Crafting Your Story 101

As we mentioned in our post about interviewing best practices, we can’t count the number of times a hiring manager has told us that an interviewee lacked specific details in their career history so they passed on that candidate. Your story may be linear or ridiculously curvy and random, but it’s yours. Make sure you tell it in a way that makes sense.

“Here is my past, here’s how it has led me to this point, and here’s where I want to be.”

As you begin crafting your story, we suggest:

  • Write out a bulleted list of the highlights of your career narrative ahead of time if that helps. Your resume may suffice, but it might not if your journey has been non-traditional or there are subtle throughlines you think are important.
  • Do not monologue for more than 2-3 minutes (watch a clock!).
  • Make sure to answer any reasonable and obvious questions that might arise from reviewing your resume. (Gaps in work history, acquisitions/company name changes, timing of when you pursued advanced degrees, etc.)

As a part of your career narrative, it’s good to have specific numbers. How did you improve things at your last company? Did you regularly meet your goals?

Some common numbers to have on hand for different roles:

  • Sales or customer success
    • Quotas and attainment for the past 3-5 years
    • % new business vs. renewals
    • Average deal sizes
    • Average length of sales cycle
    • Beware too much emphasis on “pipeline” growth – sometimes that matters, but if that’s all you have to discuss, they’re going to think you can’t close
  • Marketing
    • Rates of MQLs
    • Conversion rates
    • Changes in PPC
    • % of revenue tied directly to marketing campaigns
  • Product
    • Timing of product delivery
    • $ amount of pre-sales
    • Conversion rates of users
    • #s of users
    • % of company revenue generated by your product
  • Leadership
    • Size of team
    • Retention/growth of team
    • Team goals and attainment
    • Size of budget you manage
  • Startup
    • $ amount of funding rounds you experienced
    • Revenue growth during your tenure (and what portion you were responsible for, if applicable)
    • Employee headcount growth during your tenure
    • # growth of your direct reports
    • Any acquisition details, if applicable

Which numbers best add to the story of your success in your previous position? Which numbers apply most to the position you would like to have? Make sure to highlight those.

Often, an interviewer will ask about a problem you encountered and how you solved it. As you answer, BE SPECIFIC. There are many good frameworks out there for how to structure answers to these kinds of questions with details, but in general we suggest:

  1. State the problem/challenge objectively. Do not complain or talk negatively about a situation.“I was tasked with re-opening a territory that had not been worked in 3 years.”
  1. Recount the steps you took (or would take) to tackle the challenge or fix the problem (highlighting any skills you know are necessary for the job you are applying for).“I contacted former customers and people from my own book of business first and listened to their needs. Then I set up meetings with…”
  1. Conclude with what you learned and the positive outcome.“I learned that their needs were X and so bundling the product with Y led me to close $200k in new business and build a $800k pipeline in the first 6 months.”

It’s also good to check in with a third party. Once you’ve crafted your story, run it by someone you trust who has related experience and will understand the situation. Does your story make sense to them? Is anything confusing? Do they see any gaps? What questions might they ask?

You might also want to talk to current or recent co-workers to see what they say your strengths (and weaknesses) are. What did they appreciate most about working with you? What might you work on in the future?

Your career narrative doesn’t have to be linear, but it does have to make sense. You want to tell it in such a way that the interviewer leaves thinking, “I understand this person. And they’re fantastic!” Whether you’re right for that particular role or not is a different matter, but companies often have other roles, and hiring managers talk to one another. Sell yourself right with a great, clear narrative and you’ll find the right fit.

More Resources

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