Career Tips

How To Tell A Compelling Career Story

By Karen J. Reiff, MCC, ACRW, JCTC

Everyone LOVES a good story, especially people who interview you. This tip is for all job-seekers out there who feel, shall we say, inadequate at telling stories. Let’s face it: great storytellers are few and far between. We know when someone’s telling a compelling story, right? It’s snappy, attention grabbing, relatable, and maybe even funny. So, quickly, I’d like you to assess your storytelling competencies right now: great? so-so? awful? (Full disclosure: I’m an awful storyteller).

Just a little over a year ago, however, a string of bizzare events happened to me on the way to the Rose Bowl that helped me tell funny and compelling stories: missing luggage, acute bronchitis, stolen purse, and two very serious TSA agents, to name a few. I was able to tell a story about each incident with clarity, swiftness, and humor. I kind of amazed myself!

I got to thinking: if I can tell stories about myself so effortlessly, what’s the secret? When I thought about the specific parts to my stories, I had an “a-ha” moment. I recognized that they are the very same elements I use to teach and coach job-seekers.

Why do you need a few (3-5) compelling career stories? Career stories, or short compelling messages about your strengths or accomplishments, are essential in order to grab your interviewer’s attention. Storytelling is an art, but like art, it can be taught and appreciated. It also must be practiced. There are several acronym- formulas career coaches like to teach so that you’ll remember the primary parts to a good story, but essentially, it’s nothing different from telling your friend about your stolen handbag using the acronym S.T.A.R.

Situation: 18 year old meth addict steals my purse at an outdoor café in Palm Springs, CA

Tasks: Call police; run after him; get others to assist

Action taken: Found serial number of purse; contacted detectives; contacted credit card companies, and home state’s driver’s license bureau; replaced phone; replaced purse

Results/Lessons Learned: Fully compensated for loss through insurance company; always have two pieces of a photo ID packed; don’t be intimidated by a stern TSA agent who thinks you might be a terrorist

Even if you believe your storytelling skills are sub-par, believe me, if I can do it, so can you. I managed to tell my stories quickly, with humor, and best of all, it held my family/friends’ attention. They, in turn, told other people, and soon many more people knew. A story is meant to be shared, and interviewers who hear your compelling career story will remember it long after you’ve left.

So, starting with just one short career story. It could be about how you were able to manage 20 legal offices across the country single-handedly; how you saved your organization $4 million; how you effortlessly coordinated attorney schedules and invoices; graduated with high honors and working full time; or something else strength or accomplishment based. It also helps if you can quantify (#s, $s, for example). Practice by telling it out loud so you’ll sound natural and genuine. Once you develop one, you’ll be able to write several more.

Interviewers will value your ability to tell stories. Stories make you human and relatable. Career stories also help the interviewer get to know your personality so they can better assess your “fit” within the organization.

Want to learn more? Check out Karen’s upcoming MSU LENS Professional Series Webcasts.


About Karen J. Reiff, MCC, ACRW, JCTC

Any form of career communication should reflect the very best YOU.  As a strategist, Karen specializes in crafting your unique career story— whether the format is resume, cover letter, personal brand statement, LinkedIn profile, career biography, interview talking points, or more.She also specializes in coaching you to be completely confident, whether it’s interviewing, negotiating, preparing for a “meet-and-greet, or how to express your unique value in a sentence or two.

Credentials include:

 Academy Certified Resume Writer (ACRW) | Master Career Counselor (MCC)

Certified Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC)  | Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF)

Licensed Professional (Career) Counselor (LPC) | Published author and blogger

Karen takes the time to uncover your strengths, personality, accomplishments and goals, and transform them into tools for your career management toolkit. She provide products/services designed to help you get the interview, get found on LI, easily communicate in interviews, andhelp you clarify your personal brand and unique value to recruiters and employers.

Karen offers a wide range of services for all motivated job seekers at any stage in their career: newly graduated, mid-career transition, returning to work, or career change. Having been a highly successful career management coach and strategist for over 20 years, people know Karen as inspirational, high energy, and creative. She likes to think of herself as the great connector-of-your-dots, with the ability to translate your thoughts and words with impact and results for you. 

Karen received her Bachelor of Science degree from Western Michigan University, and her Master’s Degree from Michigan State University.She is an international consultant, and avid runner, bicyclist, cross-country skier, and fitness junkie. 

Karen—The resume strategist—can be reached @ Karen@theresumestrategist.comor

(The opinions and views expressed throughout this blog are of the writer(s), and may not be the official views and opinions of Michigan State University.)

This blog post was originally featured at: and has been used by permission by the author.


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