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Creating a personal narrative

It’s not unusual for Gen Y types to come to the job market with a dizzying array of jobs, interests and things they’re trying to do. It’s not only a stigma of the millennials, though. Due to the shifts in the job market and how differently hiring is than it was decade ago, many people are entering the marketplace with a wide range of skills. If they’ve had one career already, they might be actively involved in a second act already or for some, a third.

The personal narrative is no different than the “founder’s myth” that some companies have. (Think: “I came up with the idea for this firm on the back of a napkin, one day talking to some friends at a party…”) It’s not about creating a myth though, but rather, an authentic story that informs your audience on what you’re about, where you’ve come from and the reasons for the path you’ve taken. Especially if it’s a winding one, it’s important to think long and hard about the ways you got where you are and come up with a logic behind it or else, it might be difficult to shed the notion that you’re flaky or indecisive. 

How does this work? Well, it’s really specific to the individual situation of the person. But it requires a great deal of thought and introspection. Here are some things to consider during that process:

1. No one has traveled the path you have, because your path is unique to you. Accentuate your strengths in a well-crafted sales pitch. Think of it this way. If you’re a farmer, do you want to take the best crops you’ve grown to the market or the battered ones? Will people stop and ask you why your crops are battered or are they likely to move to the next stand? Do you want to start on the defensive? Not if you can help it. It’s important to appreciate your path for what it is and to start thinking about what’s led you to where you are.

Once you’ve done that, you can begin to really create a trajectory for your own career; even if you didn’t have one when you embarked on that path. Some things to consider: What’s important to me? What are my goals? What have I done consistently well over time? These are the sorts of things that inform someone about what your values are and what you can contribute to an organization.

2. It’s often all about the way the product is packaged. But you still need substance. Going back to the products at the farm stand, you have to present the best package possible and once people sample it has to taste good. In other words, you have to make sure there’s substance behind whatever it is you’re offering up. The packaging is just a way to get them to try it out. Thus, the time you really shine is when you’ve received the opportunity to discuss why you’re the right fit for a role with someone. A great cover letter can be a step in the door, but if your in-person presentation skills don’t back up what you’ve put together, it’s not going to work in the end.

3. Sometimes, you have to be willing to want it bad. It can be discouraging to often feel like people “don’t get it.” Many of us feel like we’re talented and that it goes unnoticed. Except, there are all sorts of people out there who’s mothers told them they’re special. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to feed you much. You’ll have to brush yourself off and really hone in on the ways you’re better than the other kids who’ve come to the birthday party with hats in tow. 

How do you do this? Standing out. Some people suggest resumes that pop or doing unorthodox methods to get a decisionmakers attention. You’ll read about these success stories in blogs and newspapers from time to time. If you do, it’s not a signal that you ought to try the same thing they did. Personal methods are often marked by what I call an emotional patent. In other words, they’ve blazed their own trail and did it in a manner that change the game in their favor. You’re not going to do it that way, because it wouldn’t be changing the game, it would just be conventional since it’s already been done.

Not every idea has to be game changing, but the best opportunities for success exist when you’re working in concert with your own authenticity.

Timing is usually everything. What works today might not work next week and just because something doesn’t work now, is not a sign that it can’t work at another point. The keys are really knowing who you are, what you’re good at and make a decision to understand what you want and where you want to be.

4. Ideal situations don’t really exist, but it’s good to have an idea in mind anyway. Dream jobs are just that…dreams. Yet, it can be helpful to model what we want out of a career situation by thinking about what we’ve done in the past and present. Rather than imagining a dream scenario, it’s more productive to think about the scenario in which you’d grow and thrive.

Think about that moment when your last job became stagnant and what you felt like you needed to make it better or more fulfilling. What would it take for you to get that? Once you’ve figured that out, you can begin the work of making it happen.

While this is a lot to digest, the real point of clarity is by focusing on many of these ideas you’ll begin to have a personal narrative that is concise and able to be elucidated beyond just the confines of interviews. It’ll become woven into a life mantra that others can begin to reference as a sort of shorthand to remembering you. Standing out isn’t always about shouting the loudest or being the most aggressive; it can often be a matter of being a person who represents a core set of ideals consistently.

Challenges abound in a market that’s being redefined with new rules constantly, but knowing yourself well and what you have to offer can be an advantage that provides you with the keys to open doors you believed were closed to you.