As I shared in the last post, I think there are really three basic parts to your story that you want to be sure to convey:
1. How did you start?
2. What have you discovered that you are good at (and why do you think that)?
3. Why do you want to keep going?
In telling your story something that pretty much everyone will want to know is how you got started. It’s always interesting to hear how people get started – sometimes it’s down right entertaining. This is your opportunity to convey what you are passionate about and how it relates to where you are now. Share what it was about this field that drew you in.
Personally, I would challenge you to avoid the phrase “I’m really passionate…” It feels really overdone (and if you are one of ten interviews that someone has to listen to then they probably feel the same way). Besides, talk is cheap, right? What have you done to show that you are passionate about this subject? Did you take extra classes? Did you volunteer for a project after hours? Did you pay for a training course out of your own pocket for the sake of your own learning? Share those things and your passion will be obvious.
Here are some basic, but terrible, mistakes you will want to avoid:
Mistake #1: An Underwhelming Start
I’ve heard many people, myself included, breeze over how they began in their career of choice as though they had never really thought of it before. Now that you are reading this, hopefully that won’t be the case with you. But if your thinking of using “I needed a job” as the sum total of your ‘beginning’ then you’re in trouble. It’s fine to start out that way. We’ve all been there. But if you’re trying to convince someone that you have something to bring to the position in question that is different/better than anyone else you had better have an answer that is more unique. What interested you in the beginning? What is it about this opportunity that rings true to what excites you? What is it about this opportunity/job/position that beats out all other options?
Mistake #2: Don’t Go Chasing Rabbits
You have a limited amount of space to convey this part of your story so get to the point fast. When you think about how you began your journey to where you are now there are a million details that will come to mind. Think about the details that will add to the point versus those that may detract. Not everyone is going to be interested to know the nitty-gritty in how you started, so give them just a teaser. If it’s intriguing to them, let them ask for more. Otherwise, move on to the next question. The worse thing you can do is go into too much detail on something that isn’t even the main point and bore your listener.
Mistake #3: Skipping Practice
Sometimes you’re just too close to something to have any real objectivity to determine if something is really interesting or not, so be sure to share it with a lot of people. The more you share the more you may find that what is most interesting to you is not what is most interesting to others. Also, be sure to share your story with people who know you well. If they know the details of how you began your career they might even have a different take on what is most remarkable about your history. A fresh set of eyes is always a good thing. A friend of mine once summarized my history as an example of ‘reinventing’ oneself. I had never looked at it that way before and it inspired me to rethink how I tell that part of my journey.
Mistake #4: Leaving out the details
Sometimes, in an effort to reach more people or shorten our stories we leave out all the details. Too many details can distract from your point, but no details at all makes for a very boring and uninteresting dialogue. For me, I could say that I went to a three-month hackschool for front-end engineering. That’s the generic version. Instead, I share that I went to a three-month hackschool for front-end engineering based in South Carolina, leaving my wife and 4 kids in Texas. The details convey a much more compelling story that almost always causes people to want to know more. What school in South Carolina? Why did you choose it? Was it hard to leave your family?
It’s been a while since I have worked through these questions and this series is inspiring me to go back to the drawing board and re-examine my own storytelling. Not to sound too much like a therapist, but this process really is about self discovery as much as it is about communicating well. As people we are always growing, changing, evolving… it’s good to take a look at this time and again.
Photo by Ed Dunens.