Were you raised to be humble? I was. Humility is appropriate in many situations. In job searches? Not so much. If ever there were a time to boast, this is it. Many folks, however, don’t know how. Or boasting feels so foreign, they rein themselves in. Or they’re simply so accustomed to doing what they do so well that it ceases to seem remarkable to them in any way.
Often, when clients engage with me to rewrite their résumés, they share documents that are very high level. The good stuff, however, lies below the surface.
My background is in journalism so I approach résumés as stories. In the news biz, every story should answer six questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How? When writing résumés, most folks cover the basic Ws. But it’s often the H that gets to the heart of the story.
Questions to lead to the heart of your H:
- How did you do what you did?
- How do you do what you do?
- How does what you do set you apart from your peers?
- How do you do you approach a task or project differently?
- How can we talk about your successes in concrete and interesting ways?
Also, for the purposes of résumés, think of an extra H: How much and/or How many? Quantify your results whenever possible but stay within the realm of the realistic. If you’re a salesperson with one client and you land one more client, yes, technically, you increased your client roster by 100 percent. But if you ’fess up to that in an interview, you may look like someone who’s overselling themselves, unless a client roster of two is truly a feat in your industry. Instead, perhaps you’ll opt to share the contract value if you’re at liberty to disclose such information. “Generated $500,000 in recurring annual revenue” might be the stronger way to catch someone’s attention.
In addition to the basic Ws and the advanced Hs, ask yourself some Whats and Whys – and/or whatever Ws apply – from other perspectives.
Have you conveyed your Whats and Whys?
- Why did you implement a particular process?
- What problem did it solve?
- What would have happened if your company had not made the change?
You may or may not include the answers on your résumé but they will likely lead you to remember other accomplishments. By the way, I fully appreciate that, as an activity, most folks view writing their résumé as favorably as a trip to the dentist and so the notion of doing more than the minimum might seem painful. But I encourage each of my clients to dump their brain onto the page. Sometimes, we unearth some really interesting details that round out their career story. Even if very little ends up in the final document, they’ve refreshed their memory in advance of their interviews.
I recently worked with a client who managed a branch of a bank. The résumé he shared when we began working together spelled out his responsibilities in a very straightforward way. As we volleyed versions back and forth and I asked questions and he provided answers, we honed in on some very impressive accomplishments that he hadn’t thought to include in his original version.
The brain-dump approach is also beneficial because it’s easier to edit a story into shape rather that struggle to fill a page. Instead, if you start with a document that’s longer than the desired end result (that’s two pages, three in rare exceptions), you can pare back and think through the essence of what you most want to convey. You’ve probably done a lot in your career but you probably haven’t loved every aspect equally. This is your chance to focus on what you’d most like to pursue in your next role.
Another useful element of journalism that applies to writing résumés is thinking of questions that others may not have asked before. Pretend you’re the one reading résumés for the job you want to land. Consider that most candidates will have similar experience based on their professional level and particular field. What details of your experience would catch the reader’s attention and set you apart on the page?
Still stumped? Try this: Hit “Record” on the voice-memo app on your phone – or haul out that retro tape recorder – and tell your career stories to yourself. If you’re daunted by the flashing cursor in a blank Word doc waiting for you to write, recording your stories will be a much easier effort. And you’ll probably remember more details because your brain will be more actively engaged. Then, instead of writing down your accomplishments cold, you can transcribe the most interesting parts of your stories and tweak them into bullet points.
Lastly, once you’ve created the content in whatever way is easiest for you, enlist formatting to help you tell your story. Use bullets and sub-bullets to guide the reader and help them consume information in a deliberate way.
Would you like more résumé tips/tricks? Check out greyzone’s blog, Creating a Resume That Works!.