Epic Resume Go! Part 2! Tell Your Story!

When it's time to write a resume – indeed when it's time to do a job search – you want to tell the story of your career to potential employers, in a way that gets you the job.

This is the "arty" part of resume writing and though it's a way to make resume writing far more interesting, it can be as difficult as any artistic effort.  You may have trouble starting – or stopping.  You may get writer's block, or not be sure what to include.

Either way, work on telling your story.

A few quick tips

  • Try and find a way to summarize your story quickly, effectively, and honestly.
  • Figure out the "tone" of what you're going to be telling people.  Is yours a tale of struggle and success?  Are you exceptional in some way?  Is this the start of an epic career or it's continuation?
  • Don't leave out bad things such as unemployment, misfired career choices, and so on.  If they fit into your narrative, include them.
  • A good guide I find is to imagine your story is like a pitch from a book or a movie.  These are similar to the "elevator pitches" you hear about in job searching.

I find there are three basic kinds of job searches, and thus three basic kinds of resumes, and three basic kinds of stories.  Deciding which you're going to do is important as it will set the tone for your story and how you build your resume:

TYPE 1: General Resume
The General Resume tells the basics; what you've done, where you were educated, and what you're good at.  It's basically a "here I am" tale.  Think of it as a basic character piece that lists the high points of your professional life without any particular direction or dramatic theme.

The General Resume is the least useful and compelling of all resumes, but it does have it's place:

  • It's not a bad resume for people starting out in careers or suddenly in the work force with little direction.
  • It's a good resume for temp agencies and other places when you're looking to get working quickly.
  • Making a general resume is good practice for specific resumes.
  • A good general resume can be tweaked.

TYPE 2: Job Resume
The Job Resume's story focuses on your profession.  It tells people why you're a good programmer, copy editor, chemist, etc. It's the tale of you as a professional doing specific tasks and achieving specific job-related goals.  I like to think of these kind of resumes as being the equivalent of a "profession-focused story" – like a detective tale, medical mystery, etc.

A Job Resume's place is:

  • When you've established yourself as competent at a profession or are seeking to establish yourself.
  • When you're looking for a given job but aren't fussy – or just don't care – about the industry or location.
  • When you're broadening your career interest into multiple industries and want to paint yourself in broad strokes.
  • You're a consultant or seeking a consulting position that's highly profession-focused.

A Job Resume is usually better for the search than a General Resume because it specifically shows who you are and what you can do.  If this is your focus, you need to show skills, how you used them, and how you got them.

You might have several job resumes depending on the different professions you've done or are capable of doing.  Sure you're a programmer, but you might also be a web programmer, an inventory systems designer, etc.

TYPE 3: Career Resume

If the General Resume is a character piece and the Job Resume is the equivalent of a "profession-driven" story like detective novels or an action-hero film, the Career Resume is the epic tale.  It's the big picture story, the grand sweep.  Think of it as the Lord of the Rings of resumes.

In a Career resume you focus on who you are, what you do, and the sweep of your career – the industries you worked in, your goals, etc.  A Career resumes goal is to show that you are the right person for a job, in a given profession, for a given industry or set of industries – or even a given company or client.

In your job searches and career you want to have the knowledge, experience, and personal focus to move to a Career Resume as soon as possible.  A Career Resume is the kind of resume that tells a story that ties all of your life and career together in one big whole.

The place of a Career Resume is to:

  • Communicate a coherent career story – even, perhaps, some of the detours and mistakes you made.
  • Present the big picture (your career) and the small picture (skills, achievements) as a single whole.
  • Display your place in the professional world.

You don't have to have had twenty years experienced or worked with big clients to have a career resume – what you need is direction and the ability to explain yourself and your career in relation to that directions.  You could be a programmer with twenty years experience in gaming – or you could be a junior admin assistant who is going to make it in gaming no matter what.

Note that you may have several career resumes depending on how specifically you're directing yourself.  You might even make specific ones for individual clients or companies or industries so you can tell a story pitched just to them.

So figure out which kind of story you're going to tell or need to tell.  Next column, I'll talk about the parts of your resume – and how they tell a story.

– Steven Savage