Your Career Story: What to Say and When

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Nikki Smith, Assistant Director, Duke University Career Center
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Thumbnail Think about the best story you’ve ever heard. What were the components of it? Was it the introduction that got you interested? The center of the Tootsie Roll, where the story began to take shape? Or was it the end, when you finally saw what the author intended when setting out the share the story?

I think all the parts are the best. But then again I WOULD, because I have loved every single page (2,464 pages after three books, #nerdalert) of each of the Game of Thrones books I have read and I #cantstopwontstop until I am done with the whole series (And yes, I do know that the series is called A Song of Ice and Fire. Who’s the nerd, here, hmmmm?)

Back to telling your story… Since George R.R. Martin probably tells his editor “Too bad” when encouraged to shorten his stories, he isn’t a good guide for how you should talk about your career questions/plans/second guesses. As you consider the purpose for sharing your career plans, reflect on what it is you’d like to say to which audience. To put storytelling into an extended metaphor related to narrative, here is what you can share when telling…
1. The Twitter story—140 characters to talk about yourself at a career fair or in your LinkedIn summary
2. The short story—a few paragraphs when conducting an informational interview, networking or writing business correspondence (resumes and cover letters, for example)
3. The novella—for when you are interviewing

If you’re wondering how to prepare for ALL of these story-telling scenarios, take 10 minutes to review and answer the questions below. Think of ONE experience, such as an internship, a volunteer activity, an independent study, or a leadership position, and answer the questions with that single occurrence in mind.
Big Picture Questions
• What is the purpose of your particular story?
• What does this story look like, depending on who you’re telling it to and in what setting?
• What have you learned in this experience (i.e. your internship, the volunteering you’ve done, or through serving in your SLG)?
• Were the skills you learned the most critical part of the experience, particularly when you think of what you would take from that story at this point in your life?

Developing & Editing Questions
• What do you say within each version of that story?
• What are your chapter titles, the sections you want to highlight the most?
• In what settings are you demonstrating different parts of your character?
• What is the first line of your story? The last line?
• What is the sequence of events?
• Where’s the conflict? What challenges have you faced? What have you overcome?
• What is important to retain when you condense the story? What do you want to include when to expand your narrative?

When you’ve written out the answers to these questions, begin to shape language for each of the settings mentioned above. Remember that career counselors are here to help you practice what you’d like to say. Through rehearsal and editing, you’ll find the best parts of your story to share. There will be no dragons to get you down, because you will be ready as winter is coming. (Sorry I’m not sorry, I’ve been with HBO Go a LOT lately. The Rains of Castamere is a sad song.)

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