by Maureen Crawford Hentz
As a recruiter I read about 5000 resumes a year. I’ve recruited for big huge global companies small niche global companies and non-profits. Each setting seems to attract its own particular forms of application submissions but some forms transcend the kind of company I’m recruiting for.
Like almost every recruiter I know I have developed very strong opinions about job-searching strategies. Good clear resumes: yes; follow up phone calls: no; candidate requests to network via LinkedIn: yes; candidate requests to connect on LinkedIn: no. Professional accomplishments on resume: yes; objective: no. What’s interesting to note is that job-search strategies do tend to go in and out of fashion much like capris or Uggs.
One technique that’s been trending strongly in the past year or so is storytelling in a resume. Although I was aware of the technique thanks to Dr. Katharine Hansen’s work on career storytelling in job-search I had not seen it used successfully very often as I reviewed candidates. It’s taking off now and people who use it well are at a significant advantage.
I don’t believe that all candidates can benefit from using storytelling but there are three particular kinds of candidates who should immediately incorporate storytelling into their application materials.
Job Gappers: It used to be that resume dates were on the right hand side of the resume and recruiters just skimmed the right side to ensure that there wasn’t a gap. These days the dates of employment are less frequently on the right but we’ll take the time to find them all the same. Job gappers should definitely use storytelling to address the gap — and address it right there on the resume. Instead of making the recruiter wonder or ask about the gap insert the story narrative in the gap itself. I recently saw a very senior-level resume that said “took a year off for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in Peru.” Rather than make me think the year gap was where the person lost her job and couldn’t find anything I immediately thought “how gutsy” and “ooh — she must be really good at her job to be confident enough to leave the job market entirely.” Both thoughts made me want to interview her. I worry that I would have passed her over if she had NOT addressed the gap. The reason? The pool for this position is huge and full of very qualified candidates who did not have gaps on the resume that I needed to probe. I’m happy this candidate used storytelling. It got her the interview.
Caregivers: This advice is going to be a bit controversial but I’m going to give it anyway. Very often we see a resume come in where a person has been out of the workforce for 2 8 10 12 years or more. There is old experience and no explanation of the long absence. It’s my opinion that if you’ve been home with your kids or taking care of an ill sibling parent or grandparent it is best to explain the gap right there in the resume using storytelling. Again while it reveals something about you (that you have kids for example) it also immediately answers the question of what you were doing. I think it’s worth the tradeoff. Again it prevents the “has he been unemployable for 8 years” question.
Retirees/very qualified candidates with years of experience: In this case the narrative I recommend is not in the experience section itself but rather in the section many people waste with an “Objective.” Using storytelling here can easily address the issues of “we can’t afford him” or “he’s just looking for health insurance” or “she won’t stay very long.” While I don’t ever recommend disclosing age or retirement status I do recommend this section look something like this:
As a 25 year veteran of the My Town Fire Department I now have the singular opportunity to bring my skills and experience to a new field. I am lucky to be able to consider a variety of opportunities at a wide variety of salary ranges. For the first time in years I’m able to join a [company nonprofit Mars Landing Space Mission] in any role where my talents can be valuable — salary is no longer a primary determinant of what I do. My years of experience have honed my xy z skills and I’m looking forward to using them fully.
Final Thoughts on Storytelling on Job-Seeker Resumes
If you asked me three years ago about storytelling (and using the first-person “I” in a resume) I would have told you that it was an absolutely terrible idea. Now though I’m convinced it has a role on certain resumes for certain candidates. If a job-seeker has a gap on his/her resume or there is a “big pink elephant in the room” it’s great strategy to embrace the concept of narrative story-telling.
For more information see also these sections of Quintessential Careers:
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
This article is part of Job Action Day 2014.
Longtime contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz has more than 20 years of recruiting and employment experience in a variety of industries. In addition to her full-time job she is a nationally-recognized career strategist and recruiting expert. Her expertise covers a range of career topics including social media’s role in recruiting disabilities in the workplace business etiquette GLBT issues and career strategy. Crawford Hentz has been quoted by The New York Times NewsDay Elle magazine The Boston Globe and National Public Radio among others. She was a regular contributor to the (dearly departed) Boston.com HR blog. She has conducted new media recruiting seminars for groups including the National Association of Colleges and Employers. An award-winning program presenter Crawford Hentz is known for lively and informative workshops. She has given standing-ovation workshops at colleges and organizations nationwide.
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