By Mari Megias
February 26, 2019
When Kate Shattuck MPA/MBA 2006 introduced herself to HKS students in the Allison Dining Room one recent morning, she began by saying, “I come from a small town in Pennsylvania, where there are more cows than people.”
This introduction was no accident. She was demonstrating the power of colorful storytelling to the mid-career students who had gathered for a breakfast sponsored by Harvard Kennedy School’s Office of Career Advancement.
Shattuck was back on campus to share her outlook on working with executive search firms. A principal at the world’s largest such firm, Korn Ferry, Shattuck dispensed advice on everything from building a digital brand to changing careers, something she knows about personally, having held roles ranging from captain in the U.S. Army to marketing for an asset manager to chief operating officer of a foundation.
“Tell vivid stories,” she advised. “In my own narrative, where I’m from a town with more cows than people, you get a visual that, I hope, connects you to my small-town values in a way that is personal. This makes me more accessible and maybe more memorable to you. Once you have the opportunity to interview, the organization is saying that they think you have the skills and track record for the role. The power of the story, the narrative, is what gets you the job.”
Many students in the room were career-changers who wanted advice on positioning themselves as exceptional candidates despite not having specific experience in a particular sector. “You need to create a track record for your career pivot,” said Shattuck. “Create a digital story that can be quickly evaluated by your target consumer: the hiring manager or human resources leader. What do you like on LinkedIn? Where are you volunteering? What are you speaking about at your school? These answers should link to a candidate’s narrative.”
Another piece of advice from Shattuck? “Use the HKS Alumni Directory,” she said. “Ninety percent of alumni will take your call and give you 15 minutes of their time.”
This is what Shattuck did when she was starting Korn Ferry’s impact investing practice. “I called my classmates – fellow alumni from HKS for input into our first thought leadership paper, and everybody said ‘yes’—and this was 10 years after we graduated. The alumni group here has continued to make a difference in my life, and I’m excited to be here today.”
Mary Beaulieu, assistant dean and director of the Office of Career Advancement, offers the following tips for building a personal narrative:
- Because the personal narrative is all about you—who you are, what you do, and where you want to go—getting clear on this before you begin crafting your points (or speaking!) is critical.
- Keep it short: Say a lot in a few sentences to capture your listener’s attention.
- Share your goals and sell your skills: What do you bring to the table?
- Practice, practice, practice. Ask friends to listen to you and tell you what they hear. Time yourself.
- Relax and be yourself when delivering your narrative. Let the real you shine through!