Your Professional Narrative: How To Get It Right Without Going Insane

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February 28, 2016
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March 11, 2016

Your Professional Narrative: How To Get It Right Without Going Insane

Why is it SO DARN HARD to articulate who we are and what we want career-wise? It’s like, you could totally talk about your love for historical references and antique maps till the cows come home, but when it comes to- oh wait, that’s just me? Awkward.

What I’m saying is this: there is something about plainly stating who you are and what you want- in any setting, but I’m talking career here- that feels limiting, scary, uncertain, like you’re baring all, or any combination thereof. 

Let’s take this narrative stuff one step further. Have you ever thought any (or all) of the following?

  • What if I decide on one career avenue, and then I’m cutting myself off from everything else out there?
  • What if choosing means a huge portion of my network will no longer be able to help me?
  • Isn’t going broad going to get me noticed by the most eyeballs?
  • Positioning myself for something specific is too difficult, so I might as well stay a generalist and I’ll get picked up by the search engines on LinkedIn or noticed by recruiters.

I have talked to countless people- clients and prospective clients, friends, neighbors, people at networking events, and there is a lot of hesitation and uncertainty about personal narrative, so if you’re sitting there even vaguely nodding your head, you are not alone.


The reality is, the more targeted you can be in your story, your messaging and by proxy, your job search tools/documents (e.g. LinkedIn, resume, cover letters, personal website, elevator pitch), the easier your career change and/or job search will become. Thinking about it another way- over the next couple of weeks, pay attention to things you may purchase where you are not the target market the company had in mind for marketing purposes. Marketers do it all the time because they know if they try to speak to everyone or the world at large, they end up with the opposite effect of speaking to no one. For example, I do work with more than just millennial women. My message is targeted at that group, to be sure, but what I stand for resonates with more than just millennial women.

In other words, do not underestimate the power of honing your personal story and brand for success in the ol’ career department. I’m going to bring you through some exercises to help you get your  narrative where you want it for your career exploration and/or job search.

NARRATIVE EXERCISE 1: Ask yourself the following (and write down your answers):

  • What tools and tactics have I been employing to date in my career change and/or job search?
  • How have they been working for me? In other words, what concrete results have I gotten from my current efforts? (BE HONEST!)
  • Is this acceptable to me?
  • What would be acceptable progress to me? What would be amazing progress? (Resist the urge to just write, “Get a damn job!” Be as specific as possible with each of these questions.

Ok, so we’re about to find out HOW to do this. Read on.


**I should include a little note here right up front. Before doing any of these exercises, make sure you know what it is you want to do. You don’t have to be super specific, but this is NOT for the person who says, “I am an accountant and just know that if I have to be an accountant for much longer, I’ll gouge my eyes out with a spoon.” Instead, this is more for the person who knows they want to be an event planner, for example, and has done some limited event planning on the side as part of their current job, and just needs help pulling all of that together.

(I’ll be doing one of these extended posts per month with tons of juicy freebies and goodies, and we’ll be doing one *SOON* on figuring out what you want to do when you have no idea, so if that’s you, sit tight. Make sure you sign up to get my updates at the bottom of this post so I can inform you when that’s ready!)

At this time, [ninja-popup ID=1291]download the worksheet[/ninja-popup] that accompanies this step-by-step guide. Pull it out and let’s get started! You’ll note that I’m including my own filled out sheet at the bottom, so you can see an example.


1. Clarity on your job path. Answer the first two questions at the top of the page. There is very little room on purpose. If you need tons of space to write this one out, it may be an indication that you need to do a bit more digging and reflection prior to jumping into this guide.

2. Jump down to competencies– the second box. Include your skillset- just a brain dump for now to sow the seeds for your professional narrative.

3. Jump up to the first box. Using your skillset, write out a few benefits you bring to the people or organizations you serve. So, “idea generator” is a skill, but “focus people on the ideas and to-dos that truly matter so they can move ahead more easily” is the benefit. This step can get some people a little tripped up, so take your time.

What’s the difference at its core? Ever hear the phrase, “Features tell, benefits sell.”? Benefits in the personal brand sense of things get you noticed- they convey what you can bring to the table at an organization or for your clients. This is why knowing the needs of your industry or clients (step 1 above) is of critical importance!

Once you’re comfortable with the differences between what you write for your skillset and what you write for your benefits, continue with the rest of the sheet.

4. A Note About the “Putting it All Together” Box.This could take a couple of tries. I included my first attempt and then my second on my example. You may need 5 or 8 or 10. It is ok! Playing around with wording, and more importantly, getting OFF the computer to do this one can really help. Getting this piece to where you want it for your narrative is important, so don’t rush it- it’s the building block for your professional summary, LinkedIn page, cover letters and how you talk about yourself at a networking event or an interview.
Coincidentally, infusing your personal story and narrative into those key job search items is next month’s loonnnnng how-to post, so again, sign up below at the bottom of this post to make sure that hits your inbox when it’s ready!





-Blank downloadable Narrative worksheet

-Jill’s Narrative sheet- exampleIMG_4275 IMG_4276narrative
My Personal Brand masterclass for Ivy Exec- watch the video and walk through this worksheet with further guidance

-BOOK (Not mine): The War of Art– How to break through resistance to your inner creative

MORE JILL BLOG RIFFS: On personal brand from Ivy Exec

CLASS: Time sensitive offer: Live Course with Prepary and NYC Lady Project on professional narrative; March 16!