Career Advice, Interviews

Stop Rambling! How to Tell a Concise, Compelling Career Story in an Interview

When I first heard I had scored an interview with Glassdoor, I was thrilled. I wasted no time practicing for the interview, and it’s a good thing too, considering that my first few practice rounds were a wreck. There were so many different points I wanted to touch on — my previous roles, my skills, my accomplishments, my alma mater, my work style — that I blathered on and on to cover them all in the mock interviews I did with my boyfriend. Thankfully, he pointed it out before I made the same mistake in my real interview.

“You’re trying to cover too much at once — what you need is to figure out your career story,” he said.

“My what?” I asked.

“Your career story — the story of how you got to be where you are today, why you want to work for the company and why you’re perfect for the job,” he explained.

Intrigued by this suggestion, I spent the next few hours crafting my career story. The next mock interview went much better, and more importantly, so did the real one. I ended up getting a job offer, and to this day I credit that largely to nailing down a solid career story. Being able to walk into the room and give my interviewers a brief synopsis of who I was and why they should be interested in me right from the get-go helped me stand out from the crowd — and it can help you too.

So how exactly do you go about defining, crafting and presenting your career story? Follow this structure.

Part 1: The Origin Story

If there’s one thing recruiters and hiring managers love seeing in a candidate, it’s passion. So rather than just telling them that you’re interested in your field, start your career story by telling them why you’re interested in the field, and how that interest came to be.

“Include some personal details about why you chose this career path,” suggests Ronda Ansted, career consultant and founder of be the change career consulting. “For example, if a high degree of organization is required, you might mention that you color-coded your sock drawer in your youth (and helped your family do the same), which led you to realize that keeping everyone organized as a project manager would be a perfect fit for you.”

To paraphrase the late great Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. If you can emotionally connect to a recruiter or hiring manager through a funny, cute or heartwarming story about how you became involved in the field, you’ll be that much more memorable.

Part 2: The Rundown

After sharing how you first became interested in the field, it’s time to talk about your relevant experience.

“You should cover your goals, accomplishments and transitions for each of your roles,” says Joseph Liu, Career Consultant & Host of the Career Relaunch Podcast. “This allows an interviewer to do three things: 1) understand how you perceive your career trajectory, 2) lay the foundation for high-quality follow-up questions and 3) assess your communication skills and ability to provide structure to an otherwise open-ended question.”

But be careful — you don’t want to just regurgitate what’s on your resume.

“Often, people take a ‘bottom-up’ approach, where they simply give a chronological play-by-play of their entire career history. This typically doesn’t provide the interviewer with meaningful information beyond what he or she can ascertain from your resume,” Liu adds. “Instead, candidates should take a ‘top-down’ approach. This involves two steps: First, deciding what narrative you want to tell, defining the major chapters of your career. Second, pulling out the key accomplishments and roles from your career history that reinforce that narrative, which feeds into one’s verbal career story.”

For added color, explain “your transitions and motivations along the way,” Liu says. “Ideally, you also want to build a logical career narrative that’s culminated in this moment when this next role is the perfect one for you.”

Part 3: Connecting the Dots

Now that you’ve explained how you became interested in the field and what your background is, tie that back to why you’re interested in this particular position and how you could benefit the company. Before you launch into these topics, though, “do some self-reflection and career research” first, Ansted says. “You need clarity — clarity about what kind of job you want and clarity about what the employer is looking for… If you know what they find valuable and important, focus on that.”

Once you’ve done your homework and are ready to explain what drew you to the opportunity, Helen Godfrey, career coach and founder of The Authentic Path, suggests using the following questions to help you shape your responses:

  • What caught your attention about the job?
  • What about it sounds like fun?
  • What made you apply?
  • Why this company?
  • What is important about the services that the company provides? Why is it important to you?
  • How does their mission align with your values?

Then, talk about what makes you uniquely qualified for the position.

“Know your strengths that match what the employer is looking for,” and “give relevant examples of how you used your strengths in a professional setting,” Ansted advises.

“You are showing the employer that you can do the job by using specific examples that address their needs,” Godfrey adds. “What do they want in an employee? How are you a fit? What experience are you bringing to the table?”

Finally, wrap up your career story with “one sentence to sum up why you are perfect for the job,” Ansted suggests.

Example

With all of that in mind, here’s a rough approximation of the career story I crafted for my interview with Glassdoor:

From my childhood years spent scribbling down three-paragraph fairy tales in my blanket fort to an intensive but incredibly gratifying creative writing program in college, I’ve always been a storyteller at heart. So when it came time to look for a job, there was no doubt in my mind that writing and storytelling had to play a key role in my career.

I did a couple of internships that helped me hone my marketing skills — one in a Technical Writing role where I worked with internal stakeholders to produce engaging instructional videos and presentations for our company-wide intranet site, and a Hispanic Marketing role where I created a data-driven creative marketing plan, which resulted in an increase in market share from #3 to #2 in my assigned region.

For my first full-time position, though, I wanted to get closer to my storytelling roots, so I accepted a position as a content writer at a creative communications agency. In my current role, I’m tasked with strategizing, executing and optimizing social media, blog post, case study and byline programs. I get to work with Global 500 companies, place stories in top-tier publications and ultimately generate interest in my clients and elevate their reputations, but I’m often torn between too many different goals. Instead, I want to concentrate all of my efforts behind one company whose mission I really believe in.

If chosen to be the Staff Writer/Content Marketer at Glassdoor, however, I know I’d be able to strike a balance between producing engaging, creative, high-quality content and working towards something truly meaningful — helping people find jobs and companies they love. What’s more, I’ll have a lot to offer my team and the company as a whole, including relevant experience, a proven track record of success, an eagerness to collaborate and an unyielding passion for the written word.

Of course, what was right for me may not be what’s right for you, so craft your own narrative in whichever way best suits you.

Practice, Practice, Practice

When you’ve gotten your career story to the place you want it to be, congrats — the hard part is over! Now, all you have to do is practice it until it becomes second nature.

“Rehearse this response until you have it memorized. This allows you to deliver it with confidence and convey that you’ve invested ample time preparing for the interview,” Liu says. “Some candidates are worried about sounding over-rehearsed or robotic. The reality is that you will be a bit nervous, so even the most well-rehearsed response doesn’t sound overly robotic in the moment. In the worst case scenario, the interview will simply think you’ve invested a lot of time preparing, which isn’t a bad thing.”

Most of all, make sure that your passion and enthusiasm shines through.

“If you want to truly tell a great story, above all, YOU must believe in it,” says career coach Carlota Zimmerman. “And remember that the men and women who changed our world weren’t born as heroes with amazing stories — they earned them.”

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