If you ask any of my clients, I am often encouraging them to revisit and to reshape their narratives.

I think of narratives as our personal, external brand and as the story that we empower to be our truth. I am intentional in my use of the words that “we give power to truths” as our narrative because frankly, it is sometimes easier to give more power to the labels, expectations, and ideas of others when it comes to our career and life than trusting ourselves. We have a variety of narratives that we carry with us, but for today let’s focus on our career narrative.

Every recruiter and hiring manager will tell you that “networking” is the best way to get the job. I agree and often say the same to my clients. However, instead of just making a list of folks and blindly reaching out, I encourage clients to create a plan that is in melody with the drum beat of their reshaped narrative based on their strengths and nonnegotiables.

Oh, and I also encourage them to not use the word networking, I like to call it a reconnecting plan. The drum beat strengths narrative gives a foundation for any and all future career conversations, and is very powerful in providing language for the often-awkward networking space.

Let’s face it: We all have the secret dream when tapping our network and meeting someone for coffee that they, of course, have a phenomenal, magical dream opportunity in mind for us and we all live happily ever after.

For some this actually happens, but for most during those networking conversations, we are a bit crestfallen when they ask the dreaded questions, “What do you want to do?” and, “How can I help?”  

These two questions are quite intense for the person considering their next step, and reactions often range from waffling on about what she or he hated about their last (or current role), speaking in jargon (“I’m all about the synergy and want to be a team player”), and/or looking like a deer in headlights, which allows the conversation to turn into a “why don’t you please tell me what you think I’m good at and where I should be” moment.

But it doesn’t have to be this way… I promise… It starts by reshaping your narrative. Here’s how:

1. Start simple and start real.

To shift the narrative, I encourage clients to first set a list of nonnegotiables for their current state of life. This is the list of three or four key items that MUST be present or a part of the next role to even be considered as a next step. Examples of items on the list are often organizational mission and culture, role responsibilities, travel expectations, location, salary and benefits.  

2. Respect but shed that past.

Next, I encourage clients to notice their tendency to fall into the fast-paced do-er mode and instead to slow down and be.  

In this instance, to “be” means to prioritize dedicated time to connect with the person that they are now and genuinely tap into what matters to them most in their next role on a professional and personal level. This starts with shedding the past narratives that we often carry from past jobs, such as being the “go-to-fire-putter-outer,” excel guru, grants person, or administrative support. Just because you can do it, does not mean you HAVE to do it again. 

Instead of answering the dreaded “what do you want to do” question with stories that map to fixer and “fire-putter-outer,” the job seeker could pivot the narrative to share their ability to be a strategic leader, relationship builder, and amazing manager even in times of uncertainty.

Try re-working this sample script to fit your needs: “As I begin to think of my next steps, I am excited to be able to be a part of a team that is metrics-driven and is open to their staff working both in office and from home. I enjoy and excel at the development of others and seek an opportunity that allows me to be both a manager of a team and also a thought partner to the leadership team. I have a track record of supporting organizations through times of transition, but I am most excited to use my past experience to strengthen an organization, versus stabilize it. DC is my home so I am seeking opportunities that allow me to remain here while continuing to support a national organization with a mission to serve students of color. With this in mind, are there any opportunities or organizations that come to mind that map to my career next steps?”

3. Practice Practice Practice.

It takes practice and trying it out a few times to get your true flow in sharing your reshaped narrative, but it works. I encourage clients to not get caught up in the perfection of telling their narrative and focus more so on the desired affect and key takeaways the person listening will absorb. I encourage clients to practice their strengths and nonnegotiable narrative drumbeat as much as possible. I say try it out loud with partners and family members, colleagues, person sitting beside them on airplanes, and even their current supervisors (sometimes supervisors need to have the dots connected for them too and current roles can grow and shift).

4. Connect the dots for people.

Nobody is going to help you get out of the cycle of past expectation unless you help them connect the dots. If someone meets you for coffee or responds to your reconnection email, they are genuinely interested in supporting your next step, so make it easy for them.

Help them understand your ideal working situation (nonnegotiable list), what strengths you see yourself showcasing to be at your best and delivering your best, and have a clear ask for how they can help you get there. That also means that you need to do a little homework before you meet, such as looking at their LinkedIn page for potential connections, board work, or past work experience, to have a thoughtful and intentional call to action for the contact.  

5. Gratitude and Follow Up.

And finally, always follow up with a thank you to the person and follow up on any and all ideas, connections, or opportunities shared during the conversation.  I encourage clients to not only say thank you, but to also recap once again their narrative in written form and attach an updated resume. This allows the contact to easily connect them with person, organization, or opportunity discussed during time together.  

As promised, it doesn’t have to be as awkward of a process if you approach it from a place of authenticity and strength. Your career narrative is a powerful way to help others know how to best support your career journey. Plus, if you need a little additional support there are coaches like me that specialize in supporting clients navigate the career exploration too.  


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