by Debra Wheatman
What type of story does your resume tell? It is a “fish out of water” tale in which you do not seem to be a good match for your target job? Is a sad tale of woe with twists and downturns? That career story is not likely to take you to a happy place. What readers want is a hero’s epic. They want to read about your exciting rise to greater responsibility, solving problems along the way, and overtaking the competition through innovation and diligence.
Why is a Career Story Important?
A career story paints a picture in the reader’s mind and makes you memorable. It also presents your history in a progressive manner to promote the image of steady development and success. Without a story, your resume is a list of jobs and training. While a simple list of jobs and training may result in job interviews for some candidates, a resume that tells a compelling story will have significantly greater odds for success.
Crafting Your Career Story
How do you craft your story? Study your history.
- Does your history flow smoothly from one job to another?
- Have you enjoyed a steady rise in responsibility and authority?
- Have you established yourself as an industry expert?
- Have you been published in journals and blogs on topics relevant to your career?
Examine your entire career history and education, identify aspects of your career that support your career goal. Those elements will be the chapters in your career story.
Handling Setbacks, Breaks, and Gaps
Many candidates have experienced career setbacks, such as a termination or even a demotion. Often candidates will have a gap at some point in their career, perhaps a break to raise children, take care of an ill family member, or as a result of unexpected unemployment.
These situations are quite common and don’t have to be career-ending events. A break can be appropriately addressed in a cover letter. Within the resume, you might showcase volunteer activities to demonstrate your efforts during a break. If your break or setback is a termination for cause, there is no reason to call attention to the reason for the gap. However, if your gap in employment is due to a large-scale lay-off, a bullet at the end of the position from which you were laid-off will suffice. For example, “Left position as result of massive lay-off involving closure of Portland office.”
Creating an Underlying Theme for Your Story
Review your education, skills, and experience.
- What are the common threads running through your history?
- Do you have a record of expanding sales territories?
- Are you often asked to mentor new sales team members?
Perhaps those are two themes to feature in your story. Is sales force development a function that you enjoy? Will this be a major function you wish to perform in your next position? If so, include one or two bullets to showcase your sales force training and territory development achievements in each position. Update your resume profile to feature that value that you offer. For example, you may include a phrase like this, “History of developing regional sales teams, consistently ranking #1 in the company.”
Adding Details to Engage the Reader
Details draw the reader into the story. Add details to define the scope of your responsibility, such as staff count, budget size, and size of the territory. Even more attractive are examples of major accomplishments with measured results. Take the time to include dollar amounts and percentages to make your accomplishments more concrete. “To round or not to round numbers” is a common question. If you have a hard number use the actual numbers — $6.3 million sounds so much more realistic than $5 million. Nice round numbers sometimes read like numbers pulled from the air. If you don’t recall the number, it is okay to say, “approximately $6 million.”
Writing With the Perfect Ending in Mind
The perfect ending is you landing your dream job. Therefore, it is critical that you write with your dream job (the perfect ending) in mind. Study the requirements of your dream job. Visit the company website and analyze the job posting. Be sure that your resume is in sync with the job posting. In other words, present your unique values that match the needs of the target employer.
Final Thoughts on Resume Storytelling
Every resume tells a story. Make sure that you create a compelling story that wins you an interview. Pay attention to the six elements above to weave your own compelling resume story. The result will be the perfect ending.
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.
Debra Wheatman, CPRW, CPCC is president of Careers Done Write, a premier career-services provider focused on developing highly personalized career roadmaps for senior leaders and executives across all verticals and industries. Follow Debra on Twitter.