Telling your career story doesn’t have to start at the beginning

‘In the beginning …’ may not be the best place to start your career story.

I recently listened to a career story of an ambassador for school-based apprenticeships. The story was a chronology starting from when they became interested in a particular industry, through their apprenticeship, to winning awards and further study at the diploma level. An impressive record of achievement in an area that the person clearly was passionate about.

Yet the story lacked grip. I wasn’t gripped by their passion nor their achievements. Why not? Two factors: delivery and structure. The story was read at a fast gallop. The chronological structure missed focusing on what would grab the audience and hold their attention.

So what can be done about this? Firstly, a person telling their own story should know their own history well enough to not have to rely on reading the text. Nervousness can mean people fear they will leave something out. This doesn’t matter. We, the audience, don’t know what’s in your story, and conveying conviction and enthusiasm is far more important for gaining grip. If you do need some support, have a single sheet of headings and dot points to keep you on track.

Secondly, after writing out your story, look to see what are the key points and consider if these could be the starting point rather than using time as the basis for the story.  For example, some of the key points in the story I heard were:

  • winning awards
  • being a representative on a national apprenticeships forum
  • passion for a particular profession
  • faulty perceptions people have of that profession
  • opportunities for further study and career opportunities.

Any of these could be the starting point to grab the audience.

‘Last month I was part of a national apprenticeship forum.’ Said by a 17 year old, this sounds and looks impressive. How did they manage that?

After telling some more details about the forum, they could then slide into: ‘And how did I end up here? Well …’

‘As a year 11 student I never thought I’d get to university. Yet here I am studying …’

‘I love waking up each morning knowing I’m working in …[state the field]. Why? Because … [give reasons about why the work is interesting]. I know some people think [name the field] is …[state the faulty perceptions]. But they don’t know what I know. The work is ….’

‘When you set your eyes on a particular field one of the obstacles that can block your path is other people’s strange ideas about that work. Take … for example. People think it’s about …. But it’s not.’

Any of these starting points would capture the audience’s attention. Each could lead to covering the same information, but not in a chronological order.

Next time you are invited to tell your career story, think about what order you tell it. It doesn’t have to start at the beginning.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.