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How to craft the story of your career

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Do you worry when you read articles about older workers, who lose their jobs and can’t seem to get back into the job market. Many of these heartbreaking stories tell the story of professionals who were on a regular career track – they acquired a profession, worked as salaried employees and expected to continue doing so up until retirement. But then something changed and the familiar, expected path ceased to exist as many found themselves out of work for long periods. Many of these stories point the finger at Boomer job discrimination. Are you worried about your career?

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It is important to understand that there are a number of different trends causing disruption in the job market, making it is harder and harder for salaried professionals to find jobs, even though they have more than 20 years of experience. Because if we understand these trends, we can plan our career around them.

First of all, there are fewer salaried full time jobs out there. The New York Times recently published a very interesting set of interactive charts showing how the recent recession reshaped the economy. The good news: the US economy regained almost all of the jobs it lost. However, they didn’t return to the same place they were before. By industry, the number of jobs either increased or declined, and the same thing happened to the average salaries. Overall, the total number of jobs created does not account for the growing needs of the working population.

Another trend out there that likely impacts the ability to find salaried jobs is the growing on-demand economy. We usually think of this as our ability to access services. But the cloud of talent also translates into a new work format, which enables companies to access the talent they need, when they need it and wherever it is. We see this also showing up in the fact that already more than 53 million Americans are doing freelance work, 34% of the entire US workforce.

And on top of all this we also need to consider the changes in jobs as a result of automation, the changes in where, when and how we work.

So how do we ensure we are able to continue a long and fruitful career?

Having a long and successful career depends on our ability to bring forth our values, capabilities and skills into the new world of work. Test yourself, when is the last time you dedicated time and planning to your own career, to your own professional story, your professional brand, and, last but not least, your dreams and vision for your professional future?

Now is the time to reflect, update and define what is necessary for that future. You will probably discover that what was true during the past decade of your career doesn’t necessarily hold true for where you are and what you want today.

For starters, write out the story of who you are professionally.

Your professional story is not the chronological list of jobs you’ve held. It is the story of who you are, what skills and capabilities you bring to the table. Include examples representing how those skills and capabilities showed up in your career.

If you are looking for a job, your Resume should show why you are suited for the job we are applying for. For this reason, it also needs to be tailored for each job application. Telling your professional story, as opposed to listing your jobs titles, also means you need to be able to answer questions such as: why do I want this job? Why does it excite me? And also, if I’m the hiring manager, what do I look for in a candidate for this job? Do I have it and if so, how do I make it known?

Since jobs and job definitions are changing and organizations have different needs today than they did in the past, they don’t simply hire more of the same. They identify new needs, locate new capabilities and skills. These don’t always fall neatly into job definitions we recognize. Sometimes, organizations will put an unfamiliar job title on a position which requires skills and experience we have from different types of positions. Expanding your point of view beyond the familiar position titles, to a broader range of possibilities, brings into view jobs you didn’t see at first glance.

Regardless of whether you’re in the market for a new job or just planning your career, take another look at your Resume, your LinkedIn profile and any other professional content you have out there and start crafting your professional story. Turn your experience into your brand, define it, describe it in a way that is uniquely you. Ultimately, the experience and capabilities you bring to the table will define your competitive advantage. Your professional story presents you as a person, not as a list of jobs. It also needs to help the hiring managers want you on their team, working for them. Show them what your next chapter could look like as part of their story. If you can’t do that, it might not be the right job for you.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Find someone, from your network or a paid expert, who can help you walk through your career experiences and craft the story of your professional career, what you bring to the table. Sometimes, on our own, we cannot see the full potential of our own experience, our insights, what we’ve accomplished. Why? Because we’ve accomplished all of those, to us it seems simply who we are. Someone else can help us see what is unique and significant and help us craft it as our professional brand.

And keep investing in your own development. Your professional story changes and updates all the time. Keep learning, stay updated and relevant, a thought leader in your field, don’t stop even for one moment. Make sure you allow yourself to go beyond your comfort zone, experience, stumble, get up and try again. You have many more years for your career to grow, know where you are heading so that your career grows in the direction you want to take it.

You define the brand that is you, tell the story of your career, the value you bring, your relevant experience. Position yourself where you deserve to be, because you are smart and knowledgeable, updated and a thought leader. And no one can take that from you.