Stories / Impact

4 Career Stories To Help You Stand Out From The Crowd

Kandia Johnson

April 18, 2019


Kandia Johnson photo by LisaMarie Photography
Photo: LisaMarie Photography

The James Beard Foundation is committed to supporting women in the food and beverage industry, from chefs and restaurateurs to entrepreneurs dreaming up new ways to make our food system more diverse, delicious, and sustainable. Our Women’s Leadership Programs (WLP), with founding support by Audi, provide training at multiple stages of an individual’s career, from pitching your brand to developing a perspective and policy on human resources. As part of the Foundation’s commitment to advancing women in the industry and Audi’s #DriveProgress initiative, we’re sharing stories from female James Beard Award winners, Women’s Leadership Program alumni, and thought leaders pushing for change. Through #DriveProgress, Audi is committed to cultivating and promoting a culture that enables women to achieve their highest potential by removing barriers to equity, inclusivity, growth, and development.

Below, communications strategist Kandia Johnson explains why crafting a professional narrative about yourself can be just as important as what’s on your résumé.


Years ago, during an interview, a hiring manager asked me, “Kandia, you have an impressive resume, but what’s your brag story? Tell me about a time when you made a decision that wasn’t popular—what was the outcome?” I was stumped for a moment. I was taught never to brag, so hearing the word made me cringe. The hard worker in me also believed my laundry list of accomplishments including work for Fortune 500 companies, advanced degrees, and awards should speak for itself. But like most people, this hiring manager needed more.

There’s a common saying: “facts tell but stories sell”—I couldn’t agree more. Stories have emotion, energy, and appeal that can move people to act or make decisions. Stories help you hold an audience’s attention and build deeper connections with those who need your help. Look at it this way: chances are you’re not the only person in your field with your job title, and you’re certainly not the only one who does what you do in the world. So what makes you different?

Whether you have a desire to land a new job, get promoted, or win a business deal, your success comes down to your ability to tell a compelling story.

Here are four types of stories to help you stand out from the crowd:

“Who I Am, What I Stand For, and Why I Do What I Do” Stories

Simon Sinek said it best: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” A simple way to frame this story is to describe an unmet or underestimated need you serve for a particular community. This could be around a social justice issue, an overlooked community or a commonly held belief/status quo that you’d like to challenge, or a substantive change in your industry.

For instance, chef Elle Simone is an on-air talent and food stylist for America’s Test Kitchen. However, she’s also widely recognized as a champion for women of color in the culinary industry because she believes there’s a lack of representation, opportunity, and mentorship for them within the workplace. To address diversity in the culinary industry, Elle regularly shares her story about her struggles as a woman of color in a male-dominated field in media interviews and on her social media channels. She also founded SheChef, a professional networking organization that helped her amplify her story, attract media attention, and grow a community of like-minded people.

“I Know What You're Feeling and Thinking” Stories

People want to see themselves in your work. So if you’re looking to build a community around a cause, develop relationships online, or boost morale with your employees, it’s important you help them feel understood. A simple way to frame this story is to include a personal story that shows you’ve “been there” and you “understand” what they’re going through. For instance, let’s say you’re a restaurant team leader and you have to give an employee a negative performance review. Giving an employee an opportunity to hear your story about a challenge you faced at the beginning of your career and how you overcame it presents a moment to form a stronger connection with that employee. You might say, “When I was starting out as a line cook, I ran into a problem just like this.”

“As I Learn, I Teach” Stories

These types of stories build your authority and credibility in your field. Describe a problem you solved, or share your challenges, lessons learned, or something you created to help make your audience’s lives easier. For instance, a chef with a family of five might use Instagram to take followers behind the scenes at home and show how she prepares 15-minute meals to fit her busy life. In turn, she could create a cookbook featuring 15-minute meals for parents on the go. She could also pitch this topic for a local TV segment.

“My Value In Action/Brag” Stories

Brag stories are perfect to use during job interviews or negotiations. But keep in mind, people don’t pay for your passion, they pay you for your ability to solve their problems and improve their life or business in some way. So it’s important that you tell a story that demonstrates your ability to meet their specific needs.

Your brag story is a two-sentence statement, which includes a problem, solution and results or outcomes. As a guide, follow this format:

  • Give context for a problem you were trying to solve. A simple way to frame your first sentence is to start with the word “when.” For example: “when Warriors Shipping and Freight Company found an increasing number of accidents were occurring aboard the ship…”
  • Explain the specific actions you took to solve the problem. The key here is to start your statement with an action verb: “…I created work zone safety training videos for over 15,000 employees.
  • State the outcome or measurable results that your solution provided. The last sentence is your moment to shine by demonstrating how your work helped to exceed a goal or add value to the company—either by boosting profits, reducing time, cutting costs, or preventing a disaster: “this training helped reduce the number of accidents by 70 percent and generated a 20 percent increase in revenue.”

Regardless of your role, mastering your story is critical to advancing in your career. Even the most qualified professional will struggle to land a job or win a business deal if they don’t know how to persuade someone that they’re a perfect fit. Make a habit of recording a one-minute video or audio of yourself crafting and refining your story—this practice will make you prepared for any opportunity that might arise.


Kandia Johnson is the founder of Kandid Conversations, a communications consulting and training company focusing on public relations, leadership development and storytelling for women. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The JBF Women’s Leadership Programs are presented by Audi.