Tap into the power of story to supercharge your job search.
Think about a recent movie, TV show, or a book that captured your imagination and brought you to the edge of your seat; you can probably list a handful of titles without thinking too hard. For some of those stories, you might even retell the premise and wholeheartedly recommend that others watch or read it, too.
Now, think about a movie, TV show, or a book that you abandoned five minutes in. You might notice that you have to think hard to recall an example.
What makes one movie or book magnetic and memorable — while the other one repels you or puts you to sleep? Part of the answer is the nature of the story that's inside. Stories that reel you in usually have a compelling protagonist or hero. Someone with clear goals, human failings, and the will to move the narrative forward. Someone you like. Someone you are rooting for.
Now, what does any of this have to do with your job search? Well, telling your story is a big part of the process. Successful candidates use storytelling in their resumes, cover letters, and interviews to help them stand out. In a way, they become the heroes that hiring managers want to remember, root for, and care about. Don't you want to do the same? Here's a step-by-step guide for how to use storytelling to supercharge your job-search process.
Storytelling on your resume
Can a dry, strictly formatted list of employment dates and job titles tell a story? Yes, it can. Sure, a traditional resume format imposes some constraints — but there's definitely room for a story.
First off, infuse personality into the descriptive sections of your resume. Many candidates make the mistake of thinking that a “professional” resume must be boring. That couldn't be further from the truth! Present yourself as fully human, show your talents in action, reveal what motivates you — and your resume will stand out.
One place to infuse this personality is in your career summary. Here's a powerful example: .
“I'm a PR Manager who loves to make people and companies shine by helping them become visible, memorable, and impactful. I thrive in a fast-paced environment where my eye for opportunity and good instincts come in handy every single day.”
Allow your resume to tell microstories of accomplishments and problems you've solved. Remember that a good story is about change. A great hero changes the world — and undergoes personal growth in the process. Use your resume to showcase your personal growth and impact in your professional life.
Storytelling in your cover letter
A cover letter allows you more space and flexibility to tell your story. Even though not every hiring manager will read your cover letter, those who do read it tend to pay a lot of attention to it — whereas your resume might just get a quick scan.
Using stories in your cover letter can even improve the odds that the hiring manager will read it from start to finish. After all, our brains are built to recognize and track stories — so you are tapping into the power of neurochemistry here!
Yet how do you effectively tell your story in a cover letter? One, the story has to be relatively short. Your entire cover letter should be no longer than one full page — and there's a lot of ground to cover. Two, the story should position you as a candidate that the hiring manager wants to know more about.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Tell your personal “inception story", sharing the moment you realized your interest in the profession or company.
Tell a story of overcoming adversity on your way to a professional goal.
Stories about accomplishing meaningful goals in your past roles or solving big problems can be effective, as well.
Pick a story that showcases a character trait or strength (like tenacity, strategic thinking, or leadership).
Finally, an emotional connection story can work — as long as you tell it in a positive light and handle it carefully.
Storytelling during your interview
You may not be sitting around a campfire telling tales, but an interview is still the perfect space for you to share your story — as long as you do it strategically. Many candidates pick a wrong story or get carried away on tangents, which makes them look unfocused or even unprofessional.
Ready to build a story that will move you closer to an offer? Here are three story pillars to remember:
Start with a specific competency or value you want to convey. The best way to choose it is by rereading the job description and thinking through previous interviews you have had with this company. In most cases, the employer will tell you what they are looking for!
Define the problem or the beginning state — and then the end state. Remember that any story arc is about change and transformation. Numbers can help you showcase the magnitude of challenge or improvement, so use them!
Find an element of surprise inside your story. Perhaps you faced an unexpected obstacle. Or maybe you had to use an unusual method for solving the puzzle. Or maybe the outcome had a surprising side effect. If you can build in two unexpected elements, it's even better.
Need more tactical advice on refining your story? Here are five tips to consider:
Define your goal. When you become crystal-clear about what you are trying to accomplish, your brain can come up with creative ways to bridge the gap and get you there.
Make it about your audience. Sure, this is your story — but you must begin by understanding the values, needs, and pain points of your audience, a.k.a the hiring manager.
Have more than one story. Experts recommend developing as many as a dozen stories that will allow you to illustrate your qualifications and fit for the job.
Show, don't just tell. If you can immerse the audience into your story by using the five senses, your story will connect beyond just the top-side, intellectual level.
Practice, practice, practice. Everyone has a brain that's wired for storytelling. However, harnessing that power and riding it strategically is a skill.
Still unsure whether your resume and cover letter are telling the right story? Or looking for an extra edge in choosing the perfect stories to share? A TopResume writer can help pinpoint exactly what you need to impress any hiring manager.