While I realize I’m late to the party, I FINALLY had the chance to catch the movie Avatar the other day. Wow. What a flick! I must confess, the special effects were even better than I imagined, the scenery was absolutely beautiful, and the dialogue was more gritty and realistic than I’d expected for an animated film. As for the plot — well, the plot was of course utterly predictable and nothing much more than a blue-skinned variation on a storyline we’ve all seen hundreds of times before in books and cinema, ranging from Pocahontas, to Braveheart, to Dances With Wolves, to…the list goes on and on.
In fact, the very first moment the character Tsu’tey appeared on screen, the entire crowd I was watching with remarked “ah, this must be the jealous ex-boyfriend!” in a nod to how predictable and stereotypical such figures have become in these kinds of movies.
I assure you, however, I haven’t changed the focus of my blog to one involving casual movie reviews. The relevant point in all this is that James Cameron, the director of Avatar, is no dummy. He knows that everyone loves a good story — and that the stories we adore most are those that involve tried-and-true recipes of characters, plots, and storylines we’ve all been conditioned to enjoy and relate to since childhood. We like to know who the heroes and villains are. We like it when good triumphs evil. And while we might like little surprises here and there, on occasion, my sense is that the best-selling movies of all time don’t really throw much of a monkey wrench at us in terms of the characters’ motives or how everything gets resolved.
So here’s the connection. In my view, good storylines are not just limited to the world of the silver screen. They can also play a major role in job search success, when you think about it. When an employer or recruiter interviews a prospective job candidate, what they really want to know is where the person is coming from and whether the “story arc” that has brought this individual to their doorstep is a positive or negative one.
Are you the virtuous, hardworking employee who got squeezed out of an organization due to nasty politics? Are you the martyr who fell on his/her sword and resigned from your last posting due to ethical issues? Are you the plucky housewife or househusband seeking to re-enter the workforce after checking out of the rat race to raise young children? Are you the wise elder who can help younger, greener managers stay on track and weather adversity? Are you the rising star who never obtained a college degree, but has gained incredible experience through the “school of hard knocks” and can bring real street-smarts to the leadership equation?’
These are all highly familiar characters to us — whether on the movie screen or in the context of the job market — and as a result, if you can identify yourself with one of these archetypes, it might make your unemployment “story” a lot more compelling and easier for employers to assimilate. Sure, it might take some careful editing of the facts (nothing untruthful, of course, just decisions about what to emphasize and what to omit) to get all the plot points lined up correctly, but once you’ve transformed your background into a familiar storyline, this will make your life (and the interviewer’s) a lot easier. You’ll be able to smoothly explain the course of events that have led you to seek new employment — and employers will respond much more positively, given that you’ll be tapping into a heroic or inspiring theme they’ve heard many times before and that will resonate with them at an emotional level, beyond the words themselves.
In other words, your story will make sense. And frankly, when you ask a lot of out-of-work professionals today why they’re between jobs, their story doesn’t seem all that coherent or add up right, making it tougher to remember them and feel 100% supportive of their efforts!
Of course, it’s a lot easier for me (or any objective third party) to point out the great storylines in other people. It’s a lot harder to see these plot patterns ourselves, in our own careers, given how close we are to the subject. For example, I’ve got one client who was on the popular TV show The Biggest Loser, dropping over 100 pounds as a result, but who I also noticed would avoid talking about this subject at all costs throughout the course of his job hunt. He just didn’t feel it was relevant to his professional life or worth bringing up on his resume, during an interview, or at any other stage of his efforts. When I pointed out that this aspect of his background provided tremendous human interest, however, and would allow him to position himself as a goal-oriented and self-disciplined individual who knew how to buck the odds, both personally and professionally, he saw the light and started talking about it more. Not surprisingly, the story clicked with people and really helped him stand out from the crowd!
So going forward, give some thought to what YOUR story would be if somebody (perhaps James Cameron?) chose to make a movie out of it. What milestones could you build around that would represent exciting, dramatic plot developments? Which facts would perhaps best be left on the cutting room floor? Hiring managers may think they want the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but I’d argue that in most cases, they’ll respond even better to a simple story that helps them understand where you’re coming from and that portrays your background — and availability — in a highly positive light.