Developing Your Personal Narrative

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

If you’re like me, you hate talking about yourself, especially to a group of strangers.

I dread networking events where I have to stand up and give a quick introduction of myself. I usually opt for the most efficient route to sit down again, which leads to boring, forgettable blurbs, and I’m definitely not connecting with anyone in the moment (first impression: bombed!).

And yet, I find when others share their personal stories, especially when they have been thoughtfully curated, they are super interesting, and I want to hear more. So, if the thought of creating your own personal narrative creates a little sense of dread, have no fear, because I have an easy-to-follow formula for whatever space you need to talk about yourself, whether it’s in an interview, a networking event, or starting on a new team.

Personal Narrative for Interviews

A common but dreaded question if you aren’t prepared is “Tell me about yourself.” This question will often set the tone for the rest of the interview. You’ll want to show confidence and keep your response focused, concise, and relevant to the role you’re applying for. Here’s a step-by-step approach to crafting a strong response:

1.  Start with a brief professional overview:

Introduce yourself by sharing a quick summary of your professional background, focusing on your most relevant experience and skills. Example: “I’m a software engineer with over five years of experience, specializing in full-stack web development. I have a strong background in JavaScript, React, and Node.js.”

2.  Highlight your achievements:

Share one or two key accomplishments that showcase your capabilities and directly relate to the job requirements. Example: “In my previous role at XYZ Company, I played a pivotal role in developing a web application that streamlined the company’s inventory management, resulting in a 20% reduction in operational costs. I also led a team of four developers in creating a mobile app that won the ‘Innovative App of the Year’ award.”

3.  Share your motivation:

Briefly mention why you’re interested in the role and how it aligns with your career goals. Example: “I’m excited about this opportunity because I’m passionate about building innovative solutions that make an impact. This role aligns with my expertise and offers the chance to work on cutting-edge projects that could revolutionize the industry.”

4.  Connect with the company:

Show that you’ve researched the company and share what specifically appeals to you about it. Example: “I’m particularly drawn to ABC Company because of its commitment to continuous learning and its strong focus on employee growth. I believe that the company culture and values align with my own, and I’m excited about the possibility of contributing to its mission.”

Putting it all together:

“I’m a software engineer with over five years of experience, specializing in full-stack web development. I have a strong background in JavaScript, React, and Node.js. In my previous role at XYZ Company, I played a pivotal role in developing a web application that streamlined the company’s inventory management, resulting in a 20% reduction in operational costs. I also led a team of four developers in creating a mobile app that won the ‘Innovative App of the Year’ award. I’m excited about this opportunity because I’m passionate about building innovative solutions that make an impact. This role aligns with my expertise and offers the chance to work on cutting-edge projects that could revolutionize the industry. I’m particularly drawn to ABC Company because of its commitment to continuous learning and its strong focus on employee growth. I believe that the company culture and values align with my own, and I’m excited about the possibility of contributing to its mission.”

Remember to tailor your response to the specific job and company you’re interviewing for and practice your answer to ensure you deliver it confidently and naturally during the interview (but don’t memorize it, you want to sound human).

Don’t rehash your resume, this is an opportunity to share something they can’t read on your resume and to be an interesting person they want to get to know more.

Get Personal – Share Yourself

Sharing hobbies or personal interests can be an excellent way to showcase your personality and make a connection with your interviewer. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance between providing insight into who you are outside of work without sharing too much or potentially inviting biases. Here are a few examples of personal interests that can be shared during an interview:

  • Volunteer work:

    Mentioning volunteer work or community involvement demonstrates your commitment to giving back and highlights your values. Example: “In my spare time, I volunteer at a local animal shelter. We put on events to fundraise and help with pet adoptions, which has taught me a lot about how to organize and motivate volunteers and allows me to connect with diverse people in other industries.”

  • Sports or fitness activities:

    Sharing your interest in sports or fitness can show dedication, discipline, and the ability to work well with others. Example: “I’m an avid runner and enjoy training for marathons, which helps me with focus and perseverance. It’s my favorite way to stay healthy.”

  • Creative pursuits:

    Discussing creative hobbies like painting, writing, or playing a musical instrument can highlight your innovative and imaginative side. Example: “I enjoy playing the guitar and writing my own music. I find that it’s a great outlet for creativity and helps me problem solve more creatively in my professional life.”

  • Travel or learning about new cultures:

    Talking about your interest in travel or learning about different cultures can show curiosity, adaptability, and a willingness to embrace new experiences. Example: “I love traveling and exploring new cultures. I recently took a trip to Japan, where I learned basic conversational Japanese and participated in a traditional tea ceremony. Each trip expands my perspective and helps me develop a more global mindset.”

  • Intellectual pursuits:

    Sharing your interest in activities like reading, learning a new language, or attending workshops can show your dedication to self-improvement and continuous learning. Example: “I’m passionate about learning new languages and am currently teaching myself Spanish. It helps me connect deeper with people that I normally wouldn’t be able to.”

When discussing your hobbies or personal interests, keep it brief and make sure to emphasize any skills or values that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Avoid mentioning any controversial topics or activities that could potentially create biases, unless it is a topic important to you – better to allow the bias to eliminate you early if the company values are misaligned with yours.

Personal Narrative for Networking – Group

Creating a personal narrative for networking is a great way to build connections by letting people know more about your professional and personal sides. Here’s a step-by-step guide to crafting a compelling personal narrative:

  1. Introduce yourself: Start with a brief introduction that includes your name, current role, and the industry you’re in. Example: “Hi, I’m [Your Name], and I work as a [Your Job Title] in the [Your Industry] sector.”
  2. Summarize your professional background: Provide a concise summary of your work experience, highlighting key skills and areas of expertise. Example: “I have over six years of experience in digital marketing, with a focus on content strategy, social media, and SEO.”
  3. Share an achievement: Mention a recent accomplishment or a project you’re proud of, emphasizing the skills you used and the impact you made. Example: “I recently led a campaign for a major client that increased their website traffic by 30% and generated a 15% increase in sales over three months.”
  4. Connect your personal interests: Briefly discuss one or two hobbies or personal interests that reveal more about your personality and values. Choose interests that also demonstrate transferable skills or qualities relevant to your professional life. Example: “Outside of work, I’m an avid hiker and mountain biker. Both have taught me perseverance and adaptability, which I find invaluable in my professional life as well.”
  5. Explain your networking goals: Share what you hope to gain from networking, such as learning from others, discovering new opportunities, or expanding your professional circle. Example: “I’m always eager to learn from others and stay updated on industry trends. I find that networking helps me connect with other professionals and uncover new opportunities for growth and collaboration.”

Putting it all together:

“Hi, I’m [Your Name], and I work as a [Your Job Title] in the [Your Industry] sector. I have over six years of experience in digital marketing, with a focus on content strategy, social media, and SEO. I recently led a campaign for a major client that increased their website traffic by 30% and generated a 15% increase in sales over three months. Outside of work, I’m an avid hiker and enjoy birdwatching. Both have taught patience and adaptability, which I find invaluable in my professional life as well. I’m always eager to learn from others and stay updated on industry trends. I find that networking helps me connect with other professionals and uncover new opportunities for growth and collaboration.”

Remember to tailor your personal narrative to each networking situation, keeping it concise and engaging. Practice your narrative to ensure you can deliver it confidently and naturally during networking events.

Short and Sweet Introduction Formulas

  • Hi everyone, I’m [Name], a [Job Title] with [Number] years of experience in [Industry/Specialty]. Outside of work, I love [Hobby/Interest], and I’m always on the lookout for new opportunities to collaborate and learn from others.
  • Hi everyone, I’m [Name], a [Job Title] with a knack for [Unique Skill/Talent]. When I’m not working, you can usually find me [Interesting Hobby/Activity], and I’m always up for a good adventure or challenge.
  • Hey there, my name is [Name], and I’m a [Job Title] specializing in [Specific Area of Expertise]. In addition to my professional work, I’m also involved with [Community Organization/Charity], and I’m passionate about giving back to my local community.
  • Hello, I’m [Name], a [Job Title] who’s passionate about [Industry/Specialty], but also loves to explore the intersection of [Other Interest/Field]. I believe that creativity and innovation come from diverse experiences and perspectives, and I’m excited to learn from all of you here today.
  • Hey there, my name is [Name], and I’m a [Job Title] with a strong interest in [Specific Area of Expertise]. Outside of work, I’m a bit of a [Quirky Interest], and I’ve found that it helps me to think outside of the box and approach problems in a unique way.
  • Hi everyone, I’m [Name], a [Job Title] with a passion for [Industry/Specialty]. In my free time, I enjoy [Creative Hobby/Interest], and I often find that it helps me to stay inspired and creative in my professional work. I’m excited to connect with all of you and see what interesting ideas and perspectives we can share.

Remember that creativity and personality can go a long way in making a memorable introduction. Don’t be afraid to share your unique strengths, interests, and quirks, and be open to connecting with others who may share similar passions.

Personal Narrative for Networking – One-on-One (Job search focus)

Besides knowing how to talk about yourself, if you are networking, intending to find your next role, you need to specifically be able to talk about what strengths/superpowers you bring, the problems you like to solve, and what you bring to the table, as well as what organization you are looking to work for.

The clearer you are and the more detailed picture you can mentally paint for the person, the easier it will be for them to know how to help you, who to connect you with, or if you’re someone who can help them solve a problem.

You will not have the same personal narrative for everyone. Adapt your personal narrative based on the context and the people you are connecting with. Highlight aspects of your background and experiences that are relevant and interesting to the individuals or industry you’re engaging with.

If you’re meeting with someone and you’re exploring if they know someone within the industry you’re looking to work in, you’ll spend more time-sharing what interests you and the exact companies with whom you want to work, rather than simply sharing your accomplishments. If you’re meeting with someone who is in the same industry or role you’re looking for, however, you might share more about your strengths, achievements, the problems you like to solve, and what type of company you’d be a good fit for.

Be thoughtful about what that person will want to know and what you want the person to walk away with knowing about you. Identify what you could offer the other person. If you don’t think you have anything to offer, I challenge you to explore more about them; you just might find something of value for them. At a minimum give that person a meaningful conversation and genuine interest in you.

More tips to craft your memorable personal narrative:

  • Identify your goals. Clarifying your career goals and what you want to achieve will help you shape your personal narrative accordingly.
  • Know your unique strengths, skills, and experiences that set you apart from others (your differentiators). Think about what makes you valuable and how you can contribute to the professional world.
  • Show passion and genuine enthusiasm for your chosen field or industry. Share stories that reflect your passion and drive, as it will make your narrative more memorable.
  • Be concise and engaging by focusing on the key points and achievements that showcase your expertise and passion. Eliminate the filler words: um, just, you know, I mean, like, well. If you find yourself using these a lot, slow down, pause, and be silent in order to gather your thoughts (silence is so much more powerful than a filler word). If you are a soft speaker, practice projecting your voice and keeping your energy up. How you say something is just as important as what you’re saying.
  • Be authentic and relatable. Don’t memorize your introduction, you want to sound human. It’s not about being perfect. Share personal anecdotes or experiences that reveal your personality and values. Authenticity is key to building meaningful connections, so be yourself and let your true self shine through.
  • Practice your narrative OUT LOUD. Rehearse until it becomes natural and confident but not rushed or memorized.
  • Seek feedback from trusted friends, mentors, or colleagues. They can provide valuable insights and help you refine your narrative to make it even more impactful.
  • Continuously update and evolve your personal narrative; it should not be static. As you gain new experiences, skills, and achievements, update your narrative accordingly. Regularly reviewing and refining your personal narrative will keep it fresh and relevant.

Remember, your personal narrative is a powerful tool to help you build connections, attract opportunities, and advance your career. By crafting a compelling and authentic story, you’ll leave a lasting impression on others and create a strong foundation for networking success. If you need help putting it all together, I’m here for you.