Professional presentation—how you choose to build and share your professional story—is a major factor that can shape your career in the social-impact sector. Whether you are exploring pathways for growth at your current organization or seeking new opportunities at a different nonprofit organization, the time you spend building your story is time well spent. Getting started, though, is not always easy.
Here, we unpack five key steps you can take to build your story in a way that feels authentic, powerful, and meaningful.
Let go of blockers to your professional presentation
The process of crafting your personal story begins by letting go of the blockers that might prevent you from showing up to a networking event or interview as your confident and authentic self. A blocker might sound like one of the following:
- I feel shame around my story.
- I don’t have any major accomplishments to share.
- I’m worried about what others might think of me.
It’s a powerful shift to move from a place of fear or shame to a place of confidence and authenticity, and it can take some time to get there. Remember to have compassion for yourself during the process, and that asking for help from your support network is not a sign of weakness.
Clarify your what and your why
In order to craft a story that authentically shares who you are and the value you bring to a role or organization, it is important to get clear on your “what” and your “why.”
Your “what” consists of what you want to convey in a networking or interview conversation. This might include:
- Your educational background
- Where you are currently based
- Key accomplishments in a professional or volunteer capacity
- Factors that motivate you
- Potential career paths you want to explore
If you don’t know exactly what you want to do next, that is completely fine. Don’t let your uncertainty derail you from developing your professional presentation. In fact, by sharing your story through networking, you may gain clarity on which types of roles and industries most interest you.
Once you identify what you want to share with others, it’s time to answer this question: “Why do you want to share these parts of yourself with your network and/or a hiring manager?”
Perhaps you choose to share what you studied in school because it’s relevant to the field you’re looking to move into. Or, perhaps you choose a specific accomplishment because it highlights transferable skills you could bring to your next opportunity. If you are talking with a hiring manager, sharing what motivates you may help the person see alignment between the values you have and the values of the company you’re seeking to be a part of. The more intentional you are about determining what you want to include in your story and why you want to include it, the easier it will be to build one that showcases your authentic self.
Share your skills and strengths
We each have certain skills and strengths that we bring to the workplace. Whether you’re just starting out as a young professional or are a more seasoned leader, embedding skills and strengths into your story helps convey what makes you unique.
A skill is something that’s learned, while a strength as something that’s innately part of your character. Your skills will likely include a mix of the technical and the human, also referred to as hard and soft skills. Technical skills can include mastery of specific software, technical tools, languages, or systems. Human skills might include problem solving, effective communication, and project management. If you’re unsure of which to focus on in your story, consider past successes—either professional or volunteer—and the skills and strengths that were necessary to make them happen. You can also explore a more comprehensive assessment of your strengths using the Gallup CliftonStrengths assessment.
Incorporate relevant accomplishments
Working in relevant accomplishments in your story helps put your skills and strengths in context. It also helps a hiring manager or new contact understand your capabilities. When incorporating these past accomplishments, consider the STAR technique, commonly applied when answering behavioral interview questions. Following the STAR technique will ensure you’ve conveyed the relevant context, the actions that you’ve taken, and the impact that you had in doing so.
Practice your heart out
Building and sharing your professional story takes courage. The more time you can dedicate to your professional presentation, the easier it will become—even for those who consider themselves non-networkers. The key to building confidence in your story is practice. This might look like writing your story down several times before saying it out loud or recording your story, listening to it on playback, and then adjusting.
And while you might initially use these skills to help build your network and land a new role, storytelling will always serve you in your career—so it's a great muscle to begin strengthening right now.
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