Hone the story of your career to make a case for promotion

Reflecting on achievements, considering broader impacts and shaping a narrative that resonates can help you craft a compelling career story that enhances your chances of promotion


18 Dec 2023
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How to land the promotion

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Academic CV writing dos and don’ts
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Crafting a carefully considered story of your career is an increasingly important element of your promotion application, alongside a more traditional academic CV. It’s a powerful way to shape the choices you made when developing your career. You don’t need to look back to where you started – just focus on the past five years.

Your story makes sense of your career journey

Reflect on your achievements both within and beyond your university when developing your career story. It should highlight your career progression, milestones and strengths, and should be described in an accessible way that someone unfamiliar with your discipline can understand.

Crafting your story can also clarify your mission and help you to decide what work to engage with and prioritise in the present. It can give you insights into what is important to you and your institution, helping you identify opportunities aligned with those values. As a result, you can make choices that solidify your reputation and create a more coherent career narrative.

Mapping out the stepping stones on the way to your next promotion and beyond can be energising as you create your own inspiring vision of the future. 

A clear and compelling story can persuade others

By honing your story, your contribution can be understood at all levels – school, faculty and university. This is important, as most promotion applications will be reviewed by people unfamiliar with your discipline. Clearly communicating what your contribution is and how you deliver at every level will provide important context for decision makers. Consider what your impact has been beyond academia and take time to express how your research, teaching and leadership has influenced your field – perhaps the impact you had on policy or practice, or improved outcomes within society as a whole. Whether it’s large or small, impact matters.

There are some practical steps you can take when developing your story:

Reflect and take time to craft a fluent narrative: Book some time alone and think back on your career – your values, skills, obstacles you’ve faced – beyond your academic CV. Consider your achievements, but also how relevant they are to your institution, community and wider society. What is it that makes your career unique?

Identify a narrative arc: A story is not just what happens to the characters but how they change along the journey. This is what makes your career narrative more than just a list of events and can be a useful approach for those who have taken time out, experienced a setback or have a non-traditional career path. Be authentic – don’t be afraid to share parts of the story that show who you are as a person.

Get feedback: While your reflection and development of your story begins in private, you can learn a lot by sharing it with colleagues. Constructive feedback from a wide range of people can help you gauge the clarity and persuasiveness of your story and whether it needs further development. It can also help you judge if the examples you’ve provided will be clear to anyone, even those unfamiliar with your work.

Practise, practise, practise: The more you practise telling your story, the more confident you will become. It will iron out any wrinkles in the narrative and develop your fluency. Create a concertina story – contract and expand it depending on who you’re telling it to. A shorter version may be more appropriate in promotion conversations, while a longer version is more suited to application forms. The more you share your story, the more you will embody it, giving you the confidence you need to go for a promotion.

Eleonora Pantano is associate professor in retail and marketing technology, and Rachael Lamb is senior lecturer in strategy and sustainability, both at the University of Bristol Business School.

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