What’s in a resume? Hopefully the most compelling version of your professional story there is. Other than the one on your LinkedIn that is. It’s a new year and January is hiring season (at least in the marketing industry) so I wanted to arm you all with a bit of a guide to telling your professional story through your resume.
Storytelling doesn’t always have to come to life as a novel, or movie, or a marketing campaign. Stories are everywhere and the best ones live across mediums. Your resume is not just a point form list of your past jobs and duties, it’s one of the most important stories you can tell. It tells the world (and potential employers) what you’ve done for a significant chunk of your days over the past few years and decades.
It can tell the story of your passions and adventures and the people you’ve helped along the way. And it should.
Back in November a friend of mine asked me to help her with her resume and I jumped at the chance. I immediately thought about how I might be able to help you, dear storyteller, as a bonus to helping my friend. My resume is a condensed version of my LinkedIn profile. Both started off with me asking myself, what’s the story I want to tell and who is my audience? And the story of my career began to come to life on the page.
When my friend asked for my help that’s where I started as well. And I took some notes on the process as she and I went back and forth on (re)crafting her resume. Because writing your resume is a creative process whether you’re a graphic designer or an engineer.
Fair warning: today’s newsletter is extra-long because I’ve listed all my resume tips and takeaways below. The simplest summary I can provide is to remember you’re telling a story. That means it needs a hero (you); it needs specific, animate detail; it needs to reflect its audience (your new potential boss); it needs to demonstrate how you’ll contribute to your new company; and, most importantly, it needs to capture and illuminate your (professional) reason for being—your purpose. Why have you chosen this field and this particular job?
If you do those things, you’ll have a solid resume with a clear story. Go back to the latest version of your resume and recraft it based on what you’ve learned about storytelling over the past few months. I promise it’ll make a huge difference.
For those currently working on reworking their resumes, let’s dive deeper.
I put together some Questions to Answer BEFORE you start writing or rewriting your resume (these are also things to account for while writing):
What industry are you applying for a job? What are the resume norms, what are ways you can acknowledge/reflect them, but help yours stand out?
What is the type of role you’re looking for? (Leader? Contributor? Support? Teacher?)
Who does your story need to resonate with? (HR, a direct contact, a hiring committee?) Who are the gatekeepers and how do they differ from the deciders? This may require a bit of digging to find out—perhaps reach out to someone who works at the company or in the field to see what’s typical practice.
What are the key responsibilities in the job description?
What are the qualifications in the job description?
Where are your gaps? (it’s fine to have gaps, your fit is about the extra you bring, not ticking all the boxes)
What is the company and what makes it unique? Why do you want to work there?
What are you bringing to the table that is different and unique or that will contribute positively to the impact/growth of the company?
What relevant work or examples do you have to share?
What’s the story you want to tell about yourself? What image/impression do you want to leave them with?
I know. It’s a lot. But these things matter and will make your resume (and eventual interview) stronger.
Okay. Now some tips for crafting your resume:
Set it Up
Make it personal. The summary section is key for this, mine is in first person which turns a sheet of paper into a person for the reader and draws them in to the career journey you’re about to take them on.
Make it look like you, choose a font that you actually like and isn’t the standard issue word or google docs font. Choose colours (yes colours) that you like and use them for emphasis.
Include design elements. This is also key especially if you’re in a creative industry. I have a video producer friend who made his resume look like a reel of film unspooling. If you have a website, try to make your resume reflect the design there so you create a visual link for any employer that may look you up online. If you don’t already, include a link to your website or portfolio.
Avoid the standard set up (google resume template and you’ll find it), set it up in a way that makes sense relative to the job description
Use examples when outlining your skills, don’t just tell them you’re detail oriented, provide an example or project where being detailed oriented helped you win
Tell them what you love and why
Don’t be shy, if you’re great at something they need to know, brag about it. This is the only chance you get to let your ego shine and it’s okay—be proud of what you’ve done, what you’ve been through, and what you’ve learned.
Get specific (remember specific, animate detail), dynamic is a beautiful word, but doesn’t say enough unless you attach it to a description of what it means in your life context
Make it Relevant
Literally copy and paste from the job description when describing your skills (but, you know, edit it a bit)
Tailor your resume to the role. Every resume you send out should be unique to the job you’re applying for. I have what I call my “long form” resume. It has all my experience all the skills I bring to the table, I work with that to cut and revise (editing is the key to good storytelling as you know) each new resume for the job I’m applying for
Follow up with the hiring manager (even if your resume went to HR); Just send a quick and friendly LinkedIn note. I’ve used this to get around HR folks who easily dismiss a name like Chantaie or already have a type in mind for the role.
Include web links to projects and websites
Key Things to Avoid (I mined my old resumes for these so don’t think I came out of the womb knowing this stuff):
“To Whom It May Concern” You better have the name of the person you’re looking to work for
A laundry list of all your experience, curate and simplify your past jobs so that they line up to make you perfect for the one you’re applying for
A laundry list of generic skills (like multitasking), the skills/qualifications section is the perfect place to paste from the job description into your resume (and then edit to fit your tone)
Not including any personality and trying to make it “professional.” You want to leave them with a sense of who you are when they’re done reading. Make the tone a reflection of you. I’m a bit of a bossy betty and I try to be straightforward and I try to make that come through in my resume
Elements I Include to stand out (in my preferred order, but this is an art, not a science so do what makes sense for you):
About: This section is your key storytelling opportunity. Tell them about yourself. In the first person. I know it’s weird compared to a standard resume, but it humanizes you, I promise.
Specialties: My areas of expertise or things I really consider myself better at than the majority of people—for me it’s divergent thinking, storytelling and building brands. For you it may be connecting people and building communities (again to help stand out)
Experience: Past roles set up to highlight what you learned and will apply in the new role
Key Projects: Things you’re proud of that you can highlight and (ideally)link to
Skills/Qualifications: This is where I usually do my job description copy and pasting
Volunteer Experience: What are you doing to make the world a better place outside of work? You’re doing this right? This can also be relevant hobbies.
Education: This only matters so much (unless you went to Harvard Law, then put this section first)
A quick note to acknowledge reality: I have the luxury of only applying for jobs I really want and can see myself making a difference in if I get them. I know that’s not the case for everyone in this moment. But, even if this is a survival job you’re applying for, take the time to tailor your resume. Storytelling is a craft worth practicing. You’ll get the job, start paying the bills, and then be able to start writing a resume for the job you want the next time around.
A Story Well Told
I am obsessed with Black joy in storytelling. Hopefully for obvious reasons to you, but additionally because so often stories about Black people are related to the struggle that is often part of our lives. But we also experience joy and those stories are my favourite right now. Over the holiday I watched Sylvie’s Love
starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha. It’s a love story. It’s a beautifully shot period piece and a story well told. Even if Black joy isn’t your thing, you’ll enjoy this film. But also, trying something new and different is a great way to explore and experience new stories and make your own stories better. Let me know what you think of it if you do watch (it’s on Amazon Prime).
Also, if you’re enjoying this or if there’s something you’d like me to cover in a future letter—an element of your storytelling you may be struggling with, please let me know by leaving a comment below. I’m here to help.
Thanks for reading and I’ll “see” you next week. Whatever the world may bring, there will always be important stories that need you to tell them. I’ll be here to help.