You have probably told your career story many times, so why do you need to “discover” your career story? We use the verb “discover” deliberately because although many candidates have created a resume and recited the facts about their job history to others, few have taken the time to write a compelling “Career Story.”
A resume is a record of jobs and achievements – a Career Story provides the connections and interrelationships between those jobs and brings your resume to life. Like a book, a Career Story is divided into chapters. Typically a chapter will begin with your decision to take a new job, proceed to the most significant challenges and achievements in that role, and end with a brief accounting of your learning and growth. The bridge to the next chapter is a summary of the reasons you decided to take the next step in your career journey.
In this MBA Prep Step™, we will show you how to create a holistic summary of the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired in your career and what you’ve achieved professionally. To earn an acceptance letter, your Career Story needs to provide admissions officers with evidence of distinguished career performance in the top 10% of your peer group and demonstrate your potential for future advancement. Therefore, an effective Career Story is a key asset in the MBA application process. We will show you how to fashion the Content Building Blocks for your Career Story.
Let’s take a closer look at the steps for assembling your Career Story. Along the way, we will show you how “Adam”, a private equity analyst we worked with, assembled the Content Building Blocks for his Career Story.
1. Outline the Chapters of Your Career Story
Building Block Question: What are the major milestones in your career so far?
Your first step in crafting your Career Story is to identify the major phases or chapters of that story. Changing companies is an obvious chapter break but a step forward inside the same company such as a promotion, a major increase in responsibility, or being assigned to a high profile project might also mark a new chapter in your career.
Adam has two major chapters in his Career Story. Chapter 1 was graduating from college and accepting a 2-year analyst position at Deutsche Bank. In Chapter 2, he accepted an analyst job at a Private Equity shop called Astrix Partners where he’s been working for 18 months. For the rest of this example, we’ll focus only on Chapter 2 of Adam’s Career Story, although Adam would need to develop both chapters for his essays and interview answers.
2. Explain the Reason(s) for Your Career Decision
Building Block Question: Why did you take the job or accept the new assignment?\
Each chapter in your Career Story can begin with your career decision. Admissions officers can see what jobs you had by scanning your resume. In your Career Story, you will explain why you decided to take the job — or volunteer for a big assignment.
Adam plans to explain that he decided to leave Deutsche Bank and join Astrix because the move fit with his long-term career plan to become a private equity investor.
3. Discuss Significant Challenges and Accomplishments
Building Block Question: What was the most significant challenge you faced? What did you achieve that you are most proud of?
The next building blocks are the significant challenges and accomplishments during this chapter of your career. Admissions officers enjoy hearing about the difficulties you overcame in this chapter in your career and about the standout moments where you made a real impact on your organization.
Among other things, Adam plans to talk about sourcing a private equity deal at Astrix, which is, of course, a rare achievement for someone of his age and position.
4. Share Major Areas of Growth
Building Block Question: How did you grow and what did you learn in this phase of your career? How did you progress?
The fourth building block is your personal and professional growth. You might share knowledge acquired, lessons learned, and skills developed. Personal growth is also interesting to admissions officers: a new talent discovered, the emergence of a new career interest, or clarity on an existing one.
Adam’s learning and growth is fairly straight forward; he acquired private equity skills and confirmed that he had a passion for investing.
Let’s look at the assembled building blocks for the Astrix Partners chapter of Adam’s Career Story:
Table 4: Building Blocks for Astrix Partners Chapter of Adam’s Career Story
Take a moment and read through the outline of Adam’s Career Story. Adam provides a good case study because there’s nothing particularly exotic about his Career Story. He has followed a more or less typical path from tier-one investment banking into a private equity shop. Nevertheless, by carefully outlining the Content Building Blocks of his own career history, he now has the elements of his Career Story that he will share in his MBA application.
How can you gauge the quality of your own Career Story once it is written?
Admissions officers will read your Career Story with your Career Goals in mind. For example, if your career goals, like Adam’s, are to work in private equity, then admissions officers will consider whether you have the foundational skills and knowledge required to be successful in that field.
Adam’s Career Story is effective precisely because it will provide admissions officers with evidence that he’s made significant progress towards his private equity career goals. The point is that your Career Story should indicate progress toward your future career goals and provide admissions officers with confidence that you have the skills, knowledge, and relationships you will need to succeed post-MBA.
Now, it’s your turn to create the building blocks for your own Career Story.
Unit Review: Discover Your Career Story
- A Career Story provides the connections and interrelationships between the jobs on your resume and provides evidence that you have progressed in your career.
- The executive summary of your career should include the decision to take a new job, proceed to the most significant challenges and achievements in that role, and end with a brief accounting of your learning and growth.
- An effective Career Story supplies the connections between your professional experiences and the capabilities you will need in the field and position you want to work in post-MBA.