–written by Megan Lucy, a current graduate wife
For many of our families, the graduate student is not the only one whose career is deeply affected by the decision to enter graduate school. Partners who choose to re-locate with their student often face a difficult job search of their own. This series brings together tips I have learned from my experiences studying public personnel management, working with hiring and promotion in the university setting, and my own job searches throughout our graduate school journey. The series is in five parts:
Part 1: Building a Career You Can Move With
Part 2: Preparing a Solid Resume
Part 3: Planning an Efficient Job Search
Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career
Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search
Part 4: Telling the Story of Your Career
Everybody has a story. Our stories are what set us apart and make us unique from everyone else in the world. The story of your career is what sets you apart from others applying for the same jobs. A story often begins with an outline, has a summary that entices readers to read more, and a plot built around a specific theme. In the story of a career the outline is your resume. Your resume hits all of the major plot points- where you worked when, what you accomplished, and characters- your own contact information, and that of your references. Thinking of your resume as the outline of a story will help you see how things go together, so you can find the theme of your story. The summary of a career story is a cover letter or screening interview. Your summary should be engaging, give a good idea of the overall plot and point readers in the direction to learn more. An interview is your opportunity to fully tell your story, develop your theme, and lead to the ultimate conclusion- that you are the best person for this job. Here are some tips I have found to tell a truly engaging story about your career:
- Get your story straight– Everything you write and say, your resume, cover letter, and interview questions should tell the same story. Make sure your outline- your resume- includes all of the necessary information, and is accurate. Double and triple check it. Then, when you write your cover letter, refer to specific information in your resume, and do the same in your interview. Be sure to bring copies of your resume and cover letter to the interview so you can easily refer to them.
- Find a common theme– It is not uncommon for partners of graduate students to have changed jobs multiple times while they travel from school to school with their student. While some may think of this as a liability, tell your story in a way that shows this experience as a strength. Try to find commonalities between your jobs, even if they seem very different at first glance. Maybe you worked as a barista, a telephone operator, and sales representative over the past five years. Highlight how each of these jobs made you better at customer service. Maybe you have been a web-designer, a lab tech, and an engineer. Explain how at each of these jobs you had opportunities to build critical thinking skills.
- Be Prepared for Plot Twists- Plot twists are those items in our resume that are unexpected and may confuse or concern the reader. In my own story, I have worked for a specific political party. My plot twist is that a potential employer of a different political inclination may see the name of my former employer on my resume and assume I wouldn’t be a good “fit” for the culture of the organization. I anticipate this and re-route the story back to my original plot- that I’m perfect for this job- by emphasizing the parts of my political work that were non-partisan, like helping veterans get their benefits, and working with people of the opposite party to solve local problems. Other plot twists could be periods of unemployment, time off to raise a family, a lost job, or major career change. Whatever your plot twist is, think of ways to use it to reinforce rather than damage your overall story.
- Be The Hero of Your Story- Sometimes it can be hard, or feel wrong to talk about yourself. A lot of times, for me, it is much easier to talk about how proud we are of others- our kids, our partner, our friends- than it is to talk about how proud we are of ourselves. Other people’s stories are awesome, and we should be proud to share them, but it is important to remember that, as far as your career story is concerned- YOU are the hero. Don’t be nervous about sharing your accomplishments, taking pride in your work, or talking about your strengths as an employee. In the setting of an interview this isn’t “bragging,” it is advertising yourself honestly, as the accomplished potential employee you are.
- Tell Your Story Over and Over- Some of the best stories are ones we can tell from memory- The Three Little Pigs, Sleeping Beauty, Spiderman’s origin story. We know these stories by heart because we have heard them told over and over again. Your career story should also be a story you know by heart. You should practice telling it, so that even when you are nervous, or caught off guard by a surprise interview opportunity, you are confident in how your story goes. A great way to practice is by having practice interviews with your partner (surely you’ve listened to him/her practice presentations enough that he/she owes you one!), a friend, or someone at a local career center. The feedback you get from practice interviews can be constructive, but just as constructive is the act of practicing itself.
Next Up, Part 5: Maintaining Your Sanity During a Job Search.