8 Storytelling Hacks to Navigate College and Career

Group of multi ethnic executives discussing during a meeting in office lobby. Business people brainstorming ideas.

Carol Barash

Amidst a sea of change in higher education and career opportunities, your personal story is a boat to help you steer through stormy waters and navigate to sites of personal meaning and professional success.

Long after people forget facts and figures, we remember stories. When you tell a story, your brain comes alive with memories, emotions, and the desire to act. And deep within the person who hears your story, the same three things happen. Storytelling connects people through shared experience. It’s almost as if your memories are happening in their brain; a powerful connection is formed and the possibility of community takes hold.  

If you want to learn more about how storytelling engages our shared humanity, this article by professor Paul Zack in HBR provides many resources. And when you’re ready to be inspired by others’ stories and practice your own storytelling, we created the Story2 community as a simple, accessible and safe place to begin exploring your own most important stories.

Here are eight ways to begin flexing your storytelling muscles to expand college access, career opportunities–and every aspect of life.

  1. Create your personal brand through stories. Our reputations are crushed and remade continuously online and off. Embrace the ebb and flow of change and make your vulnerability a reliable feature of your online voice. Reveal what you’ve learned with stories from your own experiences. Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield’s story about a failed startup provides a lesson for others to follow based on his own struggle.
  2. Build a bridge to the future with stories. When I was in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, our first assignment was to write the vision of our business five years in the future. I stood up and said, “This morning I received a call from President Hillary Rodham Clinton, appointing me to her Commission to Reimagine Education.” People shook my hand, “Congratulations. It’s amazing Hillary called you.” Self talk storytelling is more than a self help trope. The difference between story weaving and self talk storytelling is a growth mindset that helps you “see it in order to seize it.”
  3. Reveal your spirit through digital storytelling. Draw people into your world with photos and video. Forget the similar selfies a zillion people share; go beyond the obvious and show what you see when your eyes are wide open. Princeton professor Jeff Nunokawa is the master of this move.
  4. Use SMART details to show your value. Admissions officers and recruiters aren’t looking for resumes; they’re looking for people. So in emails, cover letters and your LinkedIn profile, Specific Measurable Actions with Results over Time reveal the unique difference you made. This can be as simple as “increased revenue 10x in first month” or as playful as “bought 10 pairs of Spanx, maxed out my credit card and sighed. #FWP.”
  5. Spice it up with specifics; then cut out anything that’s not essential. Extend the power of your voice and vision with the three D’s: sensory details, physical description and dialogue. Incongruous details from everyday life are memorable and can demonstrating your uniqueness, but don’t use them in excess. Before pressing send, prune what’s outside your story and “when in doubt, cut it out.”
  6. Replace achievements with connections. When I was a faculty advisor to the admissions committee at Rutgers and read dozens of applications at a time, they all blurred together. The same thing happens when I look through a stack of resumes. Then there is that rare person whose sentences dance off the page, as if to say, “Hello, Carol, I read your job description, I love your company, and you need me because…”
  7. Give up judgments and proclamations, and build a community of storytellers. The internet is filled with loud opinions parading as facts. Instead, invite people you respect into your online community; make it a place where people can explore new ideas based on their lived and shared experiences. Scott Barry Kaufman is great at this.
  8. Practice storytelling. Wherever you land–on your way to college, a job interview, or a new first date–when you tell stories, you are showing up as yourself.

That is the secret sauce of storytelling. Have more to add to this list? Please comment and let us know.

For more, check out:

Carol Barash, PhD, is founder and CEO of Story2 and author of Write Out Loud. Follow Carol on Twitter, @carolbarash.  

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