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Advice from a Storyteller

“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world, you need to change your story. This truth applies both to individuals and institutions.” — Michael Margolis

By the time you apply for that first job coming out of college, you’ve had 3 years worth of experiences. You’ve done research, volunteered, joined clubs, and had internships. But just as importantly, you can’t add any more experiences. Your GPA is set. Your summer experiences were what they were. The facts on your application are locked in. You can’t change them. But what you can change is the story they tell.

 applying for a job after college

photo by Neel

The Art of Storytelling

Storytelling is an underrated skillset that is often overlooked in the application process. But by the time senior year comes around, it’s the only variable you can still control. What distinguishes great applicants is their ability to craft a story around their key experiences. Let’s see this in action.

Here is an example of a student who managed her Sorority’s finances:

Story #1

During the 2018 academic year I was my Sorority’s finance chair. I successfully allocated thousands of dollars across many events and between multiple committees. Through effective money management these events came in under budget, while also increasing student involvement.

Story #2

During the 2018 academic year I was my Sorority’s finance chair. I allocated $3,000 by working closely with 3 committees to plan 17 events, which led to a 75% YoY increase in attendance. Through effective money management these events came in $1,000 under budget. I invested this money, which has net a 23% return for the Sorority over the past 6 months.

Who would you rather hire?

Both of these stories use the same set of facts. Yet each story paints a very different picture. The first is generic and won’t stand out on a resume or in an interview. Whereas the second not only shows a complete handle of the numbers, but also a strategic mindset for long-term thinking. 

At it’s heart, storytelling about about knowing your audience and speaking to them on their terms. Potential employers care about creative problem solving and attention to detail. Using specific numbers and establishing their relative importance is one great way to show those qualities.

This is not to say that having internships or research experience isn’t important. Those experiences are vital, but they don’t matter if you can’t speak to them effectively. You could objectively be the best candidate for a job, but you won’t get hired if you can’t convince the recruiter. This is especially true if your interests have changed a lot in college.

post college career researchphoto by iam Se7en

Tell a Story that Shows Growth

It’s completely normal for your interests, major, or intended career path to change in college. In fact 33% of undergraduate students change their major. That type of change is healthy. However, it can cause problems when applying for jobs. Recruiters like safe bets. And applicants that don’t fit a certain mold seem riskier. So you might be at a disadvantage unless you can show how your major change was part of your maturing interests and career goals. Again, this is where storytelling comes in.

Here is an example of a major change that shows a powerful story of growth.

From pre-med to politics

First she wanted to be a doctor, then she decided to study Chemical Engineering before finally picking up a Poly Sci minor. Now she is applying to work at a Government Think Tank focused on lowering poverty. Is she scatterbrained? Or do these varied interests show growth and maturity? Simply looking at the facts on the paper, it’s hard for an employer to know. She seems risky. But her story makes complete sense.

She has always wanted to help people. In high school she was good at science and loved working with people, so being a doctor seemed like a good fit. But after a year of pre-med she realized she wanted to be more behind the scenes. She loved her chemistry courses and had done great research. On one project, she saw how the science was stymied by political red tape. She realized more lives could be saved with well-informed legislators. 

Seeing this opportunity, she decided to take as many Poly Sci classes as she could. When senior year came, she believed she could create the most change by working in DC. She wanted to continue scientific research, while also grounding it in real-world action. She researched companies until she found a Think Tank that leverages the hard sciences to recommend actionable steps legislators can take to alleviate poverty.

Now that’s a compelling story.

the art of storytellingphoto by Brad Neathery

In the world of college recruiting, nothing is more powerful than a great story. Recruiters hear the same cookie-cutter responses and read the same cookie-cutter resumes. Be different. Be compelling. Become a storyteller.

And if you need help thinking through your own story, feel free to reach out to the author. He loves a good story. (:


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