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How to Quickly Build Stories for Career Success

As a career coach, I have helped numerous Federal employees prepare for interviews. I remember working with one gentleman who had applied for multiple senior management positions. He was an accomplished IT professional with an impressive resume showcasing years of successful projects. On paper, he was the perfect candidate for an upper-level management position. He always gained an interview.

And that was the problem.

During our mock interviews, he rambled. He listed his qualifications in no particular order. For one question, he spoke nonstop for ten minutes. He lacked confidence and seemed unsure of his past successes. He was not persuasive and didn’t project executive presence. We had much work ahead of us.

The Narrative Continuum: And-But-Therefore (ABT)

You probably heard the advice to tell a story when answering interview questions. It is good advice, but how exactly do you tell a story? For that answer, let’s turn to the guidance of a marine biologist who went to Hollywood to become a screenwriter.

Dr. Randy Olson is the creator of the ABT Framework (ABT). According to his research, the heart of storytelling is conflict. When someone tells a story, they start with setting the stage – the AND part. Then, the twist – the BUT – could be a challenge or problem. Circumstances change, and there is a new situation – the THEREFORE.

ABT is the sweet spot of the narrative continuum. At one end of the continuum is And-And-And (AAA), which is what my client did in answering interview questions. Unfortunately, his answers were all context which quickly bored the interviewer.

At the other end of the narrative continuum is Despite-However-Yet (DHY). You’ve probably heard people tell stories that continually go on unrelated and confusing tangents. When someone is telling a DHY story, they may occasionally pause and ask, “Where was I going with this?” DHY stories confuse and overwhelm interviewers.

The Multipurpose Story Framework: Context-Challenge-Action-Result-Impact (CCARI)

I taught the client to use the Context-Challenge-Action-Result-Impact (CCARI) Framework to tell his success stories. The best stories put your listeners in the action by letting them relive your experience through your account. Here is an example of how we used the CCARI framework to help the client build an interview story.

An interview question that the client had answered before was how they dealt with a delay in delivering a project result. We built the story by setting the context where the client had to work with a vendor who said they would be late in delivering a key component. Next, the client briefly described the challenge posed by the vendor’s late delivery. Then, the client told the action he took to secure another vendor that could deliver on time. The result was that the critical component arrived in time with the impact that the project was on time and slightly over the budget. In addition, the client could find cost savings in another project to offset the budget overrun, so there was no real impact on the agency.

The story was approximately two minutes and compelling. We built several success stories that helped the client regain his confidence and project executive presence.

Build Your Own Career Success Stories

You’ve probably heard variations on the most common interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time you were late with a project. What did you do to handle the situation?
  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with a co-worker. How did you resolve the conflict?
  • Tell me about a time you succeeded with a project. What factors led to the success?

I recommend you build five to seven CCARI success stories that showcase your best talents and accomplishments. How would you use your career success stories to answer the above questions and other popular interview queries?

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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