A Story Of Progress
The highest ambition of any resume is to tell a story of progress.
Qualifications and skills are important differentiators, but a great story is priceless. Use your career path as a vehicle to deliver your skills to the reader in a way they can visualize. Paint a picture for them to admire.
When detailing your job history to build a resume, it's important to illustrate that you came from somewhere, and that you're going somewhere important.
On a different page we discussed building three simple lists:
- A granular list of your best skills
- Personal traits you want to showcase
- Work memories (of any kind, as long as they're vivid)
And now, we're going to focus on that third list. Either in your mind or on paper, organize your list of work memories chronologically, sorted by company (or institution) and role (or title).
Given your sorted list of memories, now we must answer: what happened in all of the time between all of those work memories?
Dig up and list as many work projects, routines, responsibilities, and tasks, for every position you've held, for every job in your career, as far back as you can remember.
Easier said than done! But the good news is, you don't have to rely on memory alone.
Browse through work emails if you have them. Collect as many bite-sized details about things you've worked on as you can. Be as specific and detailed as possible. Click through work calendars. Find old meeting agendas to jog your memory about what projects you were working on at the time those meetings were held.
One approach is to go through each year, season, or even month on a calendar, and ask the following:
- Who did you work closely with?
- Who did you report to?
- What presentations did you give?
- What goals were set? How many were met?
- Who were the important customers at that time?
- What was going on in your life generally?
No detail is off the table. If it sparks a memory or an experience, it's worth adding to your list.
Talk to former coworkers and managers. Ask them what most impressed them about you. Even ask what didn't impress them. In your conversations, convince them to tell you what they thought your weaker moments were, and if they noticed any improvement over time.
The important part of this exercise is not to find the shining moments. You probably already have a handle on those. They were probably on your list before you started excavating.
The point is to find the humbler moments. Or the parts you can't remember because you blocked them out. Or the roles and responsibilities you aren't proud of, or haven't reflected on recently.
Realistically, you probably didn't do many (or any) of the things in the previous section. That's okay. But now you have an understanding of what such a process might be like, and how it might be useful to you in the future. As in, next week!
Keeping a detailed history of the things you do at work doesn't only make resume-writing easier, it can also help you get a raise, or a promotion, or generally help you find or make opportunities that you wouldn't have otherwise.
I have kept as many artifacts as possible from every job I ever had. Most people do not maintain this practice when they are not job hunting, probably because they are sane.
This whole exercise will provide one key ingredient to add to your resume: contrast.
When you purposely include a wide spectrum of experience, including your less-proud jobs, projects, or tasks, they add a powerful contrast to the more predictably impressive parts of your page.
It enhances the image of the person you have grown into, and it adds a meaningful context to how you got there.
For example, digging up all the unholy busy-work garbage you were once tasked with as an intern will help you shake out the important turning points in your earlier career. It will put the whole document into perspective.
Adding a bullet point describing how you picked up the coffee for the office is a little extreme, but in my case it has actually sparked an entertaining conversation in the last interview I had. It's also a nice way to confirm who has actually read through your entire job history! I think the person who brought this up to me knew this, and did so because of it.
Think about it this way: when your reader starts at the top and scans their way down the page, they can trace backwards through your past, to more humble beginnings.
And if they start at the bottom and read their way up, it paints a picture of somebody who gains responsibility, skill, and qualifications as time goes on.
So that is the formula for sourcing your content: excavate, and then contrast. Give yourself a richer history to work with, to supply a more pronounced story of personal and professional progress.
Once that story starts to form in your mind, it's time to start composing bullet points.