Using Narrative Storytelling on Your Next Job Resume

By Antonio Verrelli

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.” — Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human

I love this quote. It doesn’t need any scientific data to prove it’s true because, for the most part, we all do this. We dream—we think, we act—with a story in mind. Stories, at their core, attempt to find some kind of order in a world that defiantly resists it.

It saddens me to think about my old conception of storytelling: spoken over a campfire on a chilly night, written into books, shown on TV or in movies—all with the simple purpose of entertaining, with nothing practical to be taken away. What I learned since is that practicality can come in many forms. 

Take, for example, how companies brand themselves using narrative storytelling—companies like the jewelry retailer Dannijo. Founded by Danielle and Jodie Snyder in 2008, the company uses the sisters as its image, its face. If you click on the website’s “About” page, you’ll find their mission statement—their charitable initiatives and their company’s theme of creating sustainable economic opportunities in places like Africa. They have a blog that covers topics of style and fashion but also motherhood and their personal histories—their triumphs and defeats. Because of this, we feel attached, if not to the company, to them. They are selling themselves. 

Now, say a hiring team is looking to invest in you. How will you brand yourself?

You’re the protagonist—what do you want? 

It’s a question that drives your narrative. It’s where your story begins. We use this exercise all the time in fiction workshops, but using it in your job resume works surprisingly just as well. For example, what is your protagonist’s mission statement? His or her goals? Likely, it will sound something like: what I want out of this career or job is… and this is what drove me to your company. While you’re at it, tell them about that eureka moment when you first saw the listing and knew you had to have the job. Describe your emotions, what they made you think of. 

Plot

Basically, what happens? You may want to start with your earliest relevant jobs—jobs where you acquired a certain skill—and end at your most recent. If you used to be in one industry and are now in a completely different one, explain how that happened. Were you miserable, or were you just exploring new options? There were probably highs and lows in your job history, so dramatize them. People will remember a story—they’re wired to. 

Good writing is rewriting

A first draft is never optimal; it’s a solution to a problem—trying to speak a story into writing—but that’s all it tries to be. By the second or third draft, it starts to look more like a work of art. Imagine how many companies have first drafts that need revising. Companies love nothing more than an applicant who can solve their potential (and immediate) problems. That said, your application could go something like this: 

Problem: In my old job, our scheduling department randomized employees for each project to promote inclusion. 

Result: Employees who naturally worked well together were separated; work productivity decreased.

Revision: I surveyed every employee’s work partner preference from highest compatibility to lowest, then used the spanning-tree formula to make schedules based on preference. Our company increased 20% in efficiency. 

What’s that? Not much job experience? No problem. It helps to have prior skills from the field, but offering a critique of your company’s product or service is easily the second-best thing. Just tell them how they can improve it. 

Aside from these, using a bullet point format and spacing out your narrative are also handy tips. Try them out on your next job resume!

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