Your Resume: What Story Does It Tell?
June 16, 2016

Your Resume: What Story Does It Tell?

by Brian de Haaff

You may not think of yourself as a storyteller. And you may not think of yourself as an author with an audience to consider. But if you are searching for a job perhaps you should.

After all, every successful author considers the reader before putting pen to paper — in hopes they will buy the book. Authors also consider marketplace conditions, competitors, and current trends before they pitch their editor. (And long before that book is sent to the printing press.)

By the same token, jobseekers should think about the story that their resume tells.

Like it or not, someone on the other end will attempt to read between the lines. Hiring managers receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of resumes for an open position. Part of their job is to be able to imagine the person behind the resume — and to sort fact from fiction.

Unfortunately, some resumes might as well include a disclaimer at the top: The following is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.

Although you may not consider yourself an author, you might want to reread your resume with a book editor’s eye. Does your resume resort to literary sleight of hand to distract from the twists and turns of your career path? Or does your resume read like a manuscript headed straight for the slush pile — full of plot holes and cliches?

To get you started, here are a few common genres that resumes fall into:

Fairy tale Two parts nonsense, one part wishes, and a dash of truth, this resume casts a dreamlike spell upon the reader. Another standout characteristic? The ability to spin straw into gold. A fairy-tale resume takes any experience and magically turns it into a happy ending.

Young adult What this resume lacks in experience it makes up in witty banter, giving new meaning to “a quick read.” The writer throws down with pithy pop culture references — including one’s knowledge of what’s hot — and may even include an emoji or two. Spoiler alert: There is usually a healthy dose of drama hidden in there too.

Classic This resume might as well start with “Call me Ishmael.” The author trots through every position ever worked — blind to all conventions of resume length. A list of certifications that covers the last decade? But of course. Home address noted right under the name, email, phone and … fax number? Certainly! While it may include all the important details, it is so old-fashioned that the reader will fall asleep before the end of chapter one.

Mystery Full of red herrings and plot twists, this resume’s unexplained gaps raise intriguing questions about the character’s alibi — er, employment history. With no explanation, the writer rolls from one disparate job to the next. The lack of contextual details on how the puzzle pieces all fit together leaves the reader guessing. What happens next? An invitation for an interview? Unlikely.

Graphic novel This well-designed resume prides itself in putting style over substance. But once the reader gets past the flashy fonts and colorful flourishes, they may realize that the icons, doodles, and dingbats conceal a lack of relevant experience. Unless this resume has the experience to back it up, it is nothing more than a pretty wrapper for an empty package.

Creative nonfiction It is an author’s prerogative to take a little artistic license with the facts — just small things like names and dates and job titles. No big deal, right? Perhaps the word “assistant” is dropped from the title at a past job, in favor of the loftier “associate.” Responsibilities are embellished. Achievements exaggerated. This resume is almost true. And besides, the changes are so subtle no one will notice — assuming the hiring managers do not do their homework.

Bestseller Every author hopes their next book will be a bestseller. But not every book can be a runaway hit. Instead of chasing current trends, confident authors know that there is no replacement for a strong story told with conviction. This resume is the best version of yourself, written with authenticity and attention to your most impressive accomplishments. It focuses on the main thing that every reader (or hiring manager) wants to see — results.

It may seem silly to compare your resume to a book. But if you can step back and read your resume objectively you may be surprised by the story it tells. Your resume is your opportunity to tell hiring managers not only where you have been and what you have done, but your passions, your values, and even your quirks. And if it doesn’t, it should.

The best resume is a (one) page-turner. It draws the hiring manager in with the first sentence and compels them to find out more about you. No need for hyperbole — just the honest, refreshing truth.

Your resume is not a work of fiction. An honest portrayal is much more compelling than any story you could concoct or a resume that tries too hard to impress.

So before you send out another resume, ask yourself: What story does it tell?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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