Five Tips on Developing a Career Narrative the World Wants to Hear

Author: Gretel Hunnerup  |  From:LinkedIn
When Oprah Winfrey accepted an award at this year’s Golden Globes for her contribution to the entertainment world, she kicked off her speech with a childhood memory. 
The year was 1964, and Winfrey was “a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of her mother’s house in Milwaukee”, watching the 36th Golden Globes on TV.
She recalls witnessing, in awe, as Sidney Poitier became the first African American in history to win the Best Actor award. “I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that.”
Winfrey’s words – which brought the crowd to its feet and sparked growing calls for a 2020 White House run – made one thing abundantly clear. Personal stories are powerful. 
Told well, your stories can help you forge stronger bonds with your listener, build influence, get your ideas over the line, even motivate large numbers of people to act.
Brain studies show that we’re primed to feel connected to the characters we meet in person and online, provided they have a compelling tale to tell.
It’s why telling purposeful stories in the workplace has become so popular today. Walt Disney’s Vice President, Alan Kay, said it best: “Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.”
I’ve written this article to help you become that wise storyteller, by focusing on the most important story you’ll likely ever tell; the career narrative.
Put simply, a career narrative is an ‘About Me’ style story that’s focused on your life’s work. Think of it as your Swiss Army knife of personal stories. An ever-shifting narrative that serves plenty of purposes.
You might tell a two-minute version in an interview to help you land a plum role, or publish a two-paragraph version on your LinkedIn profile to build your industry influence. You might share a two-line version at a networking event to attract fresh business.
A good career narrative will position you credibly in the minds of your colleagues, clients and industry leaders. And if you don’t have one, people will create it themselves…often by Googling you. You may as well give them something authentic and compelling to go on.
Here are five tips for creating a career narrative that gains attention, builds connection and helps drive professional success.


Frequently in my business storytelling workshops, someone will say: “I feel really uncomfortable talking about myself. I’m afraid I’ll come across as a shameless self-promoter.
By focusing your story on how you can help your audience solve their issues, or realise their goals, you’ll be providing genuine value.
Is your audience an executive team seeking to appoint an in-house counsel in volatile times? Feature an anecdote of how - with your legal expertise – you’ve helped another team to steer their company to safety. 
Silicon Valley’s go-to communications expert, Nancy Duarte, puts it like this: “You are not the hero who will save the audience; the audience is your hero.” Framing your story in the context of serving others is anything but shameless.


When someone at a professional networking event or weekend barbecue asks the question, “so, what do you do?”, how do you respond? Most people reply with something like “I’m a lawyer” or “I work for ANZ”, and they’re probably missing a trick.
I believe the best lead sentences – the ones that really capture attention - fall under two categories; the pitch and the hook.
The pitch cuts straight to the chase, outlining exactly who you serve, and the specific value you provide. Like this one: “Clarissa Rayward specialises in helping separated families stay out of the Family Courts and stay friends, as she believes that a divorce can be a positive end to a marriage.”
With the hook sentence, the aim is to capture intrigue. “I keep company directors out of prison”, is one of the more amusing hook leads I’ve heard from an in-house counsel.
If you do lead with a hook sentence, follow quickly with a pitch sentence to give your audience the context they need.
Try out a few different versions to see what lands.


From the writers of Pixar to the most-viewed TED Talk presenters today, the world’s greatest storytellers use the ‘narrative arc’ storyline to appeal to our emotions. It goes something like this: a relatable character embarks on a mission, faces many struggles along the way, triumphs, and returns home with a lesson to share.
Your story won’t be this action-packed or neatly resolved, as your career is still unfolding. There’s still plenty of people to serve and plenty of path to tread.
However, your story will come to life when you pepper your list of accolades (degrees, awards and the like) with a bit of scenery and action. Like a major career pivot, a remarkable business win in the face of adversity, or like thought leader Simon Sinek, an unwavering purpose:
“With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people go home every day feeling fulfilled by their work, Simon is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.”
Sinek, himself, puts it perfectly: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”


Recently, a general counsel attending my workshop crafted a refreshingly personal career narrative. She chose to include her appreciation of her husband for “taking charge of the domestic chaos each morning so she can enjoy her bicycle ride to work…without having vegemite on her shirt.”
People want the story behind the story. Even in the corporate world. Just look to LinkedIn, where professionals of all persuasions are sharing their non-work highs and lows on video and tagging them with #letsgethonest.
Rupturing the divide between work and life requires courage. But it’s the surest path to greater connection. It’s not about being spectacularly fascinating outside the office. It’s about sharing what you’re comfortable sharing and being relatable to others.


Someone, somewhere, once said; “The more famous the person, the shorter the bio.” I’ll add that a punchy narrative is a smart move for the non-famous too. People don’t have the bandwidth to read personal essays full of flowery language and jargon.
Simple is memorable.
Once you’ve created career narrative draft, prune out the redundant words and sentences. Ask friends and colleagues to repeat the process with fresh eyes. 
Next, run your story through an online readability tool (there are many) to discover how digestible it is and make the suggested changes. 
Finally, be brave and share it. Consider all the places where your story would be useful. The Golden Globes might be a bit of a stretch...but you never know who you might meet at a weekend barbecue.
Gretel Hunnerup helps Australian business leaders to build their influence and impact by telling great stories. With 15 years of journalism and communications experience gained in Australia and abroad, Gretel delivers in-house workshops and talks on storytelling for innovation, brand, team-building, business development and transformation.
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