Every Candidate Needs a Narrative

I read an article recently in which former president Bill Clinton discussed the importance of a narrative in a candidate’s campaign for public office.   He had clear opinions on how president Obama gained (or regained) control of his narrative after the first presidential debate, the debate in which he was thought to have turned the narrative to a question of whether he even wanted the job of second term president.  After the debate, in which he did not perform well, and after some work on his part, his narrative went from that of a sitting president, to that of an aggressive candidate with a commitment to the future.

Whatever you think of the election’s outcome, the point is that the need for a narrative applies to candidates for jobs, positions, and careers  as well.  You need a story–one that answers the questions, “why should we hire you?” “Why are you the right individual for us?” and “What brought you here?”

Your narrative, like any good story, has to hang together and has to be consistent across your actions, behavior, and choices.  It is, in fact your personal narrative that illustrates the connections among the phases of your career, the integration of your personal life with your job, and your choices of volunteer work, friends, and hobbies.  Your narrative is not your elevator speech; your narrative may never be explicit or fully formed.   Your narrative is not just what you say to interviewers, it’s what you can’t deny, it’s what you never say or do, it’s all the realities of your own choices.  If you are the one who studies, that’s part of your narrative; if you are the one who drinks and drives, that’s part of yours, too.

Your narrative is not a “big reveal” either; your narrative is yours whether you get the job or not, land the promotion or have to wait your turn, or give up all you worked for to work for nothing in a third world country.  It’s still you, and your story gets richer with every carefully thought through choice and every impulse you give in to.

What your narrative has to be is heartfelt:  you want THIS job, not any job, and here’s why.  This is why postings are anathema to career development: with whom will your story resonate?  The software?

Your narrative has to hang together.  If you have ricocheted among jobs that found you–through headhunters, or an old boss for example–you need to be careful to keep control of your narrative.  Unless your narrative is that you are the best in your profession and your strategy is to get paid more each time you agree to jump ship.

Your narrative will change a little as you accomplish more, gain new experiences, and as you get older and wiser.

Your narrative will help you if you allow.  It will hurt you if you repeatedly craft–and live–a negative story (“I have been unemployed for three years, never mind that I have started my own business and kept my clever self busy and solvent”), treat it like a really bad elevator speech (Hi, I’m Jane I’m a recent MBA with a BS in Math from UF and I’m looking for any kind of job in Citrus county I don’t care what it is my boyfriend just got a job with PWC and I want to stay here because I work nights at the Outback and all our friends are getting married this summer and I don’t want to have to ask for a lot of time off because they are all in July. . . . .),  or if you practice creating and offering different versions of yourself to different people.  This is called Impression Management; Not Good.

Know your narrative, create your narrative, make your life and your voice positive.   Be sure that what you say and what you do every day are consistent with what you are trying to accomplish.

And Happy New Year.

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