Stories, Setbacks and Success: All About Writing a Compelling Career Narrative

‘Stories’ dominate the way we tell others about ourselves. We select the important events of our day when someone asks us how our day was. We have a story about our career trajectory, past and future, planned in our heads, so when an interviewer asks us our plan for the next five years, we have the answer; when the interviewer asks why we left our older place of employment, or why they should hire us, we have an answer ready. We select the crucial updates from our careers and add those to the ‘stories’ in our resumes and interviews, as we have written in an earlier article, as a way of personal branding.

Storytelling in the professional world gets a whole new dimension with technology and the various online platforms: the way we write our LinkedIn introduction, the kind of posts we put up and choose to share tell one story. The website of a company, its mission statement, its brand image is the story told by the company about itself.

A few questions are likely to come up:

  • Why should we plan ahead instead of relying on our spontaneity?
  • How much should one include in the story?
  • Should one stick to the good parts only, or should one also include the setbacks?
  • Is it risky to add our setbacks in our story?  

Read on, as we attempt to answer these questions.

The Compelling Power:

As Sharon Elber writing for Workbloom points out a compelling story, or narrative will help you write a compelling resume and cover letter. Recruiters may not have much time to spend in reviewing your application materials, and hence, a powerful narrative will help in making sure that your resume and cover letter quickly convey a clear picture of your qualifications as well your overarching career goals.

Of course, it is unlikely that someone will directly ask you “what is your career story?’ in a job interview. Having a career narrative in your head will help in answering similar to it or indirect questions. Questions like:

  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why are you a good fit for this position?

It is also a great way to network as well as gaining some self-awareness about what you really want from your career. How?

Networking: As Elber points out, having a loose script of your career story prepared in your head is a great, confident way to start a conversation with new people, draw attention to your values, personal brand, ambitions in an easy-going way.

Self-awareness: Giving a narrative to your career will force you to think as to how the journey has been, and how you would want it to be in the near and distant future. This vision will in turn force you to take proactive steps rather than waiting for the next “low hanging opportunity”.

Thus, a career story can tell not just about the important events of your career so far, but can also include a vision of your dream job, and how your career so far is a series of steps towards it.

The Tricky Question:

But anyone’s career can’t possibly have everything going perfectly for them, where every step was a step towards their dream jobs. We all fail, we all suffer setbacks, we all deal with uncertain situations that lead to sometimes unpleasant changes in our life, affecting our jobs. We can find ourselves faced with questions like:

  • Is it a good idea to include the ‘bad’ parts in your story?
  • How should one include the setbacks?

Owning It up: The answer to the first one is yes. We do need to include the bad parts. It’s a matter of owning up your story as well as being honest. As one user in Mindtools’ Twitter chat mentioned about whether adding setbacks in your story increases or decreases your vulnerability, “Having your story in the open and not covering it up means some will take advantage when they can.  But you are also stronger because you already know the details.”

Inspiring others: Including the setbacks could also be a matter of inspiring others. Yolande Conradie writing for Mindtools says, “After years of working with people, I’ve learned that sharing parts of my story can be the lifeline someone else needs. Being brave and vulnerable enough to own your story, and courageous enough to change, can inspire and encourage others to do the same.”

Thus, it’s a matter of honesty as well as a way to make your story even more compelling and inspiring where you own up the setbacks.

The answer to the second question, closely linked with the first: How does one include setbacks, sudden changes, long gaps and such ‘issues’ into their narrative? Companies will need to know why and how your skills are still relevant, and why your recent lack of experience doesn’t make you any less of a team-member

Framing It: The key lies in how you frame the narrative. The gap or shift should be framed such that it appears as “a part of your journey that led you to where you are now and where you are going.” For example, did raising kids made you realise your passion for teaching? Did helping out a colleague to find a good fit for a position make you realise your talent for recruitment, and thus your decision to change directions? Such a framing which gives a sense that your setbacks too were steps that led you to some growth or new vision.

Thinking about your career in terms of a story is thus likely to help one and all gain perspective. It can enhance the quality of one’s interviews, networking and other professional interactions. Owning up your story, with all its good and bad aspects can not only make your narrative compelling and interesting, but it helps you stand out from the overly positive and unrealistic ones. It rids us from the vulnerability that comes with hiding. Any success story is likely to include successes as well as setbacks. As academician and author Bene Brown writes:

When we deny the story, it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.

The Haunting No Recruiter Likes

 Ghosting_Article jpeg

Imagine someone agreed to come visit your house. You prepare delicious food for them, change your routine for the day, tell your family members about them, and even they tweak their routines a bit. The guest does not show up. You try to call them up, leave messages but there is no reply of any sort. You get worried, anxious, frustrated and somewhat angry at the same time. This, in a nutshell, is ‘ghosting’ in a domestic terminology.

 Now imagine something like this happening in a professional setting. Whether a recruiter believes in ghosts or not, chances are he or she would definitely encounter the phenomenon of ghosting. A ‘ghost’ is any candidate who commits and then disappears often cutting off all contact abruptly.

 Ghosting could occur at any stage. A candidate may agree to show up for interview but when the day of the interview comes, there is no sign.

 A candidate may show up for the interview, ace it, cheerfully agree to all the conditions, and then doesn’t show up on the day of joining the company. Some candidates even clear the formalities and paperwork. Even health check-ups are cleared wherever there’s a requirement. And still there are chances that the candidate just won’t show up at the job. There have been instances when flight tickets were booked by candidates but even those weren’t used!

 Recruiters all over the world would have stories to tell when they received calls from various companies just ‘ghosted’ by the candidates the recruiters had roped in. Or when they got worried about a candidate’s health and safety.

Companies often have to resort to guesswork when ‘ghosting’ takes place. Calls, messages go unreturned. Sometimes even contact numbers are changed, or phones are switched off. Emails go unanswered. Instead of formally quitting, the candidate just stops showing up at the job.


Trends are changing in job applying processes. At one point in time, people often used to covet a particular job. At other times, there was also a trend to scan the ‘Classified’ sections of newspapers and apply for a couple of jobs which interested the candidate. Chances are, not all of them would lead to interview call-ups.

Moreover, at one point, companies used to ‘ghost’ candidates after interviews. Only those who progressed to the next round were communicated about the later processes. But now, things have reversed.

Many people apply at multiple places just for the sake of applying. Each new offer is seen as a potential step up, a better opportunity. The scanning process never stops, it seems.

Ghosting is a phenomenon which most of us engage in various aspects of our lives. Things have to be “understood.” People in general would like to avoid confrontations, awkwardness and conflict, and saying ‘no’ or formally quitting could very well lead to all of that. But what makes ghosting at a professional level a hot button topic is the signing of a contract, which entails a commitment. Ghosting after committing is the issue. When a candidate leaves without a formal notice the recruitment process has to then be started all over again, with the company and the recruiters bearing all the costs.

 ‘No’ Problem:

It’s not wrong to apply at multiple places. Multiple job offers are not a bad thing. And it’s only logical that candidates cannot accept all the job offers they get.

(Emergencies and crises come unannounced, and those are exceptions to the case. )

 How to go about with the need to reply in the negative is a huge task for some, especially those who are more on the socially awkward side.

And chances are, candidates have to put up their best behaviour in all circumstances. How to say ‘no’ then, without appearing rude or unprofessional is the question. And someone has to be told ‘No.’

That precisely is the problem: candidates don’t even say no.

An absence of response has come to be equated with saying ‘No.’ An absence of response has come to be considered a response in itself.

 What is the answer here then? How to go about as not to ‘ghost’ recruiters?

 As basic as it can get: communicate.  Whatever is the scenario, say so. If you are probably going to say no, make it clear. If you need to drop out for some reason midway through the process, talk about it, no matter how awkward the conversation might be.

A moment of awkwardness on an interpersonal level can often save hours of anxiety and frustration on an official level.

Success Story: Shifting Times, Mottoes To Live By

Life could be like a rollercoaster ride. It is full of ascents and descents,with a great deal of unpredictability. Careers could be like a car-ride. They change lanes. We shift gears. Breaks and stops may come abruptly, only for the engine to reignite with a greater fervour. We drive our careers in the direction we feel is the best for us. That “drive” is an important requirement to move onward and upwards in life.

Our former employee Mrs. Hetal Tripathi’s  journey is a remarkable one in many respects. Not only is her drive, but her dedication also is commendable.

“God helps those who help themselves” is a phrase which could be applied to Mrs. Tripathi’s trajectory. Her eagerness to learn new things, improve at what she already knew and the amount of hard work she put in to hone her various skills is something that propelled her to success.

“It is a different industry, but accurate process is very important”, she tells us about her work ethic. She is currently the Assistant Manager in training at Tim Hortons, in Canada. The shift from recruitment to hospitality couldn’t have been easy, that too after working in the former sector for around seven years.

She was asked at her interview what did she consider as the best quality of a leader. “Unity…we  care  together, we  grow  together”  was her answer. She got 95% for that answer. Mottoes can give so much meaning to one’s life if one wants to.

The manager at that company once asked her, “You are a person who  never skips process…how?” She said, “I learned that from my earlier organisation.” She imbibed the value we at United HR Solutions encourage. Experience is, after all, important. Good work ethics are contagious.

She recently became Employee of the Month.

Countries change, jobs change, employers change. What you learned, how you learned, from whom you learned, all of that stays.

We are proud to say Mrs. Hetal Tripathi worked with us at one point, and that our organisation (and our motto) could contribute to her future. She says  “I want my other United friends understand the value of our organisation. Proud to be a part of United.”

We are proud to be part of your journey too.

Here are some photos she shared with us.

The Badge of Success
The Badge of Success

Hetal Tripathi, Assistant Manager in Training
Hetal Tripathi, Assistant Manager in Training


Degrees Of Knowledge


That is the question.
That is the question.


There was a time when a degree was the most important thing in the world. The image was common: a newly graduated student, dressed up in freshly-ironed formals, sitting in a line of similar-looking youngsters outside the cabin of the boss, as the receptionist called them out, telling them it was their turn for the interview. Hundreds of Hindi movies must have these kind of scenes.

However, voices in the present environment point to something else. Increasingly, the narrative that is most widely heard is that a degree is not important anymore. Your skills matter. Your knowledge matters. Your experience matters.

One website goes on to take a look at the mindsets of people in India, and how much importance they give to a degree. Accordingly, in the 1980s, “Bachelor’s degree felt like a God-like paper.” Cue the interview scenes mentioned in the opening of this article. Then came the 90s, and apparently, “the Bachelor’s degree lost its charm and you needed a Master’s degree to be recognised.” The 2000s saw the importance of degree sharing its space with “experience and pay-scale.” 2016 onwards, in the current scenario, “college degrees are barely considered when it comes to job and career opportunities.”

This is true in a way. All of us have heard about famous people who dropped out of prestigious institutions, and went on to become extremely successful. In fact, these people and their lives are often used as testimonials to the narrative: you don’t need a degree to be successful.
Forget about these famous examples, many of us know people, within our close circles who have made their lives well, and they don’t happen to possess a degree.

There is another scenario that is getting increasingly common: people who do jobs which are completely different from the subject they hold their degrees in. Engineers becoming film-makers, businessmen and -women, writers is not a shocking story. Or perhaps not pursuing a Master’s in the subject you did your Bachelor’s in is no big deal. So many people around us have done it.

All this leads us to a question which might actually be called a FAQ- a frequently asked question- is a degree important now?
And the answer, contrary to the popular narrative is not a simple YES or NO. In fact, the dreaded two words could be considered an answer: it depends.

Let us think about it.
Why are we starting to believe there will always be a disconnection between one’s degree and one’s skills and knowledge?
Can a person who has a Commerce degree suddenly get a job as an Architect?
Even if the person has a deep interest in the subject, and has studied a lot about Architecture in his free time, would he be able to match the level of an A-grade student of Architecture who has put in time and efforts in the degree? Many colleges and universities have made internships mandatory or at least they are encouraged so that one doesn’t fall behind in the experience aspect.

A person with a BSc in Microbiology might be very well-read and interested in Theoretical Physics. But does that mean she can simply become a Professor of Theoretical Physics based just on her interest as opposed to a person who possesses multiple degrees on the subject?

A graduate in English might be able to teach basic level Computers in primary schools. Should he teach at a college level, is the question.

The debate about the importance of a degree should not be reduced to simplistic answers.

Some ‘shifts’ or choices of professions are relatively easy. This might come across as a little unfair but it is something to think about. Avenues of writing, marketing, the fine arts, entrepreneurship require innate skills, or at the very least some sort of training. But you could train for them on your own. There are online and offline courses offered, books available. And you just need a portfolio in some cases to prove that you are indeed good at it, even though you might not hold an official degree in the subject.
Sometimes, the candidates are provided training by the company they will be working at.

There are countless scenarios in accordance to the profession one decides to go for.

One thing clear from all of this is that you need skills and education. Degree or no degree is a complex issue. Famous college dropouts like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, the late Steve Jobs did have a very deep understanding of what they excelled at. They were “educated” in a way a degree could not do it. How many of us have that vision and courage? More importantly, how many of us have that drive and self-motivation or the resources to be educated, with or without the pressure of a degree?

It is important to have a plan if you do decide to not go for a degree-based education. Skills and knowledge are important. The question is in what way the degree or the absence of it would or would not contribute.

Do You Need A Resume Or A CV?



You are done with your education, and you now feel ready to take on the  world of work.

Or you are just planning to get back to working after that much needed  sabbatical.

Your little one now goes to school and you finally feel you have enough time to rejoin the office after years.

BUT… there’s always a BUT, isn’t it?

The companies ask for a CV. You see the menacingly familiar word ‘resume’ all over the place. You have no idea how to go about creating it. You vaguely remember learning to create something like that in school, but that was years ago! Feeling overwhelmed to some extent is natural but that  shouldn’t drag you down, right? Especially right at the supposedly first step.


Preparing a resume and/or a CV (yes, the two are a bit different: we will get  to it soon) could be a daunting task for many. After all, to a great extent  “it  gives you away.”

So, here is a little guide as to what all you should look out for and what all you could include while making a CV.


First things first, let us get our concepts clear! Earlier there used to be a huge difference between a CV and a resume. But now the only difference is essentially of the length. Both include a summary of your work experience and education; only, the resume is ideally supposed to be just a page long. A  CV, short for  ‘curriculum vitae’  could be a little more detailed, with two or  three pages.


‘Resumes’ are used in the United States, Canada and Australia. CVs are  used everywhere in the world including the UK, New Zealand, Asia and the  European Union.

If this is a bit too complicated to understand, the good news is that the two terms are used in an interchangeable manner in India, New Zealand and South Africa.  You could now just focus on creating a CV and tweak it according to the country where you have applied.  (Source)

Now, let us get to creating one!

You need to list down your skills, that is, your key expertise. These are what the recruiters would screen through.

Your work experience needs to be added. You begin with the latest, then the one before, then the one before (you get the drill, right?) and right up  to your first job.


You also include your work tenure. You have to be particular here:include not just the duration but the years of joining and quitting. Make sure to include the location. Basically, where on Earth have you been when you were at this job?

Also, if you have had a particularly short stint at a role or you have had to change jobs too frequently, include your reasons. You don’t want to come  off as a job hopper to the recruiters! Make sure to convey your reliability  this way so that there is no fear that you would suddenly quit or stop  showing up at work.


You have to include your job responsibility. What all you handle at your  current job/ what did you handle at your previous job. Make sure to write  only your responsibilities and not blindly copy-paste the ones you might  come across from sampled CVs.

Essentially, you subtly sell and market yourself. It is a job “market” after  all.


You continue the self selling and the marketing and list down your educational qualifications. You write down your degree, the institution where you did  your degree from, the year you finished your degree.


You include your contact details: your name, very very obviously, but it’s always a good idea to check such a seemingly basic thing. Your E-Mail I.D, contact number, address, Skype I.D  have to be there.

Your age, and date of birth are important because certain jobs do have age limits.


The subtle self-marketing continues as you list down the languages you know.


You tell your prospective employers what a well-rounded personality you have as you list down your other skills, and your interest areas.

It is important that you are honest. Do not copy and paste. Imagine if everyone copied and pasted a few samples. Every other CV would end up looking the same. We certainly don’t want that, do we? A personalised CV is a lot more attractive.


Check, double check, triple check your spellings, punctuation and grammar. You may or may not be applying for the job of a proof-reader but you must use that skill for scanning though your own CV. Ask your trusted friends and family to go over the document. An external observer could spot mistakes you might have overlooked.

Check the layout. Make sure it looks professional and tidy. Imagine your reaction if you were the employer and a CV such as yours came to you.

The format should be that of Word and PDF. Provide the necessary links and URLs.


Draft and re-draft your CV if needed.


Once you have got a hang of it, and if you want to notch it up a bit, you could check out the concept of video-resumes. They directly showcase your communication skills, personality and your overall presentation. Although you must make sure that they are accepted where you are planning to apply.

Video or no video, using a neat photograph of yours accompanying your CV  is a good idea.


Lastly, what not to do: if you don’t have some essential job requirements, you shouldn’t apply. You could be under-qualified or over-qualified for the role. Besides this fact, in case some of your experience matched very well to the job role, then you may apply stating this fact , and highlighting it. Here, you do the self marketing and selling a little loudly and clearly.

Do not list completely unrelated skills. The skills you talk about on your CV should always be relevant to the role you are applying for. This is where tailoring comes in. For every role you should ensure you are highlighting the skills it requires and remove any completely irrelevant skills or experience.


It is always a good idea to research online as you go on creating your CV. Make sure you create something original. Use the samples just as samples.

Again, try to use your imagination and see if you would be pleased as an employer/recruiter if you received a CV such as yours.


Good luck!