Telling a story with your resume helps you to stand out in a sea of impersonal, generic applications. The story you're telling, of course, will be your professional and educational background, as well as your goals for the future. Focus on crafting sentences that are specific, active, and that create a compelling visual in the reader's mind. Using this method sets the tone for a resume that intrigues and impresses recruiters and hiring managers.
All good writing has a beginning, middle, and an end. Your resume is no exception.
- The summary and objective serve as your beginning, setting the scene and drawing in your reader.
- Your work and educational experience provide the middle.
- And the ending? If you've constructed your resume in a compelling way, the story ends with you getting a call for an interview to provide more detail and seal the deal.
1. A story worth telling
Like any good story, you should structure your resume to introduce the main character — that's you — using clear language that describes your experience and accomplishments. When outlining your career, envision each sentence as a series of actions instead of merely creating a list of details.
You can turn details into actions by using a method called CAR (Challenge – Actions – Results).
- Challenge: Describe a problem that you faced.
- Actions: Outline the steps you took to resolve that problem.
- Results: Explain how your approach helped the organization.
Here's an example of CAR in action from a hypothetical designer who saw a way to speed things up in their previous position:
"Our company needed to replace an outdated system for creating a monthly newsletter. I led the team that implemented a new cloud-based tool, which allowed us to work collaboratively, halved our production time, and reduced our software costs."
Here's another example, this time from a mid-level manager who helped overcome a skills problem.
"My business unit needed to find and retain programmers who understood our sales department's specific needs. Instead of recruiting from outside the firm, I started an in-house training program that allowed us to train up our sales staff to develop new tools that met our business needs."
In one final example, a candidate explains how she worked through a recruiting issue:
"Our team needed outside perspective to develop new products, so I coordinated and conducted interviews of non-traditional candidates that we identified as driven and willing to learn. We found that these diverse teams were consistently more creative and productive."
In all three of these examples, the applicants utilized the CAR method to tell a brief but engaging story about their creativity and contributions to their organizations.
2. Candidates for story-driven resumes
While any resume can benefit from a storytelling approach, recruiter Maureen Crawford Hentz identified three types of job seekers who should consider adopting a story-driven resume the most: job gappers, caregivers, and retirees. For these applicants, the objective and summary section of the resume can proactively address potential red flags in their work histories.
Here are a few examples:
- Job Gappers can describe the experiences they pursued in years spent away from the office. In one instance, Hentz describes a senior-level employee who took a year off to live in Peru, an experience she described as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Far from hurting the candidate, the applicant successfully framed the experience as a positive — and she landed an interview.
- Caregivers may have gaps in their resumes due to caring for a child or relative. If this is the case for you, we recommend that the applicant address the absence directly, rather than waiting to cover it in an interview. Years-long gaps in these cases are common, and a resume summary offers a chance to tell a story that provides insight into your personality and life events.
- Retirees may benefit from using the summary and objective section at the top of their resumes to relay how past experiences will benefit an organization. Hentz's example smartly avoids stating the candidate's age or retirement status:
"As a 25-year veteran of the My Town Fire Department, I now have the opportunity to bring my skills and experience to a new field. I'm 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 an organization 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 skills, and I'm looking forward to using them fully."
3. How can I make my resume stand out?
Keep in mind that while you want to separate yourself from other applicants, you also want to employ the best practices of those in your field. Using active language is always a good idea, but a more buttoned-up industry like finance or law might require a more straightforward or conservative approach. In these cases, your cover letter is where your story should shine.