Narratives and the Stories Other People Create About You

Stories are a part of our every day lives, whether we realize it or not. We are either telling ourselves stories about someone or a situation. We also do things to help others project a certain story about us.

Take job titles, for example. They can be a signal to other people about your success. Or is it just perceived success? Do job titles give people a convenient place to hide?

What do I mean a “convenient place to hide”? Research has been done that shows if we want to accomplish something big - like writing a book or running a marathon- telling other people we are working on it or training creates a sense of accomplishment in our brains and lessens our desire to actually achieve it. We’ve already achieved what we wanted - to impress someone else (if I turn this into a blog post I’ll dig into finding and referencing it).

I believe, in some cases, people use their job titles in the same way. I think job titles can create a false sense of expertise and decrease someone’s desire to continue learning - because they feel like they already know everything there is to know or they wouldn’t have the title they have.

This can be dangerous for people early in their careers. One thing I’ve realized throughout my career is that there’s always something to be learned. The less experience you have, the more you have to learn and not just from books or other external resources but by doing and by pushing your capabilities. Pushing the edges of your comfort zone.

This is another area in which job titles can cause complacency.

Recently, while on LinkedIn, I’ve noticed what I perceived to be an increase in job title inflation.

I’ve thought to myself that I were starting an outbound sales and prospecting program and were looking for someone with a little experience but who is hungry to dig in and learn as much as possible I would avoid anyone with only a few years of experience and have the word “Senior” or “Sr” at the front of their title. And I’ve seen a lot of that lately.

Where am I going with this and what does it have to do with the stories we tell ourselves?

It has a lot to do with the stories we tell ourselves. I told myself a story within minutes of seeing someone’s LinkedIn profile about what I think they’re capable of, what they’re willing to do, how they view their own knowledge and experience, and how likely they would be to want to learn.

I know absolutely none of that and none of it could be true. I tell myself a story anchored by my own experience or the views communicated to me by others. At the heart of it is an anchor that can only take into consideration the experiences that person has had. People have a difficult time telling stories about things they don’t understand or have never experienced in some capacity.

But that’s exactly what recruiters and hiring managers do when they read resumes.

They are making decisions about someone within minutes, sometimes seconds, based on what’s on a resume.

Do you think your odds are good if you are leading your job search with a resume versus relationships?

You can bet your ass that they’re absolutely awful odds.

If you’re an older, experienced person, they’re telling themselves a story about your salary - that it would be more than they could offer. Or they’re telling themselves a story about how you wouldn’t want to be on a team of Millenials or Gen Z’ers - or that they wouldn’t want to be on a team with you (possibly because they may be afraid someone with experience might expose how little they really know, but that’s a pure assumption).

But those are the stories being told.

I’m not proud of it, but I told myself these kinds of stories when I was a recruiter.

Time is a very precious commodity to a recruiter. Every person they talk to needs to be as close to a fit for the role as possible. There’s usually a lot of pressure to get candidates screened and sent over to the hiring manager. Every screen that happens with a ‘dud’ is time that could have been spent with a ‘better’ candidate.

Is that the right way to look at it? Absolutely not. I can say that now that I’m not in it.

Being aware of the stories that can be told- false or true- about your experience will help you be more intentional about what and how you communicate things on your resume and other touchpoints you may have with people.

When I’ve mentioned that great marketers are intentional about everything related to a brand, it’s because they understand the stories people tell themselves and they want to maintain control of those stories and narratives.

It’s important that you do the same for your professional brand.