Storytelling: The Secret Formula For An Engaging Resume
Storytelling: The Secret Formula For An Engaging Resume
Imagine if you knew the formula for transfixing the reader of your resume, weaving a spellbinding narrative that was so compelling and relevant that it propelled you ahead of your competition and guaranteed you an interview for the jobs you most desire.

That is the power that storytelling can have when applied strategically to your resume.

Now let’s be clear: I’m not suggesting weaving a fictional story into your resume. Rather, I’m suggesting bringing yourself alive on paper by telling your authentic, branded story in a way that creates a connection with your reader, makes you memorable and intriguing, adds credibility to your accomplishments, and evokes a desire in your reader to meet you and learn more.

How can you transform your resume in this way? Here are some guidelines to follow:

Tip #1: Know your audience and stay focused. Looking for a job isn’t about being appealing to every single employer. Don't be afraid of “pigeonholing” yourself. When you focus, you draw in opportunities that are appealing while repelling those that are not. Be clear about what you want and what you don’t want: the type and level of job, the industries that interest you, the size of the company and company culture, among other factors that are important to you. Now put yourself in the mind of that “ideal” employer. What are their most pressing concerns, problems and challenges? Keep these in mind as your write.

Tip #2: Remember and incorporate the five most important elements of a good story. They are as follows: 

Characters: The most obvious character in your resume story is you, but other characters may be your boss, your co-workers, customers or employees.

Setting: The setting for your story may be the company or organization you worked for, or it could also be a division, department, a region or territory, even a team you worked on.

Plot: The plot for your story is the storyline that wraps it all together. There are a number of ways you can structure this, but most often the plot of a resume story follows one of four patterns:

1. Monster Slaying: All the odds are against you, but you pulled out all the stops, solved the problem, and achieved great things regardless of the obstacles.

2. The Quest: This is the story of a journey, often involving working with others to achieve some major goal while overcoming a series of challenges along the way.

3. Rags to Riches: Beginning at the bottom, this is a story of growth and success.

4. Rebirth: This is a story of turnaround or transformation from a problematic situation to one that is the completely revitalized and changed.

Conflict: An accomplishment alone has little meaning without context. Understanding the adversity overcome provides your accomplishment with the context that makes it meaningful and credible. What is the conflict? Most frequently it will relate to:

1. A challenge related to an organization: Perhaps the one you work in, but it could also relate to your competitors

2. A challenge or problem related to a thing: For example, outdated computer equipment that needs updating

3. A challenge related to a situation: Such as the need to reverse declining sales, or the need to redesign inefficient processes

4. A challenge related to a person: Perhaps you replaced an underperforming predecessor

Resolution: What were the results that you produced? What did you increase? Improve? Enhance? Strengthen? Whenever possible, quantify your accomplishments. Employers like numbers. Think in terms of your individual results, but also think in terms of overall strategic impact. How did all of these results together solve the big picture problem and overcome the conflict?

Tip #3: Organize your stories by employer or job. For each, ask yourself:

• Context: What is the overall challenge or situation?

• Actions: What did you do to meet those challenges?

• Results: What positive things happened as a result of your actions?

• Strategic Impact: What was the big-picture impact?

The goal is to tell your story concisely. Get to the point using plain, simple and direct language free of cliches and fancy prose. Resume stories do not need to be long. They need to be relevant and engaging. Use short paragraphs and bullet points.

Tip #4: Now go back and identify the underlying themes in your stories. You will almost certainly recognize some common threads. These common threads inform your overall value proposition and provide you with the material you need to craft a compelling summary section to begin your resume. Your summary section provides an intriguing hint and high-level overview of what is to come in the rest of the resume. It helps to frame the conversation, reveal your brand, and set the tone and focus for the rest of the resume.

Without a story, your resume is just a bland recitation of power verbs and disconnected facts on a piece of paper. The best resumes are self-marketing documents, and storytelling in your resume transforms it into that. Storytelling doesn’t just humanize you beyond lists of jobs and education on a piece of paper; it does it in a way that creates trust and connects your value offering back to the employers’ needs.

On the flip side of the boring, “just the facts ma’am” resumes are overly wordy and flagrantly self-promoting resumes. At their worst, these resumes can actually harm your credibility and create distrust. Nobody likes a braggart, and a resume filled with accomplishments but no context for those accomplishments is just that.

Remember, your resume isn’t about you. It isn’t about how great you are. It isn’t about bragging and it isn’t about your ego. Storytelling can help you transform a resume that may otherwise be perceived as such by removing the emphasis on self-promotion to engage the reader with a credible, engaging narrative that shows exactly how the skills you bring to the table can be of service.