people at networking events, and there is a lot of hesitation and uncertainty about personal narrative, so if you’re sitting there even vaguely nodding your head, you are not alone.

HOW DO I MOVE PAST MY CONCERNS ABOUT CHOOSING ONE NARRATIVE?

The reality is, the more targeted you can be in your story, your messaging and by proxy, your job search tools/documents (e.g. LinkedIn, resume, cover letters, personal website, elevator pitch), the easier your career change and/or job search will become. Thinking about it another way- over the next couple of weeks, pay attention to things you may purchase where you are not the target market the company had in mind for marketing purposes. Marketers do it all the time because they know if they try to speak to everyone or the world at large, they end up with the opposite effect of speaking to no one. For example, I do work with more than just millennial women. My message is targeted at that group, to be sure, but what I stand for resonates with more than just millennial women.

In other words, do not underestimate the power of honing your personal story and brand for success in the ol’ career department. I’m going to bring you through some exercises to help you get your  narrative where you want it for your career exploration and/or job search.

NARRATIVE EXERCISE 1: Ask yourself the following (and write down your answers):

  • What tools and tactics have I been employing to date in my career change and/or job search?
  • How have they been working for me? In other words, what concrete results have I gotten from my current efforts? (BE HONEST!)
  • Is this acceptable to me?
  • What would be acceptable progress to me? What would be amazing progress? (Resist the urge to just write, “Get a damn job!” Be as specific as possible with each of these questions.

Ok, so we’re about to find out HOW to do this. Read on.

NARRATIVE EXERCISE 2: Step-By-Step Guide

**I should include a little note here right up front. Before doing any of these exercises, make sure you know what it is you want to do. You don’t have to be super specific, but this is NOT for the person who says, “I am an accountant and just know that if I have to be an accountant for much longer, I’ll gouge my eyes out with a spoon.” Instead, this is more for the person who knows they want to be an event planner, for example, and has done some limited event planning on the side as part of their current job, and just needs help pulling all of that together.

(I’ll be doing one of these extended posts per month with tons of juicy freebies and goodies, and we’ll be doing one *SOON* on figuring out what you want to do when you have no idea, so if that’s you, sit tight. Make sure you sign up to get my updates at the bottom of this post so I can inform you when that’s ready!)

At this time, download the worksheet that accompanies this step-by-step guide. Pull it out and let’s get started! You’ll note that I’m including my own filled out sheet at the bottom, so you can see an example.
DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PROFESSIONAL NARRATIVE WORKSHEET

HOW TO COMPLETE THE WORKSHEET

1. Clarity on your job path. Answer the first two questions at the top of the page. There is very little room on purpose. If you need tons of space to write this one out, it may be an indication that you need to do a bit more digging and reflection prior to jumping into this guide.

2. Jump down to competencies– the second box. Include your skillset- just a brain dump for now to sow the seeds for your professional narrative.

3. Jump up to the first box. Using your skillset, write out a few benefits you bring to the people or organizations you serve. So, “idea generator” is a skill, but “focus people on the ideas and to-dos that truly matter so they can move ahead more easily” is the benefit. This step can get some people a little tripped up, so take your time.

What’s the difference at its core? Ever hear the phrase, “Features tell, benefits sell.”? Benefits in the personal brand sense of things get you noticed- they convey what you can bring to the table at an organization or for your clients. This is why knowing the needs of your industry or clients (step 1 above) is of critical importance!

Once you’re comfortable with the differences between what you write for your skillset and what you write for your benefits, continue with the rest of the sheet.

4. A Note About the “Putting it All Together” Box.This could take a couple of tries. I included my first attempt and then my second on my example. You may need 5 or 8 or 10. It is ok! Playing around with wording, and more importantly, getting OFF the computer to do this one can really help. Getting this piece to where you want it for your narrative is important, so don’t rush it- it’s the building block for your professional summary, LinkedIn page, cover letters and how you talk about yourself at a networking event or an interview.
Coincidentally, infusing your personal story and narrative into those key job search items is next month’s loonnnnng how-to post, so again, sign up below at the bottom of this post to make sure that hits your inbox when it’s ready!

 

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE PROFESSIONAL NARRATIVE WORKSHEET

 

RESOURCES:

-Blank downloadable Narrative worksheet

-Jill’s Narrative sheet- exampleIMG_4275 IMG_4276narrative
My Personal Brand masterclass for Ivy Exec- watch the video and walk through this worksheet with further guidance

-BOOK (Not mine): The War of Art– How to break through resistance to your inner creative

MORE JILL BLOG RIFFS: On personal brand from Ivy Exec

CLASS: Time sensitive offer: Live Course with Prepary and NYC Lady Project on professional narrative; March 16!