3.1 Successful career narratives
A successful narrative is one that is consciously considered and that shows an understanding of what is, or has been, happening. The explanation of events feels personally credible, sustainable and usable. It can be shared with others: ‘This is what happened to me and this is how I have coped’. It can transform a disjointed series of jobs into a brief powerful explanation.
In practice, however, career narratives are not often this simple. Because narratives evolve over time they may be unconscious. In the same way that people regularly retell the same jokes and anecdotes, over time what people say to themselves and others about their working lives can become habitual. These narratives can hold us back in times of change if they are too rigid. Effective personal career narratives help individuals to stand out.
Writing down and rehearsing your career narrative can give you a chance to plan what you want to say and how you want to say it.
Activity 5 Career narratives
Consider this example and answer the questions that follow.
During his twenties, Jim had a series of jobs in construction, hospitality and bar work. These had all been to support his main ambition, which was to make a go of his rock band. They had some success, cutting a record and spending seven years gigging all over the country, but after hitting 30, and with the band breaking up, Jim is now planning to change direction. He wants to shift his energies from his music into a career with a steady, more lucrative income.
Imagine you are Jim, explaining your experiences to a potential employer without crafting the narrative first. What might you say? Make notes in the box below.
As many employers do, the potential employer in this scenario might start with, ‘Tell me about your previous experience and what you want to do next’. The unprepared Jim might say, ‘Well, I’ve done a bit of bar work, and a bit of labouring, and now I’d like to try marketing.’
While true, this is unlikely to get the best results from the employer, as what it emphasises is an unrelated series of jobs, and suggests a lack of engagement with the old roles or commitment to the new step.
With a bit more preparation, Jim can show what he has done in the past in a more engaging and positive way. His motivation over the past few years has clearly been his band, and this has involved marketing and promoting it, liaising with clubs and negotiating deals, and organising for his friends to go to gigs all over the country. This is all higher level and transferable experience.
People can feel vulnerable sharing something non-work-related and personal in a work-related conversation, but if carefully selected, these can be the elements that have real power.
A better answer might be:
‘Over the last few years I’ve been the informal manager of our band. We’ve had some success, cut a record, and I’ve marketed the band nationally, developing relationships and negotiating with clubs from Manchester and Newcastle to Cardiff. We’ve done some 200 gigs over the last four years, alongside our day jobs. So I’ve tried to be adaptable with my day jobs, and have turned my hand to construction, hospitality and bar work as opportunities came up. Now we’ve decided to disband, I’ll have much more time and energy, and I’m hoping to put my experience in managing and marketing to use in my future career.’
Now review what you’ve written and consider how you might improve it to better fit your future plans. Note down your thoughts.