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What's Your Resume's Story?

Do you persevere through obstacles when others succumb? Are you a gregarious leader who motivates others into tackling difficult assignments? Although behind every job seeker lies a story of career challenge and triumph, few succeed at captivating reviewers with their tale, because they don't convey that story in their resume.

"Your resume should not read like an obituary," says Jason Alba, chief executive of JibberJobber, a career management Web site. "It should read like a marketing piece and its primary objective is to sell your story to employers."

Build a Story Line

You wouldn't start writing a book until you'd settled on a plot, but many job seekers draft their resume without even thinking about the story they want to convey. Focus on your accomplishments and how you've achieved them to discover the common thread running through your experience. That will become your resume's central theme. Alba suggests the germ of a theme idea might lie in the comments offered by your references or in recommendations made by peers on networking sites like LinkedIn.

Another way to identify themes: taking a step back and examining your own career. "I ask candidates a few questions to force them to step outside of their daily tasks so we can develop a theme," says Barbara Safani, president of New York-based Career Solvers and author of Happy About My Resume. "For example, I'll ask: 'What are you known for or what have been your major accomplishments?' The candidate might say they're known for being a revenue generation guru. I'll use that as the central theme when creating their resume."

Next, write your profile using short, succinct copy, organized in a chronological format. A profile should summarize your story and support your theme while grabbing the reviewer's attention, much like a movie trailer or the summary on a book jacket.

"I recommend including a profile rather than an objective statement, because the profile is focused on the employer and the benefits they will receive from hiring you," says Safani. "A marketing piece should be written toward the needs of the customer, it should not be focused on what you want."

Link Relevant Experience

The final step in relaying your story is to support your theme when detailing your work history. This is where many job seekers get off track, so use these techniques to stay focused:

Describe the scope of each position using no more than five to six sentences. If you've marketed yourself as a revenue generator, for example, describe the scope of your responsibilities and the annual revenue increase you achieved, then flesh out your story through a series of task and accomplishment bullets that illustrate how you achieved your success. For example: Initiated 10 new strategic partnerships and signed 35 new accounts.

Use boldface and type styles strategically, drawing the reviewer's eye toward points which illustrate your story and support your theme.

Edit out information that doesn't support your main story line. Though critical, this can be the most difficult to execute. Job seekers become emotionally attached to their accomplishments and often include tasks and achievements that aren't integral to the story line. Let go of data that doesn't support your main theme, so you don't side track the reviewer.

"A lot of job seekers want to include all their previous titles and company names, because they think it makes them look cool or because they fought hard to earn those titles," says Alba. "But the question you want to ask first is, How should I be marketing myself? If the information doesn't support your story line, leave it off, because including it will just end up keeping you out of interviews."

AUTHORLeslie Stevens-Huffman Insider Comment
  • Az
    30 March 2010

    If keeping "tweaking" a version for each position applied, soon got lost.

  • kr
    14 May 2009

    Agree with the KMS comments. I had to start printing off the numerous versions and add notes to each one due to the "tweaking" I tried to do each time. Have decided to stay with the strongest version and go for it...

  • km
    8 May 2009

    Just a question - how does this advice gel with the often heard advice to 'tailor' your resume to the specific employer? It seems I'm forever tweaking my resume, to highlight aspects of my work, and now I have 10 different versions, ranging from barely accomplished ( for those jobs I know I'll be considered 'too qualified" - phooey, I need a job) to my most spectacular self ...I'm getting a little confused, and trying to keep track of what I say to whom is a toll. I'd rather just craft the best presentation I can, and let it stand...that seems in accordance with the above advice.

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