How to tell a good story at a job interview
Episode 4 - Developing your personal narrative - Part 2
In this episode, I will finish what I started in the Episode 3, Developing your narrative - Part 1. It may be worth going back and listening to Part 1.
In Part 1, I mentioned how I became obsessed with Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse and said a paragraph that often comes to my mind when people ask me to write about myself, be it a bio, a LinkedIn profile, or resume. Barthes' horror about writing about oneself is my own. And I think it resonates with many people.
Although I want my clients to learn to feel comfortable in situations where they need to speak and write about themselves, I never complain about helping them review and edit their resumes. Frankly, time is of the essence when we are job hunting, and sometimes things need to be done quickly. And it is so much easier to write and critique someone else's work, yes? So keep that in mind, and seek help if the job opportunity is crucial to you.
But you shouldn't expect your coach (or proofreader) to do all the work for you. You have to put in the effort. Deep down, you have all the answers, and you most certainly have all the knowledge about your experience, skills, and strengths. Not your coach (aka me!).
So how can you write and speak comfortably about yourself in a way that enhances your personal brand? Well, the answer for me is also with Roland Barthes. You see, what Barthes is known for is his expertise in writing, expression, and communication. He studied discourse and narrative, which is how we communicate in speech and writing. And he came up with five different ways in which stories are told.
In this episode, I discuss the five different types of narrative and focus.
The goal is to stop diffusing the focus on ourselves, which ends up hurting our career progress. By learning about the different narrative styles, I hope you become mindful and knowledgeable on how to talk about your work, so you're comfortable with me, and it doesn't sound like you are bragging. I hope you will find it easy to transition to a better narrative style, and I am confident it will have positive results in your career.
So what is it that people do that is ineffective in building their personal narrative?
I believe people are most comfortable communicating in what Roland Barthes calls Hermeneutics. It's a big fancy word. Don't bother remembering it, but here is what it means: it's how we communicate by delivering breadcrumbs, clues that we hope people will follow to decide for us. Listen to the episode where I give examples and explain what this narrative may not be helpful for you.
There is another way of telling a more compelling story without being a brag-fest. Barthes called it Semantics. The entire scene carries meaning when words, visual cues, and body language add to the story. And you don't have to spell out what you mean. It oozes out of you, and people know. In this episode, I give examples that showcase why this narrative style is so good in helping you win over people.
How can you apply narrative to build your personal brand?
Well, think about the whole composition about what you want to portray professionally. Let's say you want to be the best project manager there is. And someone asks you how your project is going. You lit up, and you are energized. You answer mindfully. You don't need to spell out every detail, but it needs to be something important to that person. In this episode, I explain the importance of tailoring your message to the listener.
Personal narrative, or personal branding, is built over time.
Think about the concept of natural selection: repeat a strategy consistently over time, look back at what you are doing and review. Do a self-assessment of what has worked well, what hasn't. McKinsey has put together a list of questions on trusting your instincts, added to the resources below. But basically, it's experimenting and self-assessing, adapting when you notice something is working well, and evolving in your narrative so that you are in a winning situation.
Does that make sense? I may need to do another episode on this, as I'm obsessed with this idea of personal best and how to find it within yourself. Trust your findings (or instincts) but doing this in a scientific-ish way? I think there's a bit of science in my crazy method!
Resources mentioned in this episode
Transcript of this episode
Hello there, I'm Renata Bernarde and this is The Job Hunting Podcast, where we have very casual, unstructured conversations that will help you nail your next job. And if you want to have more of a structure and formal content for your job hunting and future career development, wait a couple of months and keeping in touch with us because I'm developing an online course and it will be available soon. In fact, if you subscribe to my newsletters, you will be the first to know. So hang on and it's coming. But this content today is one that I delivered a week ago at a conference in Sydney. I was invited by the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy to be one of the speakers at their Annual Leadership Summit.
And I said, yes, of course. And off I went to Sydney. It was a horrible rainy day and I almost did not make it to Sydney. It was one of those days where both airports were closed, Melbourne in Sydney and I just made it into Sydney. So that was good. And I did record my presentation and I was hoping to upload it as a podcast, but the quality of the sound was so bad. I'm having to do it again and I was really pumped that day and I will try to be just as excited today about it. It's a very interesting topic. One that I think is not entirely like unique, but it's a blended mix of things that I've read for different sectors, not related to career development. So today I will try to remember all the sort of references because these things sometimes go back years. But I promise I will make the effort to give you additional resources if you want to follow up and investigate where, you know, I came up with weird ideas if you think that they are weird or you're curious about them.
So this episode is going to be about building your own narrative in your ability to tell stories about yourself, which some people find it really awkward. I'm one of those and that's probably why I'm so drawn to this and why I've sort of developed some techniques that I want to share with you as well and you have this type of content is for you and you're currently in the market for a new job and you're sort of looking at developing opportunities for advancement of your career. If you want the tips to advance into a promotion, let's say, so that you don't have to move to a different employer as such. All those amalgamate in this kind of what I call the melting pot of career readiness. Just being ready for when you do need to get a new role or you want to get a new role and career readiness is really important to be built and developed over time and not when you need it.
Quite frankly, you have to spend some time getting good at this and building your own narrative because that's what some folks call personal brand and if you're rolling your eyes now just stick around and I promise it's not as annoying as it seems. It's actually an important, very important aspect and I will try to explain that in a way that is not of vomit inducing guys, so being gone. , you will need to check the notes because I will post, I'm not sure if the, our podcast episode notes can actually handle illustration, so I will make sure that there is a link to my website so that you can see the illustrations. I will try my best to describe them, but if you are really keen to develop your personal narrative, it might be worth just taking some time to look at the illustrations on my website.
Okay, so let's dive into it as they say. All right, I'm opening my illustration so I can actually know what I'm talking about and closing some of my earlier notes. Yes, guys, I am organized. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, especially when I'm uploading my podcasts to be honest. But I am and I have notes. So yep. Years of personal trial and error has led me to what I'm about to say. It's something, like I said, I've compiled things and it's not worthy of a book, but it's definitely enough to fill up in an episode of a podcast and I'm sharing it with you and it can be a little bit controversial at times. I like to challenge that as go and best practices and sort of look at something and say, are you sure? It seems like the emperor has no clothes, so can we just revaluate how we're doing this? And if you have that attitude and you kind of question things, Oh, please do. And just leave me comments and let's continue to talk about it in future episodes because there is no one way of doing things.
In fact, this is a really interesting outside chat here that I'm about to go into. I was following a thread on one of my private Facebook groups and somebody was looking for an executive coach and asked do you know anybody? And people would say things like, Oh, make sure that you get one that has been very, very successful. You know, as a CEO, don't just go about and get anyone. And that made me think of people that follow advice from winners of a lottery and asked them, you know, how you do it? And they would say, Oh, you know, this are the numbers that I've sort of played with over and over again until I won. And what you're doing when you're looking at winners is that you're not looking at losers. So ideally what you want to get as consultants or coaches or mentors or people that have a well-rounded experience, that they wear their failure badges just as proudly as their success badges. Right? You want people to let you now that things are not as easy as they seem. And if they had a very linear career, they may not be exactly the best coaches for you. And that's how I feel. I have had wonderful coaches, shout out to my coach if you're listening. Oh, she's not with me anymore, but I do miss her a lot and she's a good friend.
And you know, I think I learned a lot from things that she went through in her career and I wouldn't categorize them as success successes as such. I would categorize them as maturing as an executive and developing her skills to deal with very challenging situations, which she was then able to pass on to me. So, trial and error and success and comes with identifying what works for you. And in this case, developing a personal narrative is of course very personal, but it's something that I'm curious about because I have found that people hate talking about themselves even when they're are very good at talking about other stuff. Right? They may be very good talking about their own companies or products or family or projects, but when it comes to talking about themselves, which we covered in the first episodes of this podcast, when we were talking about interviews, it, it gets tricky.
And I developed this idea and I went all the way down to my early teens when I read a book that really touched me and really taught me a lot. And that book, I will put in the show notes. It's Roland Barthes’ A Lovers Discourse.
Okay. So, I went into a rabbit hole of trying to find my notes and had to pause and re-start. If there's a bit of a weird kind of sound there, it's because I had to cut the recording and I try not to do that because I want this to be really unstructured and casual. So, apologies for that.
But here we are again. I started my presentation last week talking about the fact that I felt awkward about talking about myself very early on. And I think that that's the case with many people. But I was very lucky that I found a tiny book by Roland Barthes named A Lover's Discourse. And it was about love and falling in love and falling out of love. And in a way it has to do with falling in love with anything, not just the person, but it could be a career, a job, and also a falling out of love and changing. And I very lucky that I had access to this text early on and I was obsessed with it. I read it over and over and over again. And I think it had a huge influence in my life and it allowed me the courage to pursue different career paths and have the ambition and the confidence to make different options job-wise for me personally and help other people achieve that too.
So in that text, there is a one paragraph where Roland Barthes writes about how hard it is to write about oneself and how unfashionable it is and it's dull and it's really boring and, and it really dilapidated the whole point of that you're trying to make because it's, you know, it's not fashionable as he sees it.
He uses the word outmoded and I really liked that and I think it's very telling and it speaks specially in this culture that I live in now, which is the Anglo Celtic Anglo-Saxon culture. There is more of a reluctance to speak about oneself and to be a tall poppy. Tall poppy is a term that we use a lot in Australia. We don’t really worry about those things so much in Latin America. I think that talking about oneself is an awkward thing to do. And ironically, it's what you have to do when you're applying for a job. So, you have to train yourself and find Nicks to avoid feeling awkward about it.
One thing that we have a lot of commonality everywhere is the lack of clarity that we give people about our careers. It's not every profession that has that situation. For example, if you're a paramedic or a nurse or a general practitioner or you know, a carpenter, those professions where you tell what you do and immediately people know, Oh, I really am so jealous of people that are in professionals like that, so if that is your case have empathy for some of your friends. In my case, I'm an executive coach. I am a business transformation consultant. I have a business where I help organizations deal with massive disruption. It's very hard to explain that to other people when I'm in a barbecue or a dinner party. We tend to be very vague about it and we tend to talk in jargon language about it too. And that excludes people. So, one more reason for us to talk about this topic, about developing a narrative and a story that engages the listener.
You really don't know where your next job is going to come from. This is not just applying for jobs that are available for you on a nice LinkedIn ad. This is about opportunities that can come your way in different ways and to be ready and able to explain to people what you do and what your skills on and how you use it is really important. Right? Secondly, when talking about us, I find that this is probably more acute with women, but I think men will also relate, let me know. But we have this tendency to want to do a very good job and to externalize to other people project the understanding of the job that we do onto other people. For example, we often hear that people will work really hard and expect to be promoted.
They will work long hours and expect to be perceived as a good colleague and team member. What we should be doing is actually taking ownership of our own narrative about what we do and feeling confident about talking about it without feeling like a prick or being a prick. You don't want to do that. So once again, I'm just kind of doing the introduction, the opening statements probably for longer than you need, but I really feel that it's important for us to go through this because I don't think we talk about this enough.
And then when you do have to do it and you're not prepared, let's say you go to a job interview or you're talking about a project that you're doing at work and you're asked to talk about it. We dig a hole for ourselves by maybe being having this kind of, but being perceived as being a pulse humble person. So when you attend to, we want to convey humility, but you shouldn't because you've been asked to, to deliver a speech on a project you've just led, delivered, done, but you kind of dig a hole for yourself as you're doing it and you kind of feel like you're going down that rabbit hole and do you don't know how to come out and you can be perceived as disingenuous.
So, what to do? Well, first of all, you, it's important to have this understanding that the way that you will tell your story and the people that you can access directly, you know that one degree of between you and, and, and people that you're talking to as opposed to two, three, six degrees of connection, that's a very small number and that's a very small group that you will be accessing directly.
I'll have to come up with an example. So it's easier and faster for all of us. Let's say you have finished a very important project that you were part of for your employer. And that story needs to be told, right? So, it needs to be celebrated. It's a milestone. It's saved the company money. It's implemented something that has been months or years in the works. And you can tell that story in a report. You can tell that story on LinkedIn to your boss at a conference. If you are invited to be a speaker and you're of course telling that story to your team all the time. And let's say if there was a client involved, you're telling that client as well. Now those first links then become like a spiderweb of storytelling and Chinese whispers. And these people will tell others and your boss will tell his boss or their head boss and your client will tell other teams within that organization and your team will go to the water cooler and talk to their colleagues.
And in fact, they might bump into your boss and tell a story. And you want those stories to be consistent. You want those stories to be as correlated as possible, right? And that that has everything to do with, you guessed it, your personal branding. What you are hoping to do is to identify what you want to be known for as a professional at that point in time, let's say from now until five years from now. This point in time. And you want to develop your experience, your leadership style, your professional development and your network to emphasize that strength that you want to build and be known for. That's a marketing, personal marketing strategy for you. So if you in project management and you want to be known for being an excellent project manager, manager who works in an agile factory fashion, you should be focusing all of those elements to add to that marketing strategy, that personal marketing strategy of yours so that when your personal public relations happens, it will be addressing what you want it to address.
And people at the water cooler will be saying, Peta was excellent at managing this project and she is the expert in agile in this company. That's public relations. And personal branding is when a new client comes to you and say, you've developed, delivered a great job for client X and I am now here asking you to deliver similar results for me. That's personal branding. It's when your message that you've wanted amplified comes back to you. And you don't want a message that comes back to bite you! That would be a mistake, right?
So guys, I guess that's where I'm going to leave you with. The presentation was much longer than this. I don't know how I managed to deliver it last week in 20 minutes, but I will have to cut this podcast short because I want to make sure I don't go on for too long. You have to be able to listen to it as you are commuting to work. That's my motto. I will do the second half of presentation I did some other time and I hope that you've enjoyed it.
So just summing it up, make sure that you understand that it's not only you that is delivering the message about you, that the personal branding and that is important is the one that starts from you as you develop your marketing, your personal marketing strategy. So as an example, if you want to be known as a project manager who is an expert in agile, then you will focus all your skills and professional development and network and job opportunities and, and project opportunities to emphasize and reinforce that to the point that that message gets amplified without you being the deliverer of that message.
And it will come back to you and allow you more work putties in the area that you have chosen to be good at. Okay. Everybody. Excellent work. I have mentioned a book, I will mention a book every week, and even though you may think not a career book, I do think it's worth reading. It's small and it might help specially people who are reassessing their careers and coming to terms with the idea of changing paths and going into a different direction and feeling possibly a bit guilty about it. Don't feel guilty with this tiny book by Roland Barthes. It's called a lover's discourse. And I will have a link to it in the episode notes. Alright.
Don't forget to subscribe and follow these podcasts and check my website and I hope to see you back here some other time. I won't actually “see” you, but I hope that you keep connected! Ciao for now.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
Contact Renata Bernarde
I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.
My free resources for job hunters: The Optimized Job Search: Weekly Schedule & Masterclass.
Learn more about my services, courses, and group coaching: RenataBernarde.com