How to Craft a Powerful Career Story

Jane Horan
5 min readFeb 23, 2022

Creating a meaningful career story, and anchoring it vividly to your personal values, could unlock key learnings about your life and career.

Burnt out and fantasizing about a big career reset? Or perhaps you’re energetic and curious about what’s next in your life’s journey? You’re not alone. In the year of ‘The Great Resignation,’ millions of people are quitting their old career path and looking for a life that is truer to themselves.

Fascinatingly enough, economists say, “Quitting is usually an expression of optimism.”

Unfortunately, for some of us, starting the next career phase is not as easy as ‘following your bliss.’ A lot of people don’t know what their ‘bliss’ is, let alone know how to take those first steps to follow it. So, you might end up making a lot of false turns before you find the path that’s right for you.

For those just starting out in a career, time on their side, a trial-and-error approach may be just fine. For more experienced professionals, however, there tends to be a stronger sense of urgency and purpose. They might benefit from a more focused approach to career construction and planning — one that fully identifies where they came from, where they are now, and where they want to be.

That’s where a career purpose story comes in.

What is a career purpose story?

Like a resume, a career purpose story captures your career journey, strengths and accomplishments to date.

Unlike a resume, it does so in narrative format, describing what went on inside (why you made this decision, what it felt like to accomplish X, Y and Z) as well as what happened externally (your job roles, strengths and impact).

It tells the story of your learning, the work you have done, and the choices you have made at different life or career development stages, so you get the future mental picture of where you are coming from, what you are seeking, and why you feel ready to do whatever is calling you next.

By reflecting on your career in context and presenting it as a connected whole, you can start to identify what is meaningful to you.

How can a career purpose story help me build a new career?

For anyone stuck at a career crossroads, building a career purpose story is a powerful way to learn more about yourself, your life and career ambitions. You can use it to explore a whole range of challenging questions — Who are you? What do you do? How did you become who you are today? What do you see as your legacy?

Your who am I story — gets to the heart and soul of what you do.

The answers to these questions are a good foundation for anyone envisioning their ideal career. But it’s especially helpful for experienced professionals in a career transition who may be stuck on their ‘outside’ story rather than examining the inner drivers of why they made the choices they did.

When you think about it, this is a blinkered view on our personal journeys as it assumes that our careers are things that happen to us, rather than things we actively shape and control.

How to write a career purpose story

How you choose to tell your career purpose story is entirely up to you. There’s no definitive one size fits all to storytelling. But there are two guiding factors to always keep in mind: Audience and Purpose. For example, the story you tell your manager in a performance review may look very different to one you tell the visionary in your network who could powerfully influence the direction of your life.

For those in career transitions, the focus must be on reflection and self-exploration. The more layers you can add to your story, the more insights you can learn about yourself and gain a lot of value from the process. As Annette Simmons suggests in her book, The Story Factor, when you activate new stories, you transport people to new points of view, change meaning, behavior, and in that way — you change the future.”

Working with Rob Delange, an experience career coach and expert storyteller, we’ve uncovered a few pointers of what to include in your career purpose story:

● What do you do and why do you do it?

● What has influenced or is influencing your career choices? Did you make these decisions intentionally or did you catch a few lucky breaks?

● What challenges have you overcome? (we’ve all had setbacks in our careers, it’s the bouncing back — resilience — story that matters most.) What’s yours?

● How would you describe your value? Or better yet, what makes you a valuable employee, business partner, consultant, entrepreneur?

● What’s important to you; your life’s work or calling?

● Where have you come from? How has conflict or unfavorable odds influenced your decisions? What’s that one piece of advice your grandmother gave you as a child?

● Where are you now? What opportunities are you seizing, or want to seize?

● Where do you want to go in the future?

Once you have answered these questions, take a look and see what messages emerge — and then dig deeper. If a prevailing theme is courage, for example, layer your narrative with examples of how courage has surfaced in your life and work.

Show, don’t tell. Find and share your exuberance.

The late mystery writer, Henning Mankell suggested that “Instead of linear narrative, there is unrestrained and exuberant storytelling that skips back and forth in time and blends together past and present.”

Reflecting on Mankell’s words, there is a clear connection to our workshops in writing a career story, blending the past and present — exploring pivotal events — to find meaning.

Mentally, you should really start to find your moments of truth, expanding your identity from a mere job title to a whole person with unique worth. And that can open incredible insights to help you find a different direction that you’re happier about.

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Jane Horan

Author. Helping people find meaningful work. I write monthly on inclusion, political savvy and careers and how these interconnect. jane@thehorangroup.com