Resume Writing: Telling Your Story

Too many job seekers forget one simple fact about their resume: it’s an opportunity to tell a story. Your social media accounts aren’t a laundry list of everything you do during the course of a day; similarly, your resume shouldn’t just be a list of every task you’ve ever done at work. Again: you’re telling your story. So put on some Hamilton tunes and keep reading…

You’re working on your resume because you want to land a particular job, or maybe just find a job, period. Regardless, the message you want to get across in it is, fundamentally, “You should hire me because I’m great.” It’s going to be a bit more specific than that, of course, so ask yourself what particular kinds of greatness your resume needs to demonstrate for the position you’re hoping to get. You might be trying to convince the person reading your resume that you’re good at coding in a particular language, or that you have an excellent eye for detail and can organize complicated projects with lots of moving pieces, or that you are an experienced manager who leads teams to be productive and happy. A job description is helpful but don’t forget to research the organization or department, ask people who have worked there before what they can tell you, and so on.

Every single line of your resume is an opportunity to tell a story that says “I have the skills and experience you need.” Different jobs require different skills — and hence different stories, so tailor your resume accordingly.***

Space on your resume is valuable real estate: evaluate each individual item as to which aspects of your story it is conveying to the reader. “Entered 500 new records daily into a database.” Does the position you’re applying for require data entry as a key skill? If not, then think about whether you should delete that line — or better yet, how you can express the work you did in a way that is relevant to the new position. Perhaps you organized a new system for incoming data sheets, or trained other people on the tool you were using, or used the data to create reports for your boss. Remember, your resume is helping you make a case for why you should get this job — but also a case for the types of work that you personally want to spend your time doing. In this example, you can change your story from “I’m good at data entry” to “I can develop new ways to manage and organize masses of data,” or “I can train people on complex technical systems,” or “I can synthesize data into easily-digestible reports that are used to guide decisions.”

By talking about the past work you’ve done in a way that reflects the work you want to do in the future, you make it easy for the person hiring to envision you in the role s/he is trying to fill. Don’t leave anyone guessing as to whether your skills and experience line up with what they need.

Making sure that hiring managers don’t need to speculate about what you know and have done is always very important…but even more so if you’re changing fields. Know your audience: will the person reading your resume understand the terminology you’re using and the programs you’re talking about?

Campaigners, this part is crucial for you if you’re getting out of politics (although do consider hanging in there — the world needs you). If the person reading your resume doesn’t have a political background, s/he probably doesn’t know what a field or organizing program is or why a campaign would have one, what a regional or FO within that program is, what volunteers do, why recruiting them matters, what goals are, what GOTV is, why you were knocking on doors, whether 20,000 doors is a lot or a little, etc.

“Served as VAN admin” doesn’t mean anything outside of progressive campaign world. (And even political experts who don’t work in data seldom know what it actually involves…) But managing a software tool that is used by hundreds of individuals with varying levels of technical expertise, in order to store and generate data for key programs and produce quantitative reports for management — those concepts exist across a huge variety of fields and industries. As in the data entry example above, you easily can change the story presented by just one bullet of your resume: in this case, you have the opportunity to move from “I can use one niche software platform” to “I have broadly applicable technical and organizational skills.”

If you approach your resume as described above, by framing your previous work in a clear, thoughtful way that demonstrates how you hold specific skills important to the position you’re trying to get, you’ll ensure that the reader gives you full credit for the experience you have — and you’ll give yourself the best shot possible at getting that next job.

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*** But don’t be scared off by job postings for which you don’t meet every single requirement — apply anyway! Ladies, this is especially for us: there is research that suggests that men apply to jobs if they think they fit just 60% of the listed criteria. Don’t hold yourself back.