Arriving in Northern California years ago for a job that I loved, I got to implement quality improvement principles and tools in a hospital. (This was my favorite job ever, well…that is…before the job I have now.) It meant facilitating teams of people who came together to solve problems in their departments, teaching some basics of analyzing work process problems and creating solutions, turning data into information and effectively showing it to others. I’ve never worked harder in my life, learned a lot, and enjoyed every minute of it.
My manager Carl had definite ideas about how to make a point in the classroom, and was willing, even eager, to speak to my classes. He was asked to make the key point of how important it was to understand what was causing a problem before slapping on the first fix somebody proposed. So Carl told a story which he titled “The Rash.” He told (with permission) the experience of a friend who had bought a cream to treat a pesky rash, then a stronger cream and so on, while the rash got bigger, redder and more irritated. Finally going to the doctor, he was given some tests. Well, that cream was never going to work because it treated the wrong problem. And thankfully, the doctor diagnosed the autoimmune condition early enough to treat it successfully. I could have stood before that group of people and said “It’s important to understand a problem in order to solve it” a hundred times without making the same impact as that story did. In the months following the workshop, I’d hear people say “Remember the rash story,” as they worked together to improve a process or solve a problem. Stories have a structure. A challenge arises, people take action, and finally, there is some resolution.
So, how does this relate to career development? There are so many times when we need to help other people understand what we bring to the table, such as: submitting a resume and cover letter when applying for a new position; meeting someone at a staff organization event (https://stafforg.berkeley.edu/); responding to interview questions; or submitting a proposal for grant funding. Using the basic framework of a story can help you make these communications effective. Behavioral interview questions are a great example. They go something like this: “Tell us about a time when you dealt with x, y, or z.” They invite an example from your experience. That’s your time to offer a simple story. It doesn’t have to carry super-hero status. It just needs to express what the situation was, what you did about it, and the results you got. An example makes your skills and experience easier to understand, and much more credible. It also takes expressing your strengths out of the realm of bragging, boasting, or “look-at-me” attention-seeking.
Helping others see the value we bring is a key skill for developing our careers. That’s our professional story. Just as in traditional storytelling, our professional narrative is naturally told differently every time, depending on the circumstance. But the facts endure. Sometimes as in a resume, a story will consist of 3 crisp phrases on paper. Other times it may be a concise verbal introduction that invites a conversation.
Almost half of the people who explore communication style through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator find they identify with the descriptor, introversion. There are many aspects to that distinction but one is this: we introverts often prefer to think and speak in sequence….to think through what we’re going to say before we start talking. And we’re not the only ones. For all but the most practiced, it takes a little thought to put our professional selves into words. Here are some resources for helping to build that vital career-development skill.
- Many of the Staff Career Development workshops at UC Berkeley address vehicles for communicating your skills and experience: https://hr.berkeley.edu/development/career-development/workshops (new schedule coming soon)
- Check out My UC Career, a system-wide online career development portal available to all UC employees across the state. The portal provijkdes resources and tools to create and refine resumes, write cover letters and practice interviewing, as well as access to job openings at all UC locations.
- Want to leverage the power of a team to build career communication skills? Staff Career Development is currently piloting a team-based workshop series. If your group is committed to mutually supporting your career development skills, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss what we can do together.
- Lynda.com (free to UC Berkeley staff who log in with their bMail address) includes a variety of courses and videos about using story, including “Shane Snow on Storytelling.” You can find a direct link to the Lynda site here and many other career resources here: http://wisdomcafe.berkeley.edu/learning-resources/
What’s YOUR story?