Crafting authentic stories


Close your eyes and picture your favorite car. Focus on that car and whatever you do, do not think about a pink elephant. Don’t think of a pink elephant painted on the car or standing on top of it or walking by it. What did you see? I’m guessing you saw a pink elephant (and maybe a car too ; )

When we look back at our career, it’s difficult to ignore the negative experiences and mistakes we’ve made at work. The ones we feel guilty, angry, embarrassed or saddened by, are usually the ones that are the hardest to let go. They are our pink elephants. So it’s no surprise when they creep into or get blurted out in your stories.

These experiences are incredibly valuable and should not be diminished in any way. But they shouldn’t overshadow or distract from who you are and your achievements. For example, I recently worked with a client, Mark, whose leader was a tyrant. The executive wasn’t interested in diverse opinions — just wanted his ideas executed. When Mark drafted his elevator pitch and in the “I’m looking for” part, he said that he didn’t want to work in a top down organization or for an autocratic leader. He was hypersensitive to his current situation and focused on what he didn’t want, which makes sense.

Let’s say Mark was giving his elevator pitch to a hiring manager and he ended it with a few things that he didn’t want in his next role. The manager may have noticed the change in language, but more likely, may have shifted their feelings about Mark. It may have gone from a “hey this is an interesting guy” to “hmmmm, there’s something a bit off here.”

How do we craft stories that are honest and authentic when they’re also challenging experiences?

Step 1: increase your awareness

First do an assessment of your jobs over the past 10 years or so. Write down:

  • What you liked
  • What you disliked
  • What would have been better if the company or your manager had…
  • What would have been better if you had…
  • What skills you gained
  • Mistakes you made
  • The challenges for the business and for you
  • The people/culture

Review your answers. Do you see trends or patterns? Determine what is real or not. Did you have challenges because of a situation or because of how you handled it or both? The more self reflective you are, the more you’ll discover.

Step 2: reframe into learnings

Failures and mistakes are only valuable when we learn from them. They are not, and should never be opportunities to blame and feel badly about what would of, could of, should of. They are truly learning opportunities — and a great opportunity to practice kindness and compassion (especially to yourself). When you understand what you learned and how you grew from these experiences, you’re able to share them in a more objective and positive way.

This also applies to negative experiences. When you can step back and see what you’ve learned from them (even if it’s what you don’t want), then you can reframe it to something that you do want. Mark reframed his “I’m looking for statement” to: “It’s important for me to find a company that has a trust culture, values diverse ideas and is highly collaborative.” This worked well with the companies that have great cultures — they felt aligned to what he was looking for.

Step 3: practice and get feedback

Once you’ve crafted your elevator pitch and stories around mistakes or failures, practice them with family, friends and colleagues. Identify people who you trust to be open and honest. Ask not only for constructive feedback on the content and delivery, but also how they felt about the story. The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel. Pretty soon these difficult stories will become a concern of the past.

By taking the time to reflect, reframe and practice your most sensitive stories, you will create a strong impression of someone who is self aware, thoughtful and continuously strives to learn and grow.

Are you looking for help in crafting and practicing your stories to help land a job that you’ll love and thrive in?

If so, then watch our video and book a session with one of our job strategists. We’re excited to learn about your career goals and share insights.