8 Tips When Explaining Your Career Journey


By:   |   Updated: 2020-12-07   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Branding


Problem

Have you ever been asked in an interview "Tell me how you got to where you are today"? Were you ready or did it throw you off? Did you start to ramble or were you fluid and concise? There is an art to communicating your background, journey, strengths, relevant successes and other career highlights. Additionally, how are you marketing yourself during this important explanation to Recruiters and Managers?

From what we've seen, candidates/interviewees need to be stronger advocates for themselves and market certain things more effectively in their career journey explanation, while communicating their passions, strengths, initiative and/or leadership!

Solution

There are a few best practices we recommend following when outlining, practicing and then sharing your career journey.

Best Practices for Sharing Career Journey

1 - Identify your personal "value proposition" first.

Do you understand the value and benefits you've brought to your teams, projects, companies, and/or clients? Do you know how you have truly helped them? What problems you've solved, processes you've improved, paint points you have helped to ease? Far too often, individuals don't fully grasp the value they've brought to the table in the past. This reflection and discovery exercise is a good one to start with, as it is imperative to your career story.

2 - Identify your career goals.

What are you excited to do next? What is your dream role? Where do you want your career to go? Your excitement will show through if this is something you're honest about. Sharing this information in your career journey may also prompt individuals to give you advice/recommendations on how to achieve that goal.

3 - Outline key thoughts you want to get across.

Where did you start your career? Where did you go, and why did you go there? What do you enjoy the most (in terms of projects, applications, responsibilities, technologies, approaches, etc.)? What triggered any career transitions and/or promotions? It helps to reflect back on your career roadmap to determine the main talking points to include in your career journey!

4 - Focus on strengths.

What sets you apart? So many candidates focus on what they don't have, but remember that you got an interview for a reason! The hiring team saw something in you that they liked. What are your top technical skills? Are you an excellent communicator that regularly presents to executives? Do you have training, certifications, or education that have been a large part of your career journey?

5 - Be concise.

I'm sure it's tempting to give a play-by-play of your entire career path, but just like a 6 page resume, the hiring manager doesn't need to know every role and every detail of that role. Focus on the big achievements, the things you're most proud of, notable promotions and the steps that got you to where you are today! We recommend getting your career story down to 30-60 seconds max. That's plenty of time to give the rundown of your career path, we promise!

6 - Customize for your audience.

Depending on the person you interview with (Talent Acquisition Specialist/HR/Recruiter vs. a Technical Hiring Manager vs. an Executive or other senior leader), you may choose to highlight certain aspects or frame things a different way. For example, if you are talking to a non-technical Recruiter or Human Resource professional, you want to speak in broader terms and use the more common industry lingo or "buzz words." If you are speaking to the hiring Manager, you might want to focus on the nitty gritty details of what you focused on, getting specific with technologies, tools and approaches. When speaking to a Senior Director or Vice President, you would likely want to stick to the business need, the purpose and focus of the team, your high-level contributions and the resulting ROI.

7 - Tell it like a story.

Are you viewing your answer to this question as one of your most important stories? Effective story-telling during an interview has numerous benefits, such as building a stronger connection to a Manager, helps visualize your skills and contributions, helps demonstrate your interest in the role, and makes you more memorable as a candidate! Even early on in your career, everyone has a story to share about how you have ended up where you are, as well as where you want your story to go next! You can often share your story in response to the common interview questions of: Tell me about yourself, when you started your IT career, what lead you to this career/path, or other similar versions of those questions!

8 - Practice.

Practice with a friend, in front of the mirror, even record yourself! The more comfortable and confident you are in telling your career journey, the more it will resonate with your audience.

OUT OF WORK?

If you haven't been working for a few months, one of the additional details you need to include in your story/journey is what specifically you have been doing to upskill or keep your skills intact. This may include: taking online courses, working on pet projects, contributing to open-source projects, attending Meetup groups, reading articles, attending virtual conferences, and/or helping a local organization or nonprofit with a technical project. If you aren't already doing a few of these things, we recommend starting and investing a few hours a week as part of both your skills development and job search strategy! The third example below shows how you may communicate this.

Career Journey Explanations

Now that we've covered our main recommendations when communicating your career story, let's review a few example Career Journey explanations for various scenarios.

1 - Example Story – Entry-Level Technical Support Specialist.

"I discovered my passion for computers when I was 12 years old, after I took apart and rebuilt a computer. After taking a few technology courses in high school, I decided network and systems operations was something I really enjoyed and wanted to pursue! I focused on an Information Technology Associates Degree, and also studied and passed the CompTIA A+ and Network+ exams. I am eager to get a technical support job with a collaborative and supportive team and company where I can continue to develop knowledge!"

2 - Example Story – Career transition from Hospitality into Information Technology.

"After being in the hospitality industry bartending and waiting tables for many years, I decided to transition into technology. I loved computers and had a knack for them growing up, and I discovered that interest remained strong years later. I really enjoy creating and fixing things, especially programming. After completing a 12 week coding boot camp where I focused on building a few applications in AngularJS and React, I've been continuing my education with full stack development through Pluralsight and Udemy courses, attending local meetup events, attending a few code camps, and working on projects through my GitHub profile. I'm looking forward to finding a full-time Programming role, and I believe all of my technical training, personal development projects, and background working in fast-paced environments will lend well into this sort of role."

3 - Example Story – Laid off for a few months and looking for Sr. SQL Administration role.

"I've been in the technology world for a better part of a decade, focusing on databases since the beginning. I've primarily worked with SQL Server in larger environments, most recently leading an upgrade to SQL Server 2017. I've been involved in all aspects of administration, including day-to-day maintenance, implementation, configuration and performance. I was laid off in April, and have been keeping my skills fresh through courses via MSSQLTips and Udacity, weekly projects in my home environment, and have been attending one virtual conference a month."

4 - Example Story - Transitioning from a DBA to a Reports Developer.

"I began my Technology career as a Technical Analyst with a focus on SQL, and moved into a Database Administration role focusing on SQL Server. While I've really enjoyed being a DBA over the last 8 years, I've become more and more interested on the reporting side and have created several custom reports for various business owners, giving them the ability to really give visibility into program and technical enhancement results. I've taken some training courses on both Power BI and Tableau, and have really enjoyed joining the local Power BI Meetup and the meetings I've attended so far. I'm excited to move towards a Reports Development role, with a focus on Power BI and/or Tableau!"

5 - Example Story - Targeting a Leadership role.

"I knew I wanted to lead people ever since I trained my first mentee and took on a Team Lead role at a local civic Hackathon. I've always found immense satisfaction motivating and guiding people towards their personal and professional goals. As a Developer for over 6 years, I'm mentored over 15 individuals and even helped revamp our onboarding program for new hires at my current company. The opportunity to move into a Lead role is one I know my past experience has prepared me for, but also a challenge I cannot wait to take on!"

Next Steps

As you can see, there are various approaches for telling your Career Journey. The key, however, is to tell your story by highlighting the things that set you apart from the candidate pool. Your story may address any of the following:

  1. Where did you start?
  2. How did you get here?
  3. Why are you in the job market and what are you looking for?
  4. If you've been out of work, what have you been doing to keep your skills sharp?
  5. What makes you different?
  6. What gets you excited?
  7. What is your value proposition?
  8. What are your main achievements? What contributions are you the most proud of?
  9. What awards have you won or certifications you've achieved?
  10. What opportunities have you had that have prepared you for this next step?


Last Updated: 2020-12-07


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Cate Murray Cate Murray is responsible for managing the nationally-based talent acquisition strategies of the Apex Systems PMO and Business Analysis Practice and holds her PMP certification from PMI.

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