The Story of You: Why Your Career Path Narrative Matters

Knowing the importance of your story can be a powerful tool as a woman leader.The language we use to describe and investigate our lives—personal and professional—centers on story.“I’m starting a new chapter.”“That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”“End of story.“Understanding why it is critical to construct a cohesive narrative of your career path can help you frame your path as a leader. Respecting the sanctity of your story can also help others relate to you better, understand you more clearly and accelerate collaboration as a team.[bctt tweet=“Respecting the sanctity of your story can also help others relate to you better.”]“Tell your story,” is the final tool in the 9 Leadership Power Tools To Advance Your Career, created and designed by Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president.Jennifer Aaken, marketing professor in the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has studied the power of stories, specifically as they relate to women’s leadership.“Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone,” Aaken writes.Narrative can be used as tool to help enhance your power of persuasion. “When people think of advocating for their ideas, they think of convincing arguments based on data, facts, and figures. However, studies show that if you share a story, people are often more likely to be persuaded. And when data and story are used together, audiences are moved both intellectually and emotionally,” Aaken writes in her guide, “Harnessing The Power of Stories.”“When telling a story, you take the listener on a journey, moving them from one perspective to another. In this way, story is a powerful tool for engendering confidence in you and your vision. Harnessing the power of story will enable you to be more persuasive, move people to action, and progress into your career,” according to Aaken.In her guide, that is also available through Lean In, Aaken writes: “Stories shape how others see you. The stories people tell about you influence how they see you; whether they would hire you, buy from you, or like you. The stories people tell about you also influence how you feel.”Aaken confirms, “Stories are tools of power. When you tell a story, your audience slows down to listen. Sharing a story lets people hear your insights more effectively.”Nancy D. O’Reilly, clinical psychologist and author of Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life,  wrote recently in Take The Lead: “It’s time to take responsibility for your own story. You can stop seeing obstacles and start envisioning opportunities to claim and use your power to achieve your passion and purpose. All you have to do is change your story.”Our bodies and minds are proven to react differently to stories.The power of story is necessary to grasp as leaders because narrative and its effects on our brains and our biology have been proven.[bctt tweet=“The power of story is necessary to grasp as leaders.”]“Your brain on story is different than your brain when it is receiving any other form of information, including straight facts and data,” I wrote in Pacific Standard in 2014. “The threads of stories that we read, hear, watch, and click on affect us intrinsically.”Stories change not only how our brains process information, but reading stories changes hormone levels in our bloodstreams.“Paul Zak, director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate Schoolfound that reading simple, humanistic stories changes what is in our blood streams. Taking blood samples of subjects before and after reading a story about a father and his terminally ill son, Zak found their blood levels contained an increase of cortisol and also oxytocin after reading the story. Called the human bonding or empathy chemical, oxytocin is also released by breastfeeding mothers,” I wrote.Understanding the power of story and using it as a tool to define your career path can begin with simply crafting your resume in a new way.“Using stories rather than fragmented lists of bullet points to craft your résumé and profile involves closely examining what makes you an exceptional candidate,” writes Jane Heifetz in Harvard Business Review.“The focus of this examination is on not just what you did but how you improved an organization, both overall and in specific ways,” writes Heifetz,  founder and principal of Right Résumés and a contributing editor to HBR. “Of course, this won’t guarantee you’ll get the job, but it should get you more interviews — and more opportunities to tell your stories, tailoring them to what each hiring company needs.”Then in consistent language you use to describe yourself and in the way you present the arc of your career path, you can construct a narrative that explains your work, your goals and your past.

Shifting from brief bullets to a storytelling resume can seem counter-intuitive, writes Nancy Anderson for Beyond. But it can also be a keen move. “While personal pronouns in a resume can raise eyebrows in more conservative industries, you can easily break this outdated resume rule for more modern and creative openings. Using ‘I’ and ‘me’ is especially useful for telling quick stories about what you’ve accomplished or how you’ve provided clever solutions at a previous job,” Anderson writes.

“Stories persuade,” writes Aaken at Stanford. “Story can move people to action.”