When you first meet someone, how do you introduce yourself?
Many people struggle to introduce themselves, whether at a dinner party, in a job interview, or when meeting their future in-laws.
It is worth taking the time to thoughtfully construct your personal narrative because you will use it over and over again, in both social and professional situations.
Tell Me About Yourself
Most job interviews start with that infamous request that strikes fear in the heart of many job seekers: “Tell me about yourself.”
Few people effectively respond to “Tell me about yourself.”
After all, you know everything there is to know about yourself. So, where do you start? What should you edit out? And what should you emphasize?
For someone who has made a lot of career transitions, it may be difficult to identify a common thread or overarching theme that cohesively binds their experiences together.
Identify Experiences That Shaped You
Before writing your origin story, brainstorm a list of moments that shaped you. Make a list of your successes. And epic failures. More importantly, what were the learnings that came from those failures?
Ask yourself: What has influenced your views of the world? It may have been a person. Or an experience. Or an unfortunate incident.
Once you brainstorm a dozen or so standout stories, find a common theme that unites them.
You won’t use all your stories in your narrative, but they are helpful when articulating your overarching theme.
When crafting your personal narrative, pick one story to illustrate how you overcame a challenge.
Consider the difficulties you encountered because of this challenge. What drove you to make certain decisions to overcome the challenge? And how has that impacted where you are today?
My Personal Narrative
For me, my origin story goes something like this:
Growing up, my parents always demanded perfection. A B on a report card or losing a lacrosse game earned me additional chores. As a result, I had a significant inferiority complex despite always being a high performer and achieving countless accolades.
I did impressive internships and jobs during university. But as graduation approached, I couldn’t stomach taking a traditional path. As my friends went to Wall Street and Capitol Hill, I escaped to Alaska.
I had an incredible experience there and discovered my love of adventure- literally and figuratively. Since then, I’ve changed careers and location several times, and now I help other people do the same.
This is what I say when I meet someone new or am being interviewed.
Origin Stories Continually Evolve
Personal narratives evolve over the years and should grow with you.
Another way to frame your origin story is to start with a dominant memory or something that impacted your decision-making.
For me, I was a huge fan of “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?” as a child. That prompted my interest in languages and foreign cultures.
I was desperate to travel and as soon as I was old enough to find a job in an exotic location, I took it.
That led me to my first “grown-up” job in Alaska. Later, I lived and worked in China, Botswana, London, and Australia. On top of that, I’ve traveled to more than 60 countries.
As a tourism industry executive, and then a professor, the Carmen San Diego narrative was perfect. But it’s not my primary narrative anymore because my direction has since changed.
Revisit your narrative as you change roles or industries, accomplish major goals, and alter your lifestyle. These are all reasons to evolve your story.
Who are you?
What do you want to be known for? What do you want to be remembered for?
Avoid focusing on your qualifications or resume. Emphasize your personal development.
Take some time and work through a couple of drafts of your narrative. And then test them out.
Where to Use Your Personal Narrative
Keep in mind your narrative can be used in more instances than just a job interview or meeting a new acquaintance.
Your LinkedIn About section is an excellent place to showcase your personality and tell people what you are about. Your personal narrative can serve double duty as your LinkedIn About section.
If you are an academic applying for a teaching and research position, you may be required to submit a teaching philosophy. Weave your personal narrative into that to get the committee to know you.
With postgraduate applications or internships, you will likely be asked for a personal statement. You can use your origin story as the foundation.
You will almost certainly use your personal narrative more often than you expect. Think it through before it counts and you are sitting in an interview being told, “Tell me about yourself.”