How to Harness the Power of Storytelling in Your Resume

By Laurel Johnson

Your Career is not Set in Stone

Most of us think of our resume as a report on the past. It does list our past experience, after all. And we tend to think of the past as a fixed entity—it happened, it’s over, and we’re left with the account of what happened.

The thing is? Your career isn’t set in stone. It’s a story that can be told a dozen different ways. And the way you choose to tell it may mean the difference between getting your dream job and getting passed over. 

Here’s the key: Instead of simply outlining what you have done, think in terms of what you can do for your future employers. Filter past experiences through the lens of the story you want to tell. And you don’t have to be a creative type to do it. Research shows that if you’re a human, you’re already a natural storyteller.

Say it with Numbers

Performance metrics are the single best way to transform a bland resume into one that makes you look like a rockstar. They make a great impression even if your former roles didn’t revolve around growth figures or conversion rates. For each bullet point, think “context, action, result.” 

Ask yourself questions like these: 

  • How much revenue did an initiative result in?

  • What was the month-over-month or year-over-year growth for an initiative? 

  • How many meetings did I host in a quarter? 

  • How many team members did I lead? 

  • At what rate did I meet deadlines? 

  • How many clients did I serve in a year?

  • How did the work I accomplished affect the company’s bottom line? 

Even if the numbers don’t immediately tell a story on their own, they show that you are data-driven. You pay attention to how your work fits into the big picture, you’re self-aware, and you care about ongoing improvement. Also, consider adding percentages of growth instead of hard numbers if you’re working on a smaller scale.

Keywords: ATS and Hiring Managers

Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS, are the first hurdle your resume must clear on the journey to your dream job. Keywords are absolutely vital for getting to the top of the ATS pile. For example, if you’re applying to be a digital marketer, “digital marketing” should appear early and often. Take your cues from job descriptions and match as many keywords as possible—without misrepresenting yourself or sounding like a robot.

The second hurdle your resume will clear is a hiring manager: a human being who takes about 10-15 seconds to scan it and make a judgment call. They’ve read thousands of resumes, they’re tired, and they’re going to be put off by an unintelligible jumble of keywords. Be clear, be concise, be human.

Choose Simple Formatting (Sorry, Designers)

Organized

ATS likes it boring. Universal, traditional fonts like Times New Roman and Arial (not Helvetica) are the best choices. Graphic elements, specialty formatting, and colors all have the potential to garble in ATS and get your resume thrown out before a person even looks at it.

That doesn’t mean your resume is doomed to be bland. If you love your designed resume, make two versions: A plain version to submit online and a designed version to bring along to an interview.

Hyperbole Is OK—in Moderation

Don’t lie on your resume, of course. But go ahead and brag. That’s not easy for everyone. If you’re humble by nature, bragging may feel like lying. Give yourself permission to use a few big descriptors—visionary, insightful, inventive—if it doesn’t come naturally. And remember that humility is a valuable trait in itself: Talk it up as one of your strengths, as silly as that may feel. 

For specific skills, try to follow this standard: If you can speak knowledgeably on a topic, put it on the resume. It’s OK if it wasn’t an official part of your job in the past, or if you shadowed someone else but never took point. Put it on the resume—just don’t claim to be an expert.

Exaggerate

Keep Your Head Up

Even with a stellar resume, it’s tough out there. According to Glassdoor, only about 2% of applications result in an interview. That means the volume of applications is nearly as important as an optimized resume. Think of your resume as a living document—a template you can revise over and over as you refine your career story and find new positions to apply for. And of course, if you’re feeling stuck, you can always seek help from the experts.

 

Laurel Johnson’s favorite part of her role as a Career Architect is personalizing every detail of her clients’ content through creative collaboration. She lives in Reno with her cats, Eel and Gull, and loves strange tales of the high desert.

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