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Importance of Your Career Narrative

Part Three: Planning for Career Growth Now

written by Patrick Ow October 9, 2020
Importance of Your Career Narrative

Patrick Ow discusses the significance of mindfully crafting your career narrative.

What is your career narrative?

Start the development of your career goals by articulating a career narrative. Note that personal stories are powerful motivators of success.

A career narrative can be defined as a professional story outlining both long- and short-term career goals. It elaborates on the specific steps that you will need to achieve all your goals.

Here’s an example of a career narrative:

My immediate goal is to secure a position at a public listed company within three months where I can continue to grow and improve myself both personally and professionally. I enjoy challenges and look forward to opportunities where I can increase my sales revenues by 20% within three months of joining the organization. Ultimately, I’d like to move into management within four years with a focus on strategy and development. Right now, I’m focusing on improving my communication and leadership skills by completing a communications course and a leadership development program by December. While I’m very happy as a member of any team I’m on, I’m looking forward to being able to take on small leadership roles within a year, eventually working my way into a position as a manager and team leader within two years.

Start with the End in Mind

Here’s a key trend that all job seekers must understand. They must show, not tell or brag about how good they are. They must produce verifiable accomplishments that are quantifiable.

Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for quantifiable numbers in your resume to quickly tell them whether you are a performer or not. This also applies to soft and hard skills and experiences.

How many times have you seen these sentences in a resume?

I am a high achiever with 12 years of international experience in fast-paced and innovative work environment. I am seeking the opportunity to use my skills and experience in a new challenging management position to contribute tot the success of a company driven by the cultures of excellence and leadership.

My track record of success in leadership positions demonstrates my abilities in leading departments, driving change, and coordinating multidisciplinary programs. I managed staffs and oversaw complex civil an criminal litigations. Lastly, I am a seasoned public speaker with a negotiation and diplomatic savvy.

The answer: “Many times.”

The question for me is: “So what?”

So what if you tell me that you are a “high achiever.”

Says who? Where is the evidence to back it up?

Focus on the employer, not you

The focus of your resume is not on you! (There are too many “I”s and “my” statements in the example above.)

John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address inspired children and adults to see the importance of civic action and public service. His historic words, “Ask not what your country can do for you  –  ask what you can do for your country,” challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good.

Likewise, don’t ask how much your employer can pay you, but ask what value you can create for the organization. Seek value creation first and money will follow!

The focus of your resume is on your future employer, not you!

Creating Value for the Employer

Let me reiterate. It is all about what you can do for the employer.

The focus should be on what key accomplishment you can produce for the organization with your skills, experience, and qualifications. You have to effectively translate your skills, experience, and qualifications into future successes and accomplishments for the employer.

The reality is that employers buy on future value creation, not on past personal subjective assertions about yourself. They want tangible evidence to show that you can accomplish their work in return for the salary they will be paying you. Employers must justify the salary they pay each employee. For them, it is a return on investment. You must prove to them that you can give them a positive return on investment!

Quantifying Your Past Accomplishments

When you can quantify your past achievements and results, you can effectively demonstrate future value creation and worth to your employer.

If you are receiving $100,000 per year in salary, then you should be creating value over $140,000 per year for your employer! (It includes salary cost plus benefits, taxes, etc.)

At job interviews, don’t just say to the hiring manager, “I wrote articles for a local publisher.

Instead, quantify your achievements by saying, “I am writing ten 2,000-word articles per week for ABC publisher. The publisher has 100,000 readers located in five districts. Their average reader satisfaction score is 4.7 over 5.

Focus your achievements on how manyhow often, and how much.

Here’s another example: Don’t say, “I do fundraising for cancer research.

Instead, quantify your accomplishments in fundraising. Say that you have “increased fundraising contributions for cancer research by 30% over the last two years and have raised a total of $100,000 in the last financial year.

Numbers easily quantify success. They quickly give the hiring manager the motivation to hire you.

No more BS or fluff.

Subjective assertions about yourself are eliminated.

Numbers separate you from the other job seekers.

Reverse-Engineering the Outcome You Want

And close any achievement gaps in your resume

Always start with the end in mind.

Working backward from what employers are looking for, you can ‘accumulate’ achievements that you can then use in your resume and job interviews in the future. But if you do not intentionally plan for these achievements to occur over your working life, your resume will NOT be compelling for future employers.

When there are achievement gaps in your resume, it is time to do something about it!

Here’s the thing: You cannot turn back time.

Do not be regretful.

This is where a career growth strategy comes in. When it is done early, it sets the roadmap for you to intentionally build up your achievements, job-by-job, over time. 

Rather than reacting to circumstances, your career growth strategy can create a positive future for yourself. It also creates a compelling human story that you can tell about yourself. This is important as storytelling is becoming more mainstream. It also differentiates you from other job seekers. The story emotionally connects you with the work and organization you want to work in.

In Summary

Lay a solid foundation for your career growth strategy

Here are the practical steps you require to develop and implement your career growth strategy:

  • Know who you are and your purpose in life.
  • Establish a clear vision of what you want to achieve with your life by knowing your WHY.
  • Set goals that are personal and meaningful to you including your career goals. Do set goals in the other six areas of your life.
  • Develop strategies and plans for achieving your goals. These will realize this vision and purpose in life including your career growth strategy.
  • Understand your limiting beliefs and things that may stop you from achieving your goals. Overcome those barriers.
  • Stay motivated and committed by rigorously executing your strategies and plans without getting distracted by everyday challenges. It is easy to get caught up with daily work. We forget to look beyond our circumstances and into our future.
  • List your non-negotiable criteria when evaluating which employer to work for. Do not waste time pursuing jobs that do not fit your criteria and career goals. It is best to walk away. Ideally, there should be an alignment between your values and purpose and the organization’s values and purpose.
  • Update and optimize your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile. Project your specialized niche and skills and quantifiable accomplishments to employers through your keyword-optimized resume and LinkedIn profile. These documents are your “marketing brochure” about yourself, your career narrative, and how you can add or create value for your employers.
  • Prepare job interview answers to behavioral questions. Behavioral questions are commonly used in job interviews.
  • Identify the industry you want to play in.
  • Identify the skills, experience, competencies, and certifications required in that industry to achieve your career goals.
  • Identify the equivalent job titles that will utilize your skills, experience, competencies, and certifications. You will need to understand industry job titles and what they will be called.
  • Target and list your ideal employers that require similar job titles and your skills, experience, competencies, and certifications. Create a wishlist of dream job employers that you are emotionally connected to.
  • Network your way into these organizations. Once you have your career growth strategy, narrative and emotional connections clarified and defined, it is now time to connect with like-minded people in the organizations you would love to work in. It could include people in the industry or people you admire.
  • Conduct informational interviews with people in the targetted organizations you want to work in to validate your assumptions and criteria. Set up 15-minute information interviews with people from your industry or with people with the same skills as you. Do so after you have done some preliminary research about these people and their background and experience.
  • Get around the hidden job market and the applicant tracking system. With more job seekers flooding the job market, many potential employers will avoid going into the open market to advertise for job applicants.
  • Curate and share relevant information on social media platforms, etc. When you know more about your contacts, you will know what they are interested in.
  • Serve people in your networks by giving them value. Indirectly tell them to remember you. Once you have made the connections, nurture them. Constantly keep your name and brand on top of their minds by giving value to them. Unconditionally serve your contacts by giving them links to an article of interest when you email them.
  • Continuously read, upskill, and update your knowledge. This is where lifelong learning comes in. You can’t serve people and curate and share relevant information if you have nothing to give.
  • Invest in yourself. The more you want out from your career, the more you need to invest time in developing and implementing your career growth strategy. This may also include spending money to increase your knowledge or to network with other professionals. It may also include hiring a coach or mentor.
  • Enhance your brand. In executing your career growth strategy, you are also enhancing your branding.

Enhancing Your Brand

Whether you like it or not, people will always define you by your brand. This is where you can intentionally control how people perceive you. If you do not actively control people’s perception of you and your brand, their perception will control you and define who you are.

Keys to successful personal branding:

  • Emotional intelligence  – You need to be self-aware of people and emotions around you where you can react positively and with empathy. It is about “reading the room” or thinking twice before you say things or do things.
  • Intellectual humility  – This is about being transparent and authentic toward others and their views. You need to be grateful and appreciative of who you are. Be genuinely interested in people and what’s going on in their lives. Intellectual superiority is a big no-no. Never put people down.
  • Professional presence  –  Presence is letting the most powerful version of yourself shine through. It is a combination of gravitas, communication, and appearance. Together, these elements form an impression of trustworthiness, competence, and authenticity. Read more about professional presence.
This is Part Three of a three-part series.

Part One- Career Growth Strategies to Maximize Your Potential

Part Two- Benefits of a Career Growth Strategy

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