Turning Your Resume into a Compelling Story

By XTGlobal Posted 10-Sep-2014

Perhaps the most common request in job interviews is to walk the interviewer through the details of your resume. While this can seem like little more than a formality because they already have your resume in front of them, it can actually be one of the more important points of your interview. When you go beyond reciting the details on the page to crafting an engaging story, your expertise gets to shine, making you a more memorable candidate.

Be brief

As you craft the details of your story, remember that your interviewer has other aspects of your technical experience to discuss with you during your limited time together. In order to be respectful of their time, it may be useful to think of your resume as your favorite television program and each employer or college listed as the individual episodes within it. If a friend asked you to tell them why you liked this show, you’d likely hit the high points of major episodes to demonstrate what you love about it instead of talking about all the minor storylines.

According to job search expert Alison Doyle “there is nothing much worse than interviewing someone who goes on and on and on…” so stay on point during your resume story and provide only the necessary details to make it come alive. This is the time to transform you into the candidate for the job, not to tell anecdotes that have little to do with the technical knowledge they need to fill their open position.

Know your resume

While knowing the details of your resume can seem like such a simple thing, too many job applicants can forget the facts due to nerves or lack of preparation. The interviewer probably won’t expect you to remember all the details of a job you held a decade ago, but you should be able to knowledgeably discuss, in detail if necessary, the pertinent details of the last 3 years of employment. Contradicting any of the details on your resume can raise red flags, and potentially plant the seed of doubt with the interviewer about your honesty and attention to detail. At a minimum, be sure you know:

  • Education and/or employment dates
  • Order of positions held
  • Special skills and experience from each position relevant to the job you want
  • Software and platform versions/modules used for each position

Reviewing your resume prior to your interview can help, but if you’re truly worried you could contradict something, consider creating a bulleted list of your resume’s story that you can glance down should you need it.

Tell a logical story

If you’re a Hollywood filmmaker, the ability to utilize flashbacks can be a powerful storytelling device. In your job interview, it can make you appear unfocused or confused about the details of your work history. To make your resume’s story an important tool in demonstrating why you’re the right candidate for the job, it’s necessary to decide on the way you’ll tell your story and stick with it.

For some people, this means detailing their different skills and how they acquired them. For others it means starting at the beginning and moving in a chronological fashion. Either way, pick a format that works for you and stick to it.

Remember, you’re telling the story of how you became the perfect applicant for the job. Be specific when discussing the relevant skills from each job and offer examples that can back up your claims. This is especially important when discussing those skills that can’t be readily quantified, like your ability to work well in a team setting. Soft skills are becoming increasingly crucial in this candidate-driven market, and can serve to set you apart from the pack.

As you create your story, don’t be afraid to mention any weaknesses you overcame to be successful in your past positions. You’re the hero of this story and no hero’s journey is complete without obstacles and setbacks. According to Alison Green, “candidates who talk with ease about both their strengths and their weaknesses come across as humble, self-aware and comfortable with themselves – qualities most employers are looking for.”

Focus on results

Using your storytelling skills to discuss your resume gives you an interesting way to give the facts on paper a real-world context. If your resume says you minimized datacenter overhead by 40%, this is your opportunity to briefly explain how you did it and why it was so important. When you were an integral part of a key IT development initiative, application launch or alleviation of tech debt, discussing how your contribution primed you for the opportunity at hand can help the interviewer begin to see why you’re the right candidate for the job.

Even better, consider using Liz Ryan’s dragon-slaying story technique for a few of the details on your resume that most closely relate to what the interviewer is looking for. To do this:

  1. 1. Setup the problem
  2. 2. Explain the action you took
  3. 3. Detail the impact your solution had on the business.

Discuss relevant recognition

While you likely learned as a child to be humble and not brag about your accomplishments, your job interview is no time to downplay your successes. As you move through your story, feel free to mention any awards or special recognition you received for your efforts as long as it’s relevant to the story of experience you’re telling. This can be especially powerful if the recognition you received came as the direct result of overcoming one of your professional or technical weaknesses.

Explain job changes

Executive resume writer Ann Smith-Proulx says, “If you’ve jumped from job to job without an apparent strategy, this can look like a problem to employers.” Whether you’ve held dozens of contract positions or you prefer to stay put as long as possible, pay special attention to the job transitions in your story. While you may have only left a company because you needed to make more money, focus instead on how that higher-paying position was the right move for your career.

While you’re working to mold yourself into the role of the hero in your resume’s story, be careful about making a past employer into the villain. It’s one thing to say that you left a job because you doubted the long-term vision of the company, and something very different to talk about all the bad business decisions your incompetent boss made. In today’s job market, the world can be a very small place, a place where you can’t predict if the person interviewing you knows your old boss.

Remember, the extra work you put into the crafting and telling the story of your experience could well be what makes the interviewer see you as their ideal candidate instead of just one of many with potential.

Doyle, A. (n.d.). 10 Interview Mistakes You Need to Avoid. About. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://jobsearch.about.com/od/interviewsnetworking/a/interviewblund.htm
Green, A. (2013, September 23). How to Talk About Your Weaknesses in a Job Interview - US News. US News RSS. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/09/23/how-to-talk-about-your-weaknesses-in-a-job-interview
Purdy, C. (n.d.). Six Ways You Need to Sell Yourself in Every Job Interview. Six Ways You Need to Sell Yourself in Every Job Interview. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://career-advice.monster.com/job-interview/interview-preparation/sell-yourself-job-interview-hot-jobs/article.aspx
Ryan, L. (2014, July 17). How To Tell Dragon-Slaying Stories On a Job Interview. Forbes. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2014/07/17/how-to-tell-dragon-slaying-stories-on-a-job-interview/
Smith, J. (2013, October 9). When Your Resume Looks Like Bad News. Forbes. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/10/09/when-your-resume-looks-like-bad-news/


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