How Your Resume Can Tell Your Story | Ladders

How Your Resume Can Tell Your Story

Putting a ‘Career Objectives’ section at the top may be passé, but your resume should still be structured to tell the story of your career path.

resume_magnify_glassA waitress wants to move into corporate training. A librarian hungers for a job with more emphasis on history, her passion. A computer programmer plots how to make the jump into project management.

Each career has a story, and each job seeker must find a way to tell that story in his resume. Who are you? What have you done? Where are you going? How do you plan to get there? And what does all this have to do with a given employer’s needs?

You don’t need a special resume section devoted to your career trajectory and objectives, but the document should be structured to tell the story of your career path.

How do you do that? Good career coaches and resume writers are, first and foremost, storytellers. They relish the chance to help job seekers tell their stories. Ladders solicited input from the experts to find out how and where in a resume they help clients to weave their stories into the document. What follows is a number of these client stories.

Start at the top

Your story begins with your title and your executive summary. “It acts as a context-setting start to the resume,” said Steven Savage a technology project manager who also writes, speaks and coaches on getting hired into what he calls “geeky” jobs. Savage also writes a blog, Fan to Pro, for “geeks, fans, otaku, and other creative people who want to use their hobbies and passions in their careers.”

The language you choose to describe yourself at the top of your resume can define your job search, so choose carefully, said Deidre Pannazzo, executive director for Inspired Resumes, recommended that job seekers review the job description and note attributes required for the job. Weave these into your summary, she said, but make sure you focus on what you can do for the employer.

If you’re planning a career change, make sure to include a statement outlining this career goal, Pannazzo said. “For instance, if you are a financial analyst looking to get into management consulting, you should include (a statement similar to this) at the end of your executive summary: ‛Looking to leverage process improvement expertise and in-depth business operations knowledge to transition into management consulting.’ ”

Another example of how to start the story in the Executive Summary section comes from Anne Headley, a career counselor. One of her clients is a history-loving librarian. The woman wasn’t a history major in college; she has worked in corporate libraries and done research for a news organization but never worked in a library that specializes in history.

To begin to tell her story, Headley added “passion for history and historical research” into the librarian’s executive summary. Treat this section as a hint of more to come, but make sure you’re ready to substantiate anything you list. It’s not enough to state that you’ve got a passion; you’ve got to map out what exactly you’ve done with that passion in your work history.

(For more on resume titles, read How to Craft an Attention-Getting Resume Title.)

Job descriptions continue the story

To continue the librarian’s story, Headley made sure that every job highlighted a task, no matter how small, that would relate to history or historical research. The librarian’s experience at research for a news organization is a prime example: It’s not hard to see these research skills transferred to the field of history, as the two fields require overlapping skill sets.

Another example comes from Erica Moore-Burton, a private career coach and the executive director of Special Counsel, a legal recruitment firm. Her client was a waitress who wanted to break into corporate training. After speaking with her and uncovering what she had done within her role, they were able to craft a resume that told her story by including in her job description that she had trained new waitresses and written a manual for new trainees. The manual was so well written, Moore-Burton said, it was selected to train new hires at restaurants across the country, while the waitress herself was tasked to conduct training.

In the waitress’ job history, Moore-Burton highlighted her training experience along with the manuals she had authored and the fact that she was a member of Toastmasters International. “As such, anyone looking at her resume could see that her moving into a formal corporate training position within the restaurant industry wasn’t such a far stretch,” Moore-Burton said.

Anything applicable to your next, desired position deserves to be highlighted. That includes relevant experience as well as any associations, projects, or applicable courses, Moore-Burton said. “With this particular client we had four things that enhanced her resume and built it out so that it was more applicable to positions that she was applying to … It was clear that she had been preparing for the next role.”

Another client practiced corporate law at a large Los Angeles firm but wanted to practice labor and employment law. Moore-Burton included details of the lawyer’s pro bono work in labor and employment as well as the work she had done on an independent basis for a family member’s medical office. Moore-Burton also incorporated the fact that her client had joined the labor and employment division of the state bar and had taken relevant courses. She wound up being hired by a labor and employment law firm.

The moral of the story: “A prospective employer has to know that they are not dealing with someone from scratch and there is either a base knowledge or some relevant experience that is going to benefit them,” she said. “Remember W.I.F.T. … what’s in it for them!”

How to update your story

Savage helps other geeks tell their stories, but he’s got one of his own: that of a programmer turned project manager. Here’s how he sums it up: “a technical person who turned to project management as his career matured, building on both his technical and business sense to become a project manager.”

At this point, Savage’s resume still lists his programming days. But in the coming three years, after he’s logged a solid decade as a project manager, he’ll begin to shrink the programming section, since it will be less relevant and his story will morph into that of an “experienced technology project manager in many industries who started as a programmer.”

“Note how I actually work the career change into my resume to show what I’ve done,” he said, by shifting emphasis away from the programming background that launched his project management career as his project management career develops.

Savage cites another example of how his resume tells his story. He published a book, so he had to tweak his resume to add a specific publications section. But such a section isn’t entirely relevant to his current job, so it should be positioned to demonstrate his communications skills.

If he were published in project-management journals or wrote a project management book, then he’d mention it in his executive summary at the top, and his publications section would move after his work experience section, if not his skills section. If his book had been irrelevant to his career, he said, he would only mention it in a section toward the bottom that lists related interests.

“Information has to be communicated appropriately — at the appropriate place in the resume,” he said. “Both say I’m published, but I need to reflect their place in my ‛story’ without distracting from it.”

Support the story online

Whatever your story, the rest of your personal brand must support it. For example, Headley counseled her librarian client to beef up her LinkedIn profile to stress her passion for history. Thus, in her LinkedIn profile’s status update box, the librarian has listed activities such as attending a meeting of the local historical society.

If you’re looking for a job, researching a topic, presenting at a conference, teaching a class or writing an article, you should let the world know, Headley wrote in a post on her blog. “Make it easy for a future employer to see you as the experienced person you are,” she said. “Your connections will validate you as a serious candidate for consideration as well as verify what you’ve told them on paper and in person.”