There’s an easy way to check. The number one sign your career story is lacking is if it’s missing key elements — especially, the happy ending.
Now, I’m going to show you what happens when your career story is bad. Not sure if yours is good?
Here’s an example…
Meet Mike: “Poor Me, I Got Fired by an Evil Boss”
I recently spoke a young man named Mike. He had been at a company for 10 years. In the last six months, a new manager took over. Mike says within weeks he knew he was “pegged” as someone the new manager wanted to make an example of. Mike said he tried everything to make the new manager happy, but that each time he tried, it only seemed to make her more angry. He said all his colleagues saw it too and felt bad for him, but nobody would help him fight back. Finally, he was called into a disciplinary meeting and was subsequently put onto a performance review. Within a week, he had made a mistake, and was let go. He was out of a job with no reference from a place he had worked at for a decade.
“How do I explain leaving there to potential employers? I have no chance. She ruined me,” was Mike’s comment to me. I said, “That’s true if you are going to keep telling the story in that way.”
“How else can I tell it?” Mike replied, “That’s what happened.”
I seen the opportunity as a teaching moment and my response was, “No, that’s ONLY your perspective of what happened, and telling it that way makes you sound suspect and your dismissal justified. You aren’t telling a good story. What is worse, you’re telling the wrong story to the wrong audience.”
Even if the facts in Mike’s story are true, the way he was telling it wasn’t going to serve him well in his job search. Stories are a creative process. There are many different ways to tell the same career story. I really wanted Mike to think about how the audience who’d be hearing his story would react to it.
Here’s what’s wrong with Mike’s story:
- Mike mentions he was made a target. He immediately positions himself as the only person in a large organization being singled out. Most hiring managers will assume there was a good reason for that.
- He claims he tried everything to make the manager happy, but nothing worked. This sounds very dramatic and most hiring managers will assume Mike didn’t know what to do to really improve his performace and up his deliverables game. Hence, the reason for the increase in the managers’ frustration with him.
- Mike had been at the company 10 years and now a new boss had come in and shaken things up. Most employers will assume the change in management was needed and that Mike was eliminated because he hadn’t been pulling his weight for quite some time, and most likely, the previous management hadn’t done anything about it.
- Lastly, and by far the most important, Mike blames his entire situation on one person – The NEW BOSS. Not taking an ounce responsibility for his part in the story. This makes him appear to lack any sense of accountability, which will make hiring managers run in the other direction.
Solution: Present a More Objective Account of Events
When I explained this to Mike he was shocked, and frankly, really defensive. I then shared with him what I thought he should say to a prospective employer to consider him for a job. He got the message. It went something like this:
“My last job was a powerful experience. I had 10 wonderful productive years there. I was promoted three times in that period and learned valuable lessons. It was a good organisation to work for and I made friends with many colleagues who still work there.
Six months ago however there was a change in leadership and while that is always good for the organisation it became very clear to me that the new manager and I different views on how the department should operate and despite my tenure there I was not able to get onto the same page. I tried to improve our working relationship as one does however despite my efforts I seemed to only make things worse. In hindsight, I think there are definitely things I could have done differently. However, it finally came to a point that the new manager felt my performance didn’t match what she needed and I felt I could not compromise my position any further and we agreed to part ways.”
And then, I made sure Mike added this (the happy ending):
“The truth is leaving an organization I spent ten years in was a really tough ask. I learnt an invaluable lesson from that process itself and I learned and developed incredible skills while I was there which I would really like to apply someplace new. That’s why I’m excited about your organization. I can see myself being really successful here.”
By telling a more balanced story without all the emotional undertones of blame you are able to present a more credible and more optimistic perspective. Most importantly, when he ended it with a positive spin, he proved he knew how to create his own “happy ending” to his career story.
What Happened to Mike?
Mike practiced this for a month. He needed time to process his emotions and really allow himself to come to terms with the situation so he could deliver a more objective career story. He had to find a way to say this on his own terms. Eventually, he was ready to answer the dreaded, “Why did you leave your last job question?” in an upcoming interview. Not surprisingly, when the question arose in the phone screen, Mike was actually eager to answer it. He wanted to share his new story. It worked. Mike got through the screening interview and went on to the second interview and was eventually offered the job which he accepted. That was truly a happy ending for both of us.
How would you describe your Career Story?
Want to learn how you Develop your Ideal Career and tell a better career story?