Career Strategy: Finding Your Career Narrative

Ever get really frustrated at how little response your applications get, even if you're really good at what you do?

I've often found that the most wildly talented. deeply technical people I've met and worked with are also some of the worst at selling all that skill to potential employers.

Deeply technical professionals are often guilty of prioritising continued development of "hard" on-the-job skills, with relatively little effort placed into learning how to communicate all those years of compounded skill development to people who aren't as "deep in the sauce" as we are.

I was certainly very guilty of this in the past, never seeing much point in - and often outright mocking the idea of - "professional branding"

The idea in and of itself just seemed...disingenuous, I guess?

Shouldn't people just know that I'm good at my job? Do I really need to spend time worrying about the design of my resume, the wording and how I sell myself to the industry at large?

Wouldn't it just be easier if we could all do this?

import { experience } from '@self/career'

export function MyResume({ open, children }) {
  return (
      experience ="7 years"
      techstacks = "multiple"

Sadly, most human resources departments don't run on Next.js (as far as I know) , so we will need to find ourselves another way.

The truth is, unless you're speaking to or having your resume read by someone as technically sound as yourself, people almost certainly don't know just how good you are. You need to work on demonstrating that in more ways than just a set of bullets on your CV/resume.

And that is a skillset all in itself!

Finding Your Career Identity

Finding Your Sense Of Career Identity

I will hold my hands up and admit that I was a long way into my career before I truly knew who I was as a professional.

It wasn't until mid/late-2022 when I had the pleasure of speaking to Joe Hudson (, a principal recruiter at, and this concept truly fell into place for me.

I knew I was pretty technical, pretty damn solid at what I did for a living, that I voraciously enjoyed learning about new technology and the pursuit of getting better, and I conducted my career accordingly. Or so I thought.

I spent some time on Canva picking out a good template for my resume, dumped in the relevant information from my LinkedIn and pretty much left it there. I was good at what I did and all the relevant information was there, but I just wasn't getting the response I wanted back. What gives, man?

It turns out that there's a little more to the job search and hiring game than just having the skills that pay the bills. That's where Joe came in. We ended up chatting for the best part of three hours and hit it off famously, with one very clear takeway. My next step was to find out who I was as a professional, Joe said.

What Joe meant by that was that I had all the ingredients for an excellent professional profile, but I just didn't have an overarching 'identity' to it all. Hiring practices in the 2020s mean that you have less time than ever before to 'sell yourself' to a recruiter or hiring manager.

For me personally, I always had this idea that I wanted to be a changemaker, a decision-maker, at some point in my career. To do that, I felt that it would be all the more impactful if I actually had real-world, in-the-trenches experience in a range of areas before making my way into senior technical leadership.

I chose roles in offensive security, technical project management, internal and external audit, technical instruction and consulting. I had what I needed, so why wasn't it working when it came to applying for the specific roles I wanted? It's because I was trying to be all things to all people - a true generalist.

Being a generalist is great if you're a Swiss Army Knife, but not so great if you're looking to really set yourself apart from the rest of the labor market. Hiring managers and recruiters just couldn't work out who I 'was' from my resume, my profile and my work.

It's too risky and time-consuming to take many huge chances as a recruiter or hiring manager - so if they're looking for a specific type of person, I needed to be communicating I was that type of person, not expecting the hiring manager or recruiter to connect the dots for me and surmise that I'd be able to do the job by my collected exploits.

I needed to show them I could do the job. So how did Joe and I go about doing that?

I always took a lot of pride in cutting my teeth in tech support and system administration before going into consultancy and generally learning things by doing rather than reading. I had the 'time in the trenches' needed to add the requisite weight to my words.

Joe suggested that that was 'who I was as a professional' ; the guy who came up through the technical trenches, then consciously ventured out into other areas of technology/cybersecurity in order to iron out their weaknesses and become a fully-rounded professional.

Sounds a little better than the "experienced IT generalist" I came up with, right?

You can't assume any logical leaps of faith on the part of the reader - everything you do needs to scream out who you are, and why they should pick up the phone and reach out. No matter how fancy they are, cars don't sell themselves.

Effective, intentional marketing and sales techniques do. The same principle applies to you! Here's the steps you need to work this out for yourself:

  • Lay out all of your experience on paper. Not just what's on your resume, put everything (hobbies, extracurricular work, conference talks etc.) onto a physical piece of paper or Word doc.
  • Try and see if there are any connecting threads that run through your work experiences.
  • For example, if you've had a lot of technical consultancy roles with different firms, that thread could be 'communicating in-depth information to non-technical people."
  • If you've always had the same job as a frontend JavaScript developer, but have always been interested in how your work intersects with cybersecurity, that thread could be the 'Security-focused developer: an experienced JavaScript developer with a strong understanding of how security affects the development pipeline."
  • If you have a technical hobby that complements your work, and you are active in the community for that hobby - that could be your thread - "passionate community advocate for XYZ with strong experience in ABC."
  • See where I'm going with this? We're looking for common experience and themes that unite everything you've done and turn you from "person with job" into a "story I understand and get behind".

This is what I'm talking about when I say "career narrative" - the story of who you are as a professional that hooks in readers (recruiters and hiring managers) quickly.

Let's Write The Book!

Now we've got the plot figured out, let's write the damn book!

So you've spent a little time looking through everything you've done over the course of your career, and you've come up with who you are.

Now comes the fun part, making sure that all of the outward profiles, documents, and tools you're going to use to get the role of your dreams actively serve the 'story' we just worked so hard to uncover.

Let's start with the most common document people struggle with doing right: the resume.

Reworking Your Resume

I know, I know - everyone hates working on their resume.

It's boring and repetitive, and it doesn't make any difference in the end, right? I thought this way for years, consistently firing out the same dull, formal template I (and I have to imagine countless others) used on my way out of the Army for years.

After a while though, you'll start to discover that the bare minimum just isn't enough when you start climbing the ladder. Your callback and interview rate start to go down. There's a good reason for that.

There are people you're in the hiring pool with now who've not just done similar work to you, but are better than you at communicating that. You need to adapt to the competition if you want to win.

I'll be breaking down resumes in a LOT more detail in the Hacking the Hiring Process series of articles, but I'll break down some tips you can use straight away:

Update Your Resume Every Time You Do Something Significant

This is something I see people fall down on almost every time I talk to them about their resume. If your job is busy and fast-paced (as many are), it's little surprise that you can't remember half the crap you did 6 months ago, never mind a couple years ago!

Step 1 of reworking your resume and maintaining a strong one into the future is to get into a habit right now of updating it as and when you do something significant at work.

What counts as 'significant' enough, I hear you cry?

  • Every new assignment/engagement/audit/test - you can always trim this down later on.
  • Any interns you've helped mentor, any mentoring work in general.
  • Any training you've written, helped write or delivered to literally anyone.
  • Any groups, teams or Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) you might have joined or been part of.
  • Any materials that you've worked on in your own time to help out your team or help streamline business processes.
  • Any internal tools you've written or helped configure.
  • Any fundraising initiatives you've been a part of.

It'll add up to a lot but don't panic. You can always trim the contents down later, but you can't trim down what you don't remember in the first place!

Make Every Section And Word Earn Its Place On The Page

This is more general resume advice, but try and make your sentences as concise as humanly possible when writing your resume up.

For example:

I wrote and developed multiple formats of training within my department to help upskill my colleagues in a range of technical and cybersecurity subjects in order to increase the overall skillbase of the Internal Audit Department.

can instead become:

Designed, produced, and delivered cybersecurity training on a wide variety of topics to other specialists in the Internal Audit Department.

They mean virtually the same thing and the important information is communicated in probably a dozen less words. Resume real estate should be expensive and words that don't pull their weight shouldn't be on the page!

Start Adding In Project Highlights

One of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given when it comes to resume constructions was from my good friend Matt Everett (

A fantastic way to make the experience you put on your resume actively serve and communicate the professional identity you worked so hard to uncover is to shout out the most impressive and relevant things you've done that help evidence that identity.

If your professional identity is "security-focused developer", and you gave a series of short lunchtime presentations about secure coding practices to your colleagues (even if 2 people showed up!), then that needs to become a Project Highlight.

Let's look at some examples from my resume:

I make a big point of communicating that I not only enjoy greatly, but also have a track record of successfully creating training material and communicating technical information to non-technical audiences, and my Project Highlights are designed to specifically communicate that:

Grant Thornton:

Project Highlight: Wrote and presented an external GT webcast (Servicing the Service Centre: A Guide to Auditing The Service Desk) in conjunction with a small team to 700 people from various industries.


Project Highlight: Created, managed, and delivered a comprehensive IT and cybersecurity training program within Global Technology Audit Services, consisting of 35+ hours of content utilized internationally by other departments.


Project Highlight: Training development, production and Lead Instructor for foundational phase of a defense cybersecurity capacity development program.

Pick out the most impressive career highlights or those that help evidence your professional brand identity and make sure they stand out as Project Highlights.

Reworking LinkedIn

Reworking Your LinkedIn

Ideally, you want your LinkedIn profile to mirror your resume as much as you possibly can, but there are some LinkedIn-specific changes you can make straight away to communicate your professional brand better.

Laser-Focus Your Headline Section

Matt Twells Headline Section

The easiest way to start a fight on LinkedIn is to ask what to put in your Headline section. Some think it's not important at all, some people will spend hours crafting a witty line to put in there.

Truly what the Headline section actually is, is just a string of text that will appear next to your name when a recruiter or hiring manager searches on LinkedIn.

You want that string of text to come up every single time someone searches for the kind of role that you want. Your Headline is also your first opportunity to start communicating 'who you are', and I suggest you take full advantage by putting some work into it.

For example, I am chiefly interested in staying within the Cybersecurity, DevOps and DevSecOps spaces but have documented experience in other areas. I chose to make sure that all of those keywords denoting subject areas were in my Headline, so when people search for "Cybersecurity", my name is likely to come up.

Cybersecurity / DevOps / DevSecOps / Penetration Testing / Audit / Training / Technical Project Management (AWS Certified x3)

You will find conflicting opinions on whether to put "Ex-Big 4", "Ex-FAANG", "Ex-Google" etc. in your Headline, and this will be something you just have to make a game-time decision on. For what it's worth, hiring is so competitive these days that I would personally suggest using an advantage like that, if you have it.

Take Advantage Of Your Featured Section

Matt Twells Featured Section

LinkedIn lets you highlight a bunch of articles, posts or links that you believe help communicate the best version of yourself in the Featured section, underneath your Headline. This is perhaps the most direct way that you can help evidence the professional brand you're trying to create:

  • If you haven't written any articles on LinkedIn, I'd suggest you write one or two that you are happy publicising and stick those in your Featured list.
  • Write up a quick book recommendation on a technical subject you enjoy, post it on LinkedIn and stick it in your Featured section.
  • If you have a GitHub profile, link one of your public repositories or your overall profile here if you're comfortable.

ALL Of Your Studies Count

If you have done any kind of ACloudGuru, TryHackMe, HackTheBox Academy, CodeCademy etc. course or learning path, put an entry into your Education section.

All your studies matter, it all helps evidence your skillset - accredited qualification or otherwise.

Your LinkedIn profile is your marketing material, its up to you to prove the product is worth the money when it comes to interview!

Spend Some Time On Your About Section

Matt Twells About Section

The About section, your Headline section and your Experience section are likely all that a hurried recruiter or hiring manager is going to read. You do not have long to catch their attention, so make this section count as hard as you can:

  • Who are you as a professional? (Hint: we worked this out at the start of the article!)
  • What industry experience do you have? (Think industries as well as types of firm)
  • What are your absolute career highlights?
  • Any publications with your name on them?
  • Optional: List of specific core competencies you'd be happy getting drilled on in an interview.

If you want an example to get you started, here's mine:

Fully-rounded and proven technical professional, veteran and leader with varied experience within the military, secure government, financial services and insurance sectors, in addition to a strong private sector consulting background across multiple industries.

Branched out from technical background to build real-world experience in technical project management, personnel management, internal audit, capacity development and cybersecurity training design and instruction in order to build out a truly deep and wide-ranging arsenal of experience and skills and a proven track record of tangible impacts.

Self-published author of the Cybersecurity Field Manual (Jan 2020) and co-author of Networking Basics for Hackers with Joshua Marpet (No Starch Press, est. release Spring 2023)

Military career: British Army, Royal Corps of Signals - LCpl, 11th Signal Regiment (RSS) and 18th Signal Regiment (UKSF)

Specialities lie in:

  • Cybersecurity
  • DevOps/DevSecOps
  • SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle)
  • Penetration Testing / Penetration Test Management
  • Cloud Computing / Cloud Security
  • Secure Architecture
  • Application Security
  • Highly Effective Cybersecurity Consulting
  • Technical Project Management
  • Cybersecurity / Technical Training Development
  • Training, Instruction and Personnel Development
  • Cybersecurity & Technical Writing / Content Generation

Anyone reading this, my Headline and my Featured sections now has a pretty solid idea of who I am, where I've worked and what I can do.

TL;DR / In Conclusion

If you're a ways into your career and hitting a roadblock when it comes to jobsearching, it could potentially be time to switch gears and put some of your intellect and energy into better communicating all the hard work you've put in over your career.

Finding out 'who I was' as a professional, and then building/evidencing my professional brand around that "narrative" had an outsize impact.

Inbound recruiter InMails, response rates and general engagement skyrocketed and it was overall one of the better career decisions I've ever made. Effective professional branding and putting the work in to evidence that brand will set you head and shoulders above the rest of your peers.

You're in sales whether you like it or not, even if the product is you - you best get good at selling!

If you enjoyed this article about building a professional brand, check out the other articles in the Building a Professional Brand series:

  • Blogging & LinkedIn Posting
  • Networking/Outreach
  • Talks and Presentations