Lesson from Las Vegas

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I just got back from Sin City, the one that never sleeps, where all vices are on display and easily procured!

Las Vegas is an oasis in the desert built years ago by the Mob. That’s quite a story in itself (with its own museum and a whole show at one of the casinos on The Strip).

If you’ve been to Vegas, then you know that every major casino/hotel/resort is constructed around some kind of myth or story. The Mirage takes you into the jungle; the Excalibur into medieval England; the Luxor into ancient Egypt; Caesar’s Place into ancient Rome; the Venetian into romantic Italy; Planet Hollywood…well, that’s obvious.

Walking the Strip reminded me how much we are immersed in story 24/7 wherever we are whether we know it or not. Story is the universal glue that holds civilizations together.

I managed to see a show and pull a few slots, but I was there primarily to make several presentations to other career professionals at the annual conference of the Career Management Alliance.

I was delighted to participate in the Storytelling track at the conference. During the opening panel of this track, we were asked : Why does storytelling deserve this much attention for the careers of our clients?

I thought I’d share with you some of the more compelling answers because just one piece of information can sometimes help to solve the puzzle we call life!

Our personal story is a bit like traveling our road to work each day—we stop noticing the details. We are so enmeshed in our life pattern, that we don’t realize that we construct a thread to our life story with each passing day. We are narrative in action. Our story is our identity and our destiny. I focused on the importance of story in assessment : determining where to work and what to do.

All the panelists focused on the importance of living and telling our stories with more clarity and consciousness. Story can lead us out of dark places and into living with greater freedom and fullness of life in our careers.

Are you living the story you want to tell? What are the stories you are telling yourself about yourself? Are you separating facts from feelings? Are you naming your weaknesses and fears? Are you focusing on your strengths?

Telling your story in a compelling manner is not optional in this age of communications crowded with so many stories competing for attention in the job marketplace!

We discussed the importance of crafting and communicating your story in resumes and interviews. A great career story will be a resume differentiator. Storytelling in resumes doesn’t mean you are writing a novel. As a storyteller, we need to think strategically about what to include and what to exclude; we must select stories relevant to the position.

When telling compelling stories at interviews, you will transition from candidate to individual in the eyes of the interviewer. Do you know that old saying, “the devil’s in the details?” The reverse is true in interviews—sharing “the right details” can tip the scales of a hiring decision in your favor.

In both resumes and interviews, it is important to isolate strengths and accomplishments that fit with requirements.

In an interview with one or more interviewers, engage the audience! Don’t forget that storytelling involves an audience. Listen to them. Get them talking about their needs and preferences.

But don’t try to influence the judges. Tell what can be seen with the five senses, or better yet, a camera. Give them a picture of you in action doing things that demonstrate your capacity to perform in the job.

The tools for telling stories for career development and job search might change—e.g. building an online presence through Linked In, or YouTube, and so on—but the basic principles of effective storytelling remain the same. Know your audience. Frame your story for impact. Give examples with details. Leave them hungry for more.

You are a storyteller. You can learn to tell a better story. Keep the end goal in site. Your storytelling will improve with practice, rehearsal, and focus.

Telling a better story is the beginning of living a better story!

Blow Your Horn

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Job search studies regularly show that it is not the best qualified candidate who gets the job most of the time. Instead, it is the strongest communicator. Why?

We live in a storytelling culture. We learn about each other and the world around us through story. Think of all the time you spend reading newspapers, magazine, blogs, or watching tv, DVDs, movies, or listening to radio, audiobooks, or podcasts. We are immersed in story.

A resume, a job search, an interview, a negotiation are each just another narrative, a chance to tell your story. Strong communicators have a gift for storytelling. Who is the most popular person at a party, wedding, dinner, or special event.? The one who tells the best jokes, the most interesting stories, the fascinating anecdotes. We are storytellers and listeners first and foremost.

A successful career transition or a job search requires some storytelling competence, not for its own sake, but for the sake of the listener, i.e. your next employer or client. A story does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a social or cultural context. Here is how story fits into your job search.

Every organization has goals and objectives. They hire managers to achieve those goals. Managers, in turn, hire staff to do the work under their direction and guidance. These managers have the power to hire (and fire) individuals. In fact, over 40% of jobs are created for individuals who meet face-to-face with a manager outside of a formal job interview process. When you understand why, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting job offers.

Does the universe line up to facilitate the achievement of those organizational goals quickly and easily? Not likely. We live in a world of adversity. Defensemen seemed to be strategically positioned to knock down our best efforts to score a goal. In the world of work, these defensemen often show up as serious problems, formidable challenges, impact issues, pressure points, and a range of other social and economic variables difficult to control.

Just when a manager thinks they have everything stabilized and under control, life throws another spanner into the works. For example, employees die, retire, go on stress leave, go back to school, go on the mommy track, go to court, or go to another part of the country. There is a regular churn rate among staff in every organization. That is why there are always jobs; any good manager is always looking for good people because they always need new employees to cover the regular turnover of about 25% per year.

The key is to listen first to a manager, listen for the problems, challenges, and other obstacles getting in the way of their organization’s goals and objectives. Understanding their story is the first step to telling your own story with power and purpose. As every good storyteller knows, first know your audience.

If you take the time to listen, then orient your story for the needs of your audience, you will build rapport and establish top of the mind awareness in the manager. He or she will not soon forget you. And, when they need you, they will hire you.

Let me illustrate with a story about Tony. I helped him transition from a hi-tech career as a product manager to a new career working with NGOs. As part of his transition, he visited different organizations and spoke with managers, including the CEO at the Digital Opportunity Trust. They had a good discussion but she did not respond to a follow up. Tony moved on with further education and landed a job with another NGO.

As a result of some volunteer work, one of Tony’s colleagues crossed paths with that CEO, and mentioned Tony’s achievements. The CEO remembered their previous meeting, and requested another. They met again and had an engaging discussion about international development. There was no job opportunities at the time with DOT but Tony asked her to keep him in mind if things should change.

Well, a few years later, things did change, as the Trust grew and expanded its core executive team. They called Tony, he applied, was interviewed, and hired into his “dream job“ as Senior Director, Global Operations.

One of the reasons I put so much emphasis on having my clients write out their stories about enjoyable events and achievements is to help them build a vocabulary of success, a portfolio of stories. Communicating your stories with clarity and confidence is one of the best things you can do in a job search situation.

Tony changed his career by revisiting his personal story, mining it for his authentic talents and motivations, so that he had a new story to tell, one that communicated a new message.

He did not blow his horn in a loud or obnoxious fashion to gain attention; he listened to the music playing around him and added his own voice to the melody. Now, he will travel the world with job joy, doing what he loves and matters most to him.