In this episode of Career Beats, Esade Alumni, Katie Annice Carr, coach, communication expert, artist, storyteller, and personal brand specialist, will be talking about personal storytelling, and how a good story can make or break our professional persona.
Listen to the episode if you want to know how to define, test and refine your professional story to keep it consistent throughout any communication channel and interaction with an employer or recruiter, and coherent during your lifespan.
Carmen Gonzalez: Hi listeners, I am Carmen Gonzalez, associate director of Esade Careers, coach, and passionate about unlocking talent. I am so pleased to be here with you today.
Is the story that you share about yourself a fairy-tale or a horror story? Have you ever frozen when answering the typical ‘tell me about yourself’ question? Storytelling is a key step to building a strong personal brand – and the best thing is that you have the power to create an impactful story.
For today’s episode we are excited to have Katie Annice Carr, coach, communications expert, artist, storyteller, and personal brand specialist. Katie currently runs her own company ‘Step Up Create’ which helps businesses and individuals unlock their creativity and leadership through art and apply it to the business world. She studied theatre at university, and then switched to law afterwards – an interesting combination. She is also an Esade alumna of the Executive MBA, and currently combines her business at Step Up Create with teaching at top brand business schools, where she helps students communicate with impact and better define their personal brand through storytelling. Katie has her own podcast, which is one of the reasons we invited her to be our first guest.
Katie, welcome to the show, we are so excited to have you.
Katie Annice Carr: Thank you, Carmen. I am excited to be here as well. Especially on the first ever Esade Career podcast.
Carmen Gonzalez: Storytelling is a crucial part of creating a personal brand. I guess we should start with what is storytelling in careers, how would you define it, Katie?
Katie Annice Carr: Well, I think there are three ways that storytelling and narratives are important in careers. First of all, one is connecting with your past and understanding what motivates you. It is really about your ‘why’, taking a deep look and what makes you… you…. and what brought you here. The second one is about understanding your inner narrative, and this could include things that are holding you back, like limiting beliefs (which I think you are going to talk about on a later podcast). And there may also be obligations that come from other places – these are things that we assume we need to do in our careers, which may come from our parents or society – things that are not very helpful when we are deciding what we want to do. And then, of course, there is how you tell your career story to others, your origin story, and also the shorter stories that you would tell in interviews.
Carmen Gonzalez: You talked about the ‘why’, and defining your why, and I’m thinking about the inspirational speaker Simon Sinek and his book ‘Start with Why’. So that’s a key aspect when creating your story. But how do you define your why, what’s your advice on that?
Katie Annice Carr: Can I just add a little bit to the previous question before I answer that question?
All I wanted to add is that in terms of careers, we sometimes forget that our aim is to persuade the interviewer, or the person from the company, that you are the best candidate for the job, or if you are just in a networking situation, that you are a potential candidate and that you might bring value to the company.
And we know from work in neuroscience and psychology that purposeful stories persuade better because they are gently balancing logic and emotion, and they win someone over that way. To do that, we always need to be getting this balance between the head and the heart, even in business. We know that stories are also more memorable than other things you can do in an interview. And you need to be memorable given the competition that most candidates are facing in any kind of interaction.
I have been in situations where I have been doing a maximum of ten interviews a day. The most important thing is obviously to be remembered and the candidates who are remembered were the ones who had personal stories that were well thought out, authentic, and true. That is something that is important about career storytelling – to think about why we are doing it. It’s not just because it’s a fashion and we think it might be useful and everyone says we should do storytelling. It is that because there is science behind it. And obviously storytelling isn’t new, it’s something completely human that we have been doing for years and years. What is new is being purposeful about it, and that is what is important in careers. You don’t want to go into an interview and talk for 15 minutes by starting ‘yes, when I was born in 1990…’. That’s just going to bore people and in one way it might be saying this person doesn’t know how to organise their ideas. What we want is to find true stories from your past, and also be able to hone them and sculpt them in an interesting and dynamic way.
Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, to be able to engage with the audience.
I think that being memorable is interesting. People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Being memorable is definitely very important and to be memorable you need to be clear about your purpose because that’s what is going to engage with your audience. But I guess our listeners are thinking how can I define my purpose? And I know that’s a big theme and we are not able to answer that fully in this episode – maybe in a later episode. But could you give us some specific tips to start thinking about our purpose, what are perhaps some of the questions we can ask ourselves to start defining our purpose – which is going to be the starting point for our story as well.
Katie Annice Carr: It’s interesting to connect what you were saying earlier about the ‘why’. I understand the purpose is the why, and you have to find that. It’s not something that you can decide on. One of the ways you can do this, or one way that I use, and I know that you use it in the careers service with coaching, is to have people draw on a big piece of paper – and draw a line though the middle that represents time. On the left side of that line is the day you are born, and on the right side of that line is where you are now. And then all you need to do is to map out key moments in your life. Obviously, when you start, you may add things like ‘when I got accepted to Esade’, or ‘when I finished my first exams’, or ‘when I finished my pre-university education’. But spend a little bit more time thinking about this, and try to remember what were those conversations and interactions that led to where you are now.
And this is not something to share with other people, this is a draft that you are just trying to figure out. What’s going on in your life? When we talk about story-telling in careers, we are already talking about defining your origin story. Most people here have gone through between 22 and 45 years of life and are usually being asked to reflect on that in two or three minutes, or maybe in a longer conversation to go in more detail. So, you are really like a filmmaker who has lots of reels of film and you must cut that down and edit. You must try to map it out on this line, and if you do it carefully you can map positive things above the line and negative things below the line, and then you see that the distance from the middle line sorts the highest impact things and so on. You can start working with that and select some of those key moments which might be where there is a bigger peak or trough, and think ‘okay, what was going on there? What was it that makes that so memorable for me?’ Because usually it is something connected with purpose.
We are looking backwards to then look forwards. That’s part of the work, the other part of the work is being aware of what’s going on around you while you are in Esade, or while you are studying or working, that really interests you? Is sustainability something that is really interests you, and within sustainability is it something to do with designing new solutions to these difficult problems? Whatever it is, just be aware of how that’s impacting on you. Because that’s going to give you ideas on what might be interesting for you in the future, what your purpose might be. I think the other thing that’s interesting to remember is that sometimes purpose seems like this massive thing. You might think: ‘I must have my life purpose and I need to define that now’.
We know from the way careers work these days that you are not going into your next job for probably more than two or three years. And certainly not the lifetime career that you would have had 40 years ago if you joined a graduate recruitment scheme. So, you are going to have to redefine your purpose, and that’s normal, because you are getting more input every day, and you are keeping it as a living thing. And I think there is something about ego there as well. It is important to remember that even though you said ‘okay, I’m going to do this, and this is my purpose’ that this can change and that’s okay. We are fluid as humans, we are not a single defined thing, and one of the problems with personal branding is that we are often encouraged to find two or three words about who we are, and that’s incredibly difficult, and it kind of puts us in a box and makes us feel uncomfortable.
Through stories and through connecting with our past and what has really impacted our lives, and looking towards what’s going on now, and what we are excited about, we can define what are our current purposes and what our purpose will be for a while, and what we think our life purpose might be. But we don’t have to define our life purpose right now because that’s overwhelming.
Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, absolutely, I think it’s about testing, right? You need to test different things to find your passion. I heard once that if you do that your passion will follow you, you don’t need to follow your passion, so that takes away a lot of stress. And it’s the same with our stories. We need to test our story to see how it engages with our audience.
Katie Annice Carr: Yes, definitely. I use design thinking applied to careers. Design thinking has these five different phases, and one of those is prototyping. Prototyping when you are thinking about your career and about your story means getting out there and sharing it to try things out. That’s what internships and shadowing are for. They allow you to get closer to what the potential career is, without having to sign a contract and say: ‘Now, I have to stay here for a while, or I have to do as well as I can here’. Storytelling prototyping is sharing the stories, it’s having the confidence to do it. You will never have a perfect home story. And that’s not what we are going for. We are not going for the ‘I am on stage sharing my amazing story as if it’s a TED talk’ scenario. What we are doing is getting the pieces together and trying them out. You try with one person, and of course, a networking event is an amazing opportunity to try this out. When trying this out with one person, you might see that it didn’t quite sit so well, so change it a bit, or cut this bit, and just keep on refining it. Just as humans, we keeping on redefining ourselves.
And one thing that is important is self-reflection as well, give yourself the space to be able to reflect on what’s going on. Do I enjoy what I am doing right now? Do I find it challenging? Is this where I want to be? These kinds of questions can sometimes be a little bit uncomfortable, we often forget to ask ourselves, because we are too busy living, or too busy moving forward.
Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, that’s very interesting, thank you for that. And as you said, it’s very important to test in safe environments before we are in those networking events that we really care about, or in an interview, or writing our cover letter (which is part of our story as well). It’s important to test with friends, with family, to see how they feel about our story. And what type of doubts, or what parts of our story really engage with them – and so that’s great advice. And going back to what you were saying before about writing down your story, and thinking about where you come from, where you want to go, and that life-line with different milestones that is going to create your story. But in general, what is your advice on how to structure your story to make sure it really engages with your audience? What would you say is the right structure to follow when creating your story?
Katie Annice Carr: Okay, there is a classic story structure which is the most used in business and careers and it’s the most used because it’s the most effective. And that’s the hero’s journey structure. And this is most easily summed up by Pixar – if you just look up Pixar storytelling structure, you get a great video. But essentially the structure is: once upon a time, every day, until one day, because of that, because of that, because of that (for however long you want to go on), until finally….
You are obviously not going to use the same vocabulary. So, ‘once upon a time’ might become ‘when I was 23 and I was working in consultancy in London’; ‘every day’ might become ‘we were given different tasks and worked in different places’; ‘until one day, this project landed on my desk, and it was something really different…’. And then you lead the causation through. And this would be a more complicated version, than, say, the star method – which is something that I know is taught by the careers service. It is essentially the same thing; namely, the hero’s journey structure. And if you don’t know the star method, it’s simply this: describe a situation; describe the task you were given; the actions you took; and the result. And if you match that up with the Pixar structure, it’s the same thing.
So the star structure is a way of structuring smaller stories, when you have been asked a particular question in an interview (particularly competency interviews). The Pixar structure is what you would use for your origin story, or your life story together, which is the larger story. What you were saying earlier about the story also being reflected in the cover letter is interesting. Your story is the thing you should do first, and then it’s going to percolate down through all the different areas of communication you are going to have in the careers process. So, cover letter, application form, even when you are talking on the phone to the company to arrange an interview, the interview itself, networking, everything that you might do. For all these touch points with the company, you need to have a consistent story. And that doesn’t mean repeating the same thing, it just means that you have thought about ‘what’s my purpose, how is this relevant or how is this applied to what I have done so far’.
You must be careful in an interview about what my dad would call ‘weasel’ words. Questions like ‘what’s your biggest failure’ and answering ‘it’s too much attention to detail’ when you are interviewing for a job that requires attention for detail. These are the things that make interviewers groan and think ‘oh my God, another person saying the same thing’. And the way you get round that is – providing you have done the work before – by backing it up with a story. And by backing it up with a true personal story, you are going to be memorable, and you are going to show that yes, okay, it might be a cliché, but it’s true in my case.
Carmen Gonzalez: Thank you for that. And I also guess that if you want to create an impactful story, you don’t only need to think about what you have done and about yourself and about your purpose, but also think about your audience. If you want to engage with your audience, you need to think about what they need, what they are interested in, so that you can shape your story depending on who you are talking to. What are your thoughts on that?
Katie Annice Carr: Well, you need to be reading in detail everything you can about the company for which you are applying. I know this is going to be said on this podcast again and again. Do your research! And doing your research also means reading the job profile and reading those keywords. What is the company looking for? What does it appear that they are looking for and where is there a match with what you have done and with your past? So, this doesn’t mean pretending that you hit all the keywords, and you are the perfect candidate. No, it means where is there a true match between what you have done and what the company is looking for, and these are your stories that go with that. How can you highlight? This is the editing process again – you edit your film so it appeals to the audience you are working with. That’s kind of something that you would do before going into the company and even before sending off the application form. And from there, you obviously must think of the story as a dance. It’s not a broadcast – you need to be allowing your interviewer to talk and add things. You need to really listen to what that person is saying, and what that person might be interested in. Because the person you have in front of you is a person. They are not the corporate persona and they are going to have interests that are slightly different from the company itself. So think about what their interests might be and be ready to add more detail in those areas. But make sure that you have used true personal stories that really resonate with you. And that makes it easier to add colour and more information, because for you they are real.
Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, yes, absolutely. When you were saying, talking about listening, I remembered that it’s also about story listening. Actively listening to your audience is key to shaping your story and engaging with them.
Katie Annice Carr: Story listening is important from the company level as well. Companies are telling stories over all sorts of social media and the web. What are the stories that the company is telling? Get an idea of who your audience is, don’t incorporate the same stories into your story – that would be a fatal mistake – but just think about what are the things that their stories are highlighting. This means reading between the lines, and taking extra care – that’s what people are looking for.
Carmen Gonzalez: Katie, I’m going to ask a few questions from our audience. Taking into account all the channels that we have available, LinkedIn, YouTube, etcetera, where should we start? What’s your advice on what to do first?
Katie Annice Carr: My usual advice would be to start with what most appeals to you, what feels right for you, because they represent very different ways of communicating. However, I think in terms of careers, especially when you are starting out, you need to be on LinkedIn. LinkedIn for me is the most important channel, depending on what you want to do, if you are interested in marketing, if you are interested in a social media position, this kind of thing, well, then you are going to have to compliment that with other areas. But LinkedIn for me would be the first place and it’s also one of the places where you have the best opportunity to tell your story, because there is a massive space at the beginning, which some of us skip over really quickly, called the summary, and that’s where you can write a shorter version of your story and point the readers to different parts of your CV that then follow.
Carmen Gonzalez: And second question. What’s your advice for people who are changing career completely? How to shape their stories so they don’t feel the impostor syndrome?
Katie Annice Carr: Yes, first, the impostor syndrome is something that you are going to feel anyway. So, it’s more about being aware of that, being aware that it is normal. You are starting something new, you are doing something different. One important thing is to work with transferable skills, and this is really identifying from what you have done before, what skills might be useful in other areas, particularly in the area you want to enter. And then how can you tell your story, or your stories, including these transferable skills, and really honour what you have done until now. I am thinking of the youngest students in the MBA who are doing restaurant waiting jobs or something like that – how can you use that great experience and shape it into stories that are relevant to where you are going. And that’s usually through this idea of transferable skills – meaning things that are relevant for the new job, but not the same as what you have done before.
Carmen Gonzalez: And as a final question. How to overcome the uneasy feeling of exposing yourself when sharing your story? That feeling that you don’t want to be there, but you want to be there at the same time. How to cope with that feeling?
Katie Annice Carr: For me this is all about just doing it – there is no way that you are going to get to feel comfortable about sharing your story unless you share your story. You can start by sharing it, and maybe you don’t share as many emotions you should do to be the most effective. But little by little, it will become more normal for you to share it. And there is no better day to start sharing your story than today.
Carmen Gonzalez: And Katie, as a final remark, what would be your main piece of advice for our students to build a strong career? Related to personal branding or in general. What is your main piece of advice?
Katie Annice Carr: I would say leave behind your self-doubt and just go do it.
It’s a tough one. But it’s something that if you don’t do it, you are not going to move forward, just try it. Think of it as a prototyping experience. And just jump into that swimming pool. Even if you feel like you are not the right person and you don’t know how to swim yet and the water might be a bit cold.
Carmen Gonzalez: Yes, that’s great advice. Thank you Katie for all your great insights. Where can students find you? I’m sure they’ll be very interested in finding out more about you and about what you do.
Katie Annice Carr: I have the normal LinkedIn link and my handle is KatieAnniceCarr. I’m on Instagram at @Step_Up_Create. And my website is stepupcreate.com, the podcast can be found at www.stepupcreate.com/thepodcast. It’s on Spotify and Apple and all the others that you might use. So, there we go. I look forward to connecting with you.
Carmen Gonzalez: All this information will be also posted in our podcast notes, so no need to take notes, all the information will be there. So, Katie, thank you so much for this conversation. All your insights about storytelling and personal branding have been great. As Steve Jobs said: ‘the most powerful person in the world is the storyteller’. So, thank you for this, because it’s a crucial aspect for building a strong career and a strong personal brand.
Katie Annice Carr: You are very welcome and thank you for having me on as your first guest. I wish you all the success with the podcast and I look forward to coming back.
Carmen Gonzalez: Absolutely. That would be great. In our next episode we will talk about a key topic to start the New Year: what do recruiters look for in an interview? Our guest will be Michael Mascarenhas, international campus recruiter at the prestigious consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group. I’m looking forward to seeing you in our next episode of Career Beats.
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