Why you need a strong career narrative

January 15, 2016


In one of my previous blogs, I have asked you if you had developed a clear idea of what personal career success means for you. In this blog, I am wondering whether you allocate equal importance to the career narrative linked to it. First of all, what is a career narrative? According to Heidi K.Gardner and Adam Zalisk, it is a short story about your career which you can tell to whoever crosses your path. It is no longer than two or four sentences maximum. For example: "After working in recruiting for a number of years, I am now ready to take up other roles within the HR department. My aim is to become an HR Generalist. In a couple of years, I see myself working in the Gent area to make my professional activities compatible with my family life."  The point is that it comes to mind quickly when people talk about you. It prevents people from making assumptions and drawing a conclusion of their own (Harvard Business Review, Feb. 2013). Some of the tips in this blog I have also found in their work.


It is safe to say that organizations can no longer make long term promises concerning the careers of their individual employees. The exponential technical progress we experience today has a huge impact on the way we work. A lot of the jobs as we know them today are bound to cease to exist, and new types of jobs will take their place.  For instance, will we need chauffeurs in the future, considering smart cars coming along? What about claim adjusters in charge of car damage in insurance companies? There will be no more accidents since smart cars don’t collide. On the other hand, ‘drone coordinator’ may be a job that opens up in logistics. Employees will have to adapt constantly.

The world of work is becoming increasingly complex, and you might say it has become a little bit of a jungle. I am a strong believer in self-management in the career. Keeping your eyes open for evolutions that have an effect on what you do and how you do it professionally is a key attitude to develop if you want to be the one in charge of your career. From that perspective, it is a good thing to make sure that many people in your surroundings know about who you are on a professional level. This raises the chance that they see opportunities for your next move and will think about you when talking about possible candidates for a new role.

In short, I think that in the current employability context - in which every professional undeniably finds him- or herself today -  it becomes important that not only you have a clear view on your professional identity, but that others have an equally clear image.   

Here are some tips for a strong career narrative.

  1. It should be short and to the point. Two to four sentences maximum. You want people to remember and reproduce it at the right moment.
  2. The narrative should meaningfully link your past successes to your near and long-term aspirations and suggest the kinds of assignments that would help to achieve those objectives. Potential employers should have two reactions. First, they should be interested in working with you. Second, they should know if it makes sense for you to work with them.
  3. Your narrative needs to come together with the right combination of honesty, humility, and personal flavor. Doing so creates an authentic and compelling career narrative. Narratives that just articulate a string of successes are not credible and are not likely to be repeated.
  4. Finally, once developed, your narrative should never be set in stone. It needs to be regularly updated, as you achieve more and your needs change. Therefore, it is key to continue to talk about in your network so that they can see the logic in your slightly changing story.

In conclusion, in the current situation, where careers have become dynamic and unpredictable, everybody needs a career narrative - whether you are a young starter, looking for your first job, a seasoned professional or an independent looking for a new and interesting assignment. Change is constant, and you want to be ready for it.

Lesley Vanleke


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