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Tell Your Story - Udacity - Career Resources

Your story—and more importantly, how you tell it—is one of your most important assets when it comes to competitive differentiation in the hiring landscape. Your story is comprised of those things that make you unique, and if you can contextualize these items effectively, your story becomes your greatest strength.

Consider this scenario:

You’re in an interview with a hiring manager, for a data role at mid-sized company in the healthcare space. The hiring manager asks you to share something special about yourself, something “not related to work.”

Here’s how you answer:

“Well, I play the banjo. It’s something I really love doing. It’s a creative outlet for me, and I especially enjoy performing. My spouse is a guitar player, so it’s a way for us to connect outside of work. We just play for fun, but I really like it. We’ve got about a dozen songs we can play now, and we even wrote an original!”

Can you tell what’s wrong with this answer? Hint: it’s not the banjo!

Let’s try another version:

Well, I play the banjo. I really like bluegrass music, and I decided I wanted to learn. It was a lot harder to play than I expected! I tried some chord books, and even took a couple lessons, but I didn’t get anywhere. I like learning from videos, so I tried that, and had better luck. I decided to stick with video until I could play ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown’—it’s a classic! I finally mastered it, and it’s my favorite song to play live, because people recognize it and really respond.”

Better answer? You bet! Here’s the thing—both answers are true. And, they both tell a story. But, the second one is far more effective. Why? Because of what the hiring manager can learn from it.

What can the hiring manager learn, or intuit, from the first answer?

  • You play banjo (not relevant in and of itself)
  • You’re creatively stifled and you need an outlet (not good)
  • You enjoy performing (not enough info)
  • You’re married (not appropriate info)
  • You may have work-life-relationship balance issues (TMI)

And what can be gleaned from the second answer?

  • You got inspired, and acted on it (good)
  • You’re honest about your challenges (good)
  • You’re willing to admit early failures (good)
  • You found a learning solution that was right for you (good)
  • You set a specific goal, and stuck with it (good)
  • You analyze your performances with an eye towards impact (good)

The second answer is an example of telling your story effectively. It’s not enough to simply communicate personal things about yourself; you need to do so in a way that sends positive signals about WHY these things matter. Think of this a personal brand version of Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” philosophy:

“People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.”

No hiring manager is going to hire you for a data role because you play the banjo. But, if you give an answer like that second one, you’re going to stand out for all the right reasons. This is critical to understand, because when that hiring manager is faced with a number of similarly qualified candidates—and let’s be honest, you’re not likely to be the only qualified candidate—they’re going to make their decision based on something more than just skills.

They’re going to hire you because of your story.


Consider Udacity’s Career Resource Center if you’re looking for more tips on how to tell your story, and land your dream job!

Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins
Christopher Watkins is Senior Writer and Chief Words Officer at Udacity. He types on a MacBook or iPad by day, and either an Underwood, Remington, or Royal by night. He carries a Moleskine everywhere.