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The Ties that Bind: A Roundtable Discussion Based on Pamela Slim’s Body of Work

BodyofWork_coverWhen you’re starting out on your career path, especially in a difficult job market, it can feel impossible to figure out how exactly to sell yourself. After all, you’re pulling job experience from a lot of places: your school work, volunteer jobs, freelance gigs, internships, etc. — chances are your complete resume doesn’t tell just one story, it tells many stories. But together, what do all of those things say about you as a job candidate? And better yet, what do you want them to say?

Pamela Slim‘s new book, Body of Work (Portfolio, January 2014) aims to help readers find their streamlined, cohesive story to show potential employers. This book addresses the need to have control of your career story in the face of a rapidly changing career landscape. Trendsetter Editors, Kimberly Lew and Samantha Howard sat down to talk about what they learned from the book, and how they think about branding themselves.

Kimberly: Well, well… here we are. Another day, another dollar.

Samantha: Dolla dolla bills y’all.

Kimberly: Dolla dolla bills, indeed.

So there are so many parts to this book that I figured we should start out general: what did you think of the book overall?

Samantha:  Well, I think that the thesis was good, and that the general idea of “you control your own story and how it’s presented” is brilliant. The execution wasn’t quite there for me. Parts of the book felt a little slap dash, a little rushed. Parts of the book had pretty clear structure, and others seemed almost stream of consciousness.

What about you?

Kimberly: Yeah, I think that surprisingly, for a book about how to create your own narrative from your work experience, there was a lot about the book as a whole that didn’t quite feel cohesive. I feel like some parts were really helpful and interesting in isolation, but there wasn’t a strong overall thesis to how to approach writing your own narrative. There were a lot of outlines and lists in the book that were helpful but they didn’t transition from one to the other as smoothly as I would’ve liked. That being said, were there any particular parts that stood out to you?

Samantha: I think one of the most eye-opening parts of the book was when Pamela Slim spoke about her friend, Desiree, who was being turned down for so many jobs because the prospective employers saw her as being overqualified. But once Pamela set her friend up with a resume specialist they were able to rearrange her narrative, so to speak in the parlance of the book, to show someone that didn’t seem too overqualified and then before you know it she had some job offers. They didn’t understate her experience, they just revamped her resume to create a more streamlined focus that showed her in a powerful, just not overly intimidating, light. That was a powerful moment for me. I also liked the section where she talked about how each person fits into a category: connector, maven, and salesperson. I think I learned that I’m a connector, though someone else might say differently of me, of course.

Kimberly: Well the thing that drew me to choosing this book is that I think it’s just so important and relevant for young people – well, all professional people – who are applying for jobs in this difficult job market. It’s so competitive out there, that it’s nice to have a guide for putting together your story in an attractive package. “Branding” and having a “personal brand” have been buzzwords for the past few years, but it’s true that being able to pitch yourself is becoming essential.

It’s also interesting because needing this skill is important to everyone, but everyone has such different job experience. Do you struggle with anything in particular in building your “story” with your job experience?

Samantha: Oh, constantly. I mean, it’s hard to find those common threads within my story other than “administrative experience” and “publishing.” I’ve also never really thought too hard about making myself into an elevator pitch before, so I’ve been putting thought into that now. It’s empowering to sit down and think about the things you’re good at, and even compiling the things you don’t think you’re good at. I think now that I’ve got the whole book under my belt, I’m going to go back and fill in the worksheets she had at the beginning of the book.

Kimberly: I feel like even being aware that you need to craft your story puts you ahead of the game, though! There’s nothing worse than being asked, “Oh, what do you do?” Or “What are your qualifications?” and then not having an answer.

Samantha: That is very true. If you can’t even talk about what you do, I don’t think anyone will trust you to do anything for them. I think another important part of this book was her explaining that there are two stories that we need to focus on: “the story you tell yourself and the story you tell others.” That kind of blew my mind. 

Kimberly: True. What worried me is that those are the same story for me. How did you interpret the way she differentiates between the two?

Samantha:  Well the way I interpreted it is that the full story is the one I tell myself, and the focused, streamlined story is the one I tell others. When I was interviewing at this job, I didn’t sit down and tell you guys about my time working at the zoo, a beer bar, or a hair salon. I did do all of those things, and they absolutely are a part of my story and have informed a lot of skills in the work place, but they’re not immediately relevant for this particular job. 

Kimberly:  True. Though sometimes streamlining your job experience for yourself can be very helpful, too. Makes everything feel more goal-oriented.

Samantha: Oh I know. That’s the part I show everyone else, but since I had to come up with it, I’m still aware of it. I’m always sitting on the unabridged and abridged versions. If that makes sense.

Kimberly: There’s a section of the book that focuses specifically on tailoring your story when you’re switching career fields. In some ways, I almost wondered if that’s easier, since there is a goal in mind and it’s just distant enough that you can find very specific threads in your experience that relate to it. As opposed to if you have a ton of experience in the same field without diversity.

Samantha: That’s a definite concern! I think Pamela Slim would able to turn that into some kind of powerful thing though, somehow.  What did this book teach you about your personal brand?   

Kimberly: Surprisingly, I find myself doing this kind of stuff all the time, but it’s also because I feel like I have a very weird range of job experiences. I work two jobs and do a lot of freelance/side creative projects, so I am constantly having to explain to people, even just on a social level, what exactly it is that I “do.” But one small section of the book that really resonated with me was “What to do when you are doing everything right and nothing is happening.” It basically outlines three things you should do for yourself: write down what you’ve done, write down what has yet to be done, and then to open your mind to what’s possible. It’s a little new age-y, but it goes to show how big a role perspective and goal setting play roles in making you feel like you’re accomplishing something.

Samantha: Definitely! I think people underestimate the value of sitting down with a pad of paper and a pen and sketching out their ideal career trajectory. Another thing I liked about this book was that Slim really encouraged readers to include their entire life into their story, not just their careers. She wants you to consider your out-of-office happiness, hobbies, activities, all of that, which was nice. Sometimes career advice makes me feel like I need to spend every spare minute doing something to improve my career. That’s fine some of the time, but it’s also important to me to finish that blanket I started crocheting, and her suggestions seem to encapsulate all of me when making my story.

Kimberly: True, though a lot of people have been talking lately about the danger of turning hobbies into careers. Some people advise that hobbies become a part of your career trajectory and become “side hustles” while on another level, sometimes that turns play into work. Do you think that some things should be off limits in discussing your story?

Samantha: Do mean off limits in terms of my bringing it up or someone asking me about?

Kimberly: In terms of you crafting your own story.

Samantha: I think as long as you’re smart about it, no.

If I had a blog that was well known, and in it I talked about what a giant, unambitious, lazy slob I am (I’m not! I swear), I’d have to come up with an incredibly creative way to spin that, or just leave it out of my public facing story. Or at least the story that I tell during an interview.

What do you think?

Kimberly: It’s hard to say. I think it’s always going to depend on who you’re talking to, so in that sense, your story and what you tell about your “body of work” is constantly evolving. In speaking of blogs, one thing I found fascinating in the book was when Slim brings up social media and the internet. In this day and age, you have the story you tell to yourself and the story you tell to other people, but there’s also a story that the internet can write/gather about you too, that can be dramatically less within your control.

Samantha: She did mention the story that just googling yourself can tell. At least my name is pretty common. I’m kidding, of course, but that is a huge consideration. I’m sure that could get some people in plenty of trouble.

Kimberly: Yeah. That’s a whole other thing. My name is one of a few Kimberly Lews, but I am determined to dominate them all.

Samantha: There’s a girl who’s really good at running named Samantha Howard, throwing off my Google game.

Kimberly: Maybe you can incorporate that into your story.

So, in closing, what are 3 enact-able things you got from this book that you will use in finding the thread in your body of work?

Samantha: 01: Remake my resume and put every job I’ve had on it since high school and really tease out the commonalities for the more streamlined version.

02. Actually answering the questions on the worksheet she has in the book and putting them in my diary.

03. This one’s silly, but also serious, being more aware of my internet presence. For instance, my twitter feed is probably a little too silly for the amount of industry followers I have.

Now you have to answer that question, Kim.

Kimberly: 01. I loved the persuasive story pattern that she brought up, as exemplified in Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “I Have a Dream Speech.” Basically it is to alternate between talking about the truth of a situation with what it could be, and then finishing on a call to action. I’m not going to be so formulaic, but it will be something I’d like to incorporate into how interpret my own job history.

02. I want to identify the mavens/connectors/salespeople in my life and keep them in mind for future projects.

03. Get a mixed martial arts teacher, because so many metaphors for life came out of her experiences in a mixed martial arts class

Samantha: Stop having better answers than me.

Kimberly: Never.

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  1. […] is an interesting discussion about crafting your career narrative (the subject of an upcoming post […]

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