Digital Machiavelli #4: Your Resume, Your Story
Using Narrative Design to Build Your Own Hero's Journey
Welcome back to my ongoing digital content strategy course, delivered straight to your inbox every week.
What You’ll Learn Today: Why narratives aren’t limited to books and film scripts, and how you can build a narrative into your resume to boost your chances at getting hired.
The Hero’s Journey isn’t exactly the kind of narrative that works for a resume, but a resume can certainly have similarities, with the focus shifted slightly away from worldbuilding and towards the role(s) you’ve played in your career.
Similarly to the development of a heroic character in a fictional tale, the narrative in a resume should show a gradual progression in your skills, experience, and wisdom.
In other words, you need to put your best food forward, but you can and should also provide enough context to help others understand the motivations and outcomes of your actions in any given role, which inevitably involves bringing up difficulties and unexpected events.
A resume is a structured document. People expect it to contain specific information in a predictable format. This puts a bit of a damper on creative freedom, but it isn’t as limiting as you may think.
The part of a resume where the narrative stands out the most is the Experience section, so the trick is to operate within that scope.
To keep things simple, here’s a basic example of narrative structure within the confines of any given item in your Experience section.
What work did you do?
What challenges did you tackle?
What did you learn?
Note the order here. You’re starting by laying out the gap you filled with your skills, following up with compelling context about tackling adversity, and wrapping things up with a conclusion about earned wisdom.
That may not be quite as exciting as the plot to your favorite book, but it still resembles it more than a clinical list of responsibilities would.
A structured narrative presents you as a skilled professional capable of dealing with adversity and gaining new insights as you go — this right here is what employers really mean when they say they want to hire someone who can “work without supervision” and is capable of taking ownership of their work.
This hinges primarily on what aspects of your work help people stand out in your field.
Draw focus to those areas of your job that are specific to it, e.g.:
As a visual designer, mention vector graphics
As a software architect, describe tech stacks
As a content creator, talk about research
And weave in some responsibilities that are common for any role of that tier, e.g.:
For a team lead, describe how you outsourced work
For a senior role, regale them with how you communicate
For entry level, talk about time management
This allows you to avoid tedious keyword research.
Why? Because you’ll be covering both hard skills and soft skills, and as you do so you’ll inevitably use relevant keywords anyway, but your story will be much more fluid than if you were to start with a list of keywords and try to build a story out of them.
This is where things get more subjective, but there are still certain elements you can consider to help you shape your story.
Different professional fields will have different expectations regarding how formal, informal, or outright extravagant your style ought to be, and so will different roles.
A creative writer or a multimedia artist being eccentric in his storytelling will be understandable to just about anyone, while a financial analyst is more likely to benefit from stern, uniform storytelling.
The style you choose to portray will further reinforce your narrative, creating a more vivid image of who you are in the minds of recruiters and hiring managers.
The key thing to remember is that regardless of your role, you do need to tell a story.
While certain roles, such as software engineers and administrative staff, can get away with bullet point lists of their responsibilities, everyone benefits from building a narrative around the information that would’ve gone in to those bullet points.
Because at the end of the day, the ATS (Applicant Tracking System) is just your first point of contact with your target company.
After that point your resume will be read by actual human beings all throughout the hiring process, and the one thing human beings adore above all else is a good story.
By building a narrative with compelling structure, substance, and style, you substantially boost your chances of being remembered, and in job hunting as in most other situations in life, that’s worth its weight in gold.