When Rachel Loock works with EMBA students at the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business, she makes sure they understand the power of a compelling story. And then she wants them to shape career narratives that help propel them to the next level of their careers.
“People remember stories,” says Loock, associate director, EMBA Career Coaching, Programming, and Outreach at Smith. “Stories resonate with people.”
In the case of EMBA, careers stories are taking on even greater importance, since many students want their degree experience to prepare them for career transitions and advancement.
“I think it’s a key reason that many students pursue the degree,” says Loock. “More students pursuing EMBA will look to make some sort of change or transition from where they are either while in the program or after graduation.”
Loock meets with students early in the program. “At the beginning of the career curriculum, we begin by having them immerse themselves in a career leadership assessment.”
Then students move into crafting their career story as part of a session devoted to developing their narrative. They start by identifying their accomplishments or their SAR moments. SAR stands for situations, actions, and result, with students efficiently and impactfully encapsulating their key successes. This approach helps them consider their career less from the perspective of their job titles and more in terms of their professional accomplishments and contributions.
As part of the session, students pair up with one another, share their stories, and offer each other feedback.
Loock also asks students to reflect on their careers through a mind map exercise where students outline their career experiences to identify the common threads and connections. That work helps students better see their past path and the potential for the road forward: “What we most are hoping for are the ‘ah-ha’ moments,” she says.
These efforts help students with another assignment—writing a career biography. The biography serves the very practical functions of helping students gain clarity on their narrative to support their job search and communicate their value to recruiters and other key stakeholders.
“It has many uses,” says Loock. Some students draw from it during job interviews, or when pursuing a board of director position. Others use it to enhance their social media presence.
The bios help answer the perennial interview question: Tell me about yourself. Examples of blurbs from bios show how students describe themselves:
“MV is a connector of dots and a rocker of boats. He looks for trends where none seem to exist, and human behavior fascinates him.”
“KK is a passionate corporate communications leader who uses the power of an organization’s voice and purpose to excite customers.”
After completing the storytelling session, the career curriculum continues with students focusing on networking and understanding relationship building, preparing for interviews, and taking a deep dive into leveraging LinkedIn. The program at Smith also includes individualized career coaching.
While not every student who participates is seeking a new job, they still benefit from building a stronger career brand, which makes them more effective in their current organization.
“The storytelling part comes up in so many places in the career journey, and it really begins with you—and knowing yourself first,” says Loock.