“I just revised my resume,” said my friend Gretchen. “Want to see it?” “Hand it over,” I said, and took a look. “Here where you say that you’re detail-oriented, motivated and hard-charging — what are you shooting for, branding-wise?”
“Duh,” said Gretchen. “I want the person who reads this resume to know that I get things done.”
“In that case, why not tell the reader about some of the things that you’ve gotten done?” I asked.
“But I do that, later on in the resume,” said Gretchen. “Here in my description of the job at Acme Explosives, I talk about how I took staff meeting minutes and created reports for the VP.”
“Gretch,” I said, “tons of people take minutes in staff meetings and create reports. Many of those people aren’t nearly as sparky and switched-on as you are. When we think about a person taking notes and preparing reports for the VP, we don’t necessarily picture a person with tremendous oomph and mojo. When you tell us the tasks you had at Acme rather than your milestones, we don’t get your power at all.”
“So how do you recommend I describe myself?” Gretchen wanted to know.
“You can tell stories in your resume,” I said. “When you tell the reader about yourself in the summary at the top of your resume, tell them your story. Don’t use done-to-death adjectives like ‘hard-charging’ and ‘strategic.’ Anyone can say those things. Tell us how you got into Marketing into the first place — after all, it’s a great story, how you took a temp job during college and ended up running trade shows for a yoga magazine.”
“Why would anyone care about how I got into Marketing?” asked Gretchen. “Because it’s your story, and it defines you,” I said. “Anyone can say that she’s savvy and motivated. Those words mean nothing. When you tell us your story, more of you comes through on the page. We see the journey of this spunky college kid who had the brains and courage to take on a lot of responsibility. We see you in action, in our minds. You just tell us what happened; you don’t need to characterize yourself as Smart or Savvy. We don’t know you, so we couldn’t put any faith in your opinion of yourself, anyway.”
“So you’re saying Show, Don’t Tell, in my resume summary,” said Gretchen. “Exactly,” I replied. “The same is true further down in your resume, when you describe your work history. Don’t tell us that you took notes at meetings and created reports. That stuff is boring. Tell us what you made better at each job — what you left in your wake.”
“What DID I leave in my wake?” Gretchen wondered aloud. “I can’t remember.” “Take Acme Explosives,” I said. “Remember when you were starting the job, and freaking out about that migration to a new html newsletter platform? They had picked the world’s worst vendor before you came on board. You saw what was broken, and jumped in to fix it. You got out of the contract somehow, picked a new vendor and saved the day, and only missed one edition of the newsletter.”
“That was dicey!” laughed Gretchen. “And that’s just the sort of story you should be telling in your resume,” I added. “You could word that bullet this way: When I arrived to find a new online newsletter platform purchased but unimplemented, I dug in enough to see that the product wouldn’t work for us, and made a quick switch that ramped sales sixteen percent the next quarter.”
“Dang, you’ve got the gift for bullets!” said Gretchen. “I spend a lot of time writing resume bullets,” I agreed.
You can connect the dots in your resume the way Gretchen did, to show the reader what you’ve made happen, rather than expecting him or her to take your word for it. Forget the overdone business adjectives like Seasoned, Savvy, Strategic, Motivated and Results-oriented. There’s no emotional power in any of those terms. Tell stories in your resume, to let the hiring manager know how you’ve shown up to make a difference at past jobs. All you have to lose is a bunch of boring robotspeak — and won’t that give your resume a lift?