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.
Activity 5 Career narratives
Consider this example and answer the questions that follow.
Jim, during his twenties, had a series of jobs in construction, hospitality and bar work, to make possible his main ambition, to make a go of his band. Cutting a record and seven years of after-hours gigs all over the country had been fun, but after hitting 30 and with the band breaking up, Jim was now planning to change direction and shift his energies from his music into a career change and a steady, more lucrative income.
How might Jim explain what he does to a potential employer if he hasn’t consciously considered his narrative?
How might he adapt his narrative to better fit his next steps?
Note down your thoughts.
The potential employer could ask, ‘What do you do?’ or ‘What is your line of work?’ If unprepared, Jim might catch himself saying, ‘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.
If he thought things over, Jim might recognise the point of his career story is to get engagement from a new employer and to show what he has done in the past. Actually his motivation over the past few years has been his band, and this has involved him in marketing the band, promoting it, liaising with clubs and pinning down deals, and organising his friends to go to gigs all over the country, all higher level and transferable experience.
People can feel vulnerable sharing something non-work-related and personal in a work-related conversation, but in practice, if well 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. We’ve now 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 day job now that it can be my sole focus.’