4. Part 2 – Developing your personal narrative

communications job interview personal brand public speaking

In this blog post/podcast episode I do have to finish what I started in Part 1, on how to develop your personal narrative, aka personal brand, although you will be able to follow just fine if you found me here, but it may be worth going back and listening to Part 1.

In Part 1 I mentioned how I became obsessed with Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, and mentioned a paragraph that often comes to my mind when people ask me to write about myself, be it a bio, a LinkedIn profile, or resume. Barthes' horror about writing about oneself is my own, and I think it resonates with many people. Although I want my clients to learn to feel comfortable in situations where they need to speak and write about themselves, I never complain about helping them in reviewing and editing their resumes, because frankly time is of essence when we are job hunting and I sometimes things just need to be done quickly. And it is SO MUCH easier to write and critique someone else’s work, yes? So keep that in mind, if that’s how you are wired, and most people are, and find someone you trust and have great skills to help you. But you shouldn’t expect them to do all the work for you!! You HAVE to put in the effort, deep down you have all the answers, and you most certainly have all the knowledge about your experience, skills and strengths.

So how can you write and speak comfortably about yourself in a way that enhances your personal brand? Well, the answer for me is also with Roland Barthes. You see, what Barthes is known for is his expertise in writing, expression and communication. He studied discourse and narrative, which is how we communicate in speech and writing. And he came up with five different ways in which stories are told. I will leave a link in the episode notes for you to read about the 5 different types, but I will focus on two in this discussion. First the one I think we use to diffuse the focus on ourselves, which ends up hurting our career progress, at least in my view. The other the one I ask my clients to move towards: it is comfortable, it is not bragging. I hope you will find it easy to transition to it, as I am confident it will have positive results in your career.

So what is it that people do that is ineffective in building their personal brand? I believe people are most comfortable communicating in what Roland Barthes calls Hermeneutics. It’s a big fancy word. Don’t bother remembering it, but here is what it means: it’s the way in which we communicate by delivering breadcrumbs, clues, that we hope people will follow to make a decision about us. Examples in literature are the Bible – it’s all written in clues, same with most poetry. Most recently if you played the type of video game where you have to find clues that leads to other clues, it is all cryptique, difficult to understand. A work-related example: someone asks how your project is going, you answer: “well you know, it is what it is, the report made its way to the board, the presentation was done last Monday…” You may want people to read into it that: you are confident? That you do these things all the time? That the project is done? That the project is important because it was material enough to be presented at board level? And you may want the person to read into it that you are a good project manager, right? Wrong. No one has time for all that guess-work.

And when you miss out on your promotion and think ” but I always delivered my projects on time, and did them excellently, the board was always happy with the results” it is all true, but it may not have been communicated well enough to the people that make decisions about promotions.

There is another way of telling a story that is more compelling, without being a brag-fest. Barthes called it Semantics. It’s when words, visual cues, body language the entire scene carry meaning and add up to the story. And you don’t have to spell out what you mean, it oozes out of you and people just know. Think about the Bridget Jones' movie and the famous scene when Bridget and her boyfriend break up, she is on the couch in her pyjamas, drinking alone, listening to “All by myself”, and you just know she is heart-broken. She does not say “I’m sad, my boyfriend and I broke up”, but you know. You just know. Every bit of that scene adds to the message and amplifies it. It’s an iconic scene.

How can you apply that to build your personal brand? Well think about the whole composition about what you want to portray professionally. Let’s say you want to be the best project manager there is. Someone asks you how your project is going, you lit up, you are energized, you answer mindfully, remember you don’t need to spell out every detail (remember Bridget didn’t tell the audience she was sad!), but it needs to be something important to that person. If they are from human resources, for example, uou say it has been a great opportunity for you to lead a team and you really enjoyed it, invite them into the experience by offering to present at their next team meeting. You can say something like “It’s been great working with this project team, we met all delivery KPIs...” And look, if things have not gone to plan, think "glass half full": what have been the challenges and THEN tell them about the solutions implemented or under consideration. Right?? People who get promoted are people who find solutions to problems, who manage expectations, who are excited to take on projects.

I hope you can think of better examples for your field, send me a message if you want to share an idea about this.

Before I end, I need to say a few words about getting results. So, here is the thing: personal narrative, or branding, is built over time. Think about the concept of natural selection: repeat a strategy consistently over time, look back at what you are doing and review, do a self-assessment of what has worked well, what hasn’t. McKinsey has put together a list of questions on how to trust your instincts, I have added to the resources below. But basically, it’s experimenting and self-assessing, adapting when you notice something is working well, and evolving in your own personal narrative so that you are in a winning situation. Does that make sense? I may need to do another blog on this, as I’m really obsessed with this idea of personal best, and how to find it within yourself. Trust your findings (or instincts) but doing this in like a scientific-ish way? I think we can say there’s a bit of science in my crazy method!


References I have made in this episode:

A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, by Roland Barthes

The Five Codes of Roland Barthes

Bridget Jones singing "All by myself" scene

McKinsey’s & Company paper: How to test your decision-making instincts


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Are you new to The Job Hunting Podcast? 

Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach corporate, non-profit, and public professionals the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress. 

If you are 1) an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, 2) looking to find your next job or promotion, or 3) you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running – then this podcast is for you. In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients. 

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