Applying the art of storytelling to your career

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar at Watermark on the art of storytelling. While I have presented on this topic a number of times, this session was slightly different: many in the audience were seeking to understand how they could apply storytelling principles to achieve their personal career goals, as well as a mixture of entrepreneurs and marketing professionals.

For me, it was an insightful session, taking the tools I have used in a corporate context with clients for years and applying them to people seeking to evolve their own personal brand.

Good storytelling lays the foundation for everything your target audience will think in relation to your brand. And in the case of your career, it’s the tool we use to define that brand, to what we bring to the professional table, and to the career goals we set for ourselves.

For example, in a corporate context, we talk a lot about evolving your narrative as your company itself evolves. After all, the story you tell as a start-up is different to the one you tell when you’re the established market leader.

The same principle applies to your career narrative. As a graduate, you bring a fresh perspective and new energy to any role – key factors which compensate for an initial lack of experience. But as your career evolves that narrative must also evolve.

As an up and comer, it is still important to demonstrate new thinking, but also to showcase a growing skill set and a deeper understanding of market dynamics. As you move into middle management, your ability to showcase strategic thinking, leadership and in-depth market knowledge are of primary importance. When you reach the executive suite, your story is that of a tried and tested leader, experienced, knowledgeable and proven.

As with everything in life, it is easy to get sidetracked and find your story hasn’t quite evolved the way you intended. That dream job you once craved may not have lived up to expectations; living costs or other circumstances may have compelled you to stay in a role you didn’t love; or your career growth may have stalled.

One of the most important elements of effective storytelling is recognizing when it is time to course correct. As we do in a corporate context, I suggest you take the time to re-evaluate your current narrative. What is your ultimate goal? Have you lost sight of that vision? What obstacles are currently in your way? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How are you telling that story to yourself and others right now?

Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist at Google recently wrote: “Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, ask them what problems they want to solve. This changes the conversation from ‘who do I want to work for’ to ‘what do I need to learn in order to be able to do that?’”

I think adults at a career crossroads should consider the same approach. One of the core principles of storytelling is understanding your audience and the problems they are trying to overcome. Your role as the hero of your story is to help them overcome those challenges with the unique skill set you bring to the table.

Over the course of my own career, I have progressed from a PR professional to owning my own agency,  to being a litigator and back to  a PR professional as the CEO of my own agency. The common thread throughout that journey was my desire and ability to help people tell their stories.

Later this month I will be presenting again on the art of storytelling at the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, this time with a focus on storytelling for companies and entrepreneurs. Join us!