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Improve Your Résumé by Turning Bullet Points into Stories

https://hbr.org/2016/05/improve-your-resume-by-turning-bullet-points-into-stories

hbr.org

Improve Your Résumé by Turning Bullet Points into Stories

You’re searching for a new job. Updating your LinkedIn profile and résumé. Describing your accomplishments in two- to three-line bullet points that start with powerful action verbs and end with quantifiable results.

You know the standard advice. But for the most part, recruiters aren’t calling. And on the rare occasions when you do land an interview, you stumble over questions about what you’d bring to the hiring company and why you’re the perfect fit. So how can you make your résumé, profile, and interview more effective?

Start by framing your bigger picture before adding those smaller bullet points. Tell compelling before-and-after stories. What were your previous places of employment like when you started there? What were their biggest challenges, and how did you help meet them? How are those organizations better because of you? Then add the more detailed bullet points to fill in those stories.

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Hiring managers will see what you have done — and can do for them. You’ll show how you’d improve their organizations, based on what you’ve done in the past.

Let’s look at how to do this by analyzing the 

résumé
and LinkedIn profile of a startup marketing executive.

Here’s one of his bullet points:

  • “Multi-year brand awareness-building and marketing campaigns contributed to 23X customer acquisition and >90% YOY customer retention.”

This obviously has a strong action verb and (impressively) quantifiable results. But the bullet becomes much more impressive because he placed it in the larger context of what his company’s overall challenges were. Let’s walk through his résumé section by section to see how he did that:

Résumé Headline and Summary

Here’s how he labels himself: “Start-Up Builder * Brand Strategist * Marketing Head”

And below is how he summarizes his career accomplishments, clearly communicating what he’d bring to a new position. He’s building a bridge between challenges he’s met in the past and challenges the hiring manager is currently facing:

  • “Build start-ups’ commercial infrastructures from the ground up—driving long-term growth and profitability. Combine big-picture thinking with rigorous execution.”
  • “Craft brand identities that position products and companies to capture #1 category positions. Communicate across logos, taglines, ads, marketing, trademarks, media, trade shows, and conferences.”

Résumé Story

Having piqued his résumé and profile readers’ interest, he then captivates them with an introduction to the story of his most relevant work, his current position at a startup manufacturing company:

Axion International

VP, Marketing, Communication, and Strategy                                                                                                           2011 – present

As the 8th person to join this now 178-person manufacturer of recycled plastic building materials, created—from scratch—brand strategy and fully-functioning commercial infrastructure.

In four years, enabled Axion to become the upstart David to the Goliath of traditional timber, concrete, and steel railway tie manufacturers—growing from <$.75M in revenue and three customers to $14.5M in revenue and 70 customers. Attained #1 position in composite rail tie category and became the standard by which all other rail tie manufacturers’ products are measured throughout the U.S., Australia, New Zealand.

What startup wouldn’t want to win over an incumbent Goliath? By using this well-known analogy, he told a relevant story. He generalized from this experience at a recycled plastics manufacturer to other types of startups. And he reinforced what he could offer hiring companies — elevating them to the #1 position in their respective industries.

Résumé story details

At this point, the executive was well positioned to tell his Axion story in greater detail, using traditional résumé bullet points. He noted his accomplishments in several areas: strategy development and execution, branding and marketing, sales, partnerships, and IP.

Within the context of his larger story, his branding and marketing bullet about launching multi-year brand awareness-building and marketing campaigns becomes much more powerful. He set that accomplishment within the context of this startup’s evolution. And he used the résumé content surrounding this bullet to demonstrate how he accomplished the feat.

LinkedIn profiles

Once he had written his compelling résumé story, this executive was well on his way to making

his LinkedIn profile
equally effective. He used the generous 2000-character summary section to tell the story of his career.

Here’s how he introduces himself, his current Axion work, and his accomplishments at another startup — a brewery:

As a start-up builder, I thrive in unstructured, ambiguous environments.

I formulate and implement strategies that lead to exponential growth and top market positions, rolling up my sleeves to get it done with exacting standards, inclusiveness, and humor. Here is what I offer:

RECYCLED PLASTICS START-UP
At Axion, I created—from scratch—the commercial infrastructure and sales strategies that led to a 23X growth in customers and a greater than 90% YOY retention rate.

I transformed Axion’s all-things-for-all-customers mentality, establishing a profitable B2B focus that grew our revenue from less than $.75M to more than $14.5M in four years.

I crafted the ECOTRAX trademark and “TESTED, PROVEN, SUPERIOR” brand message that distinguished Axion’s product line from its competitors, capturing the #1 product category position in three years and increasing line revenue from <$.5M to $10M.

I established the marketing function at Axion, creating the brand identities and consistently communicating them across all channels—corporate website; digital and print ads, brochures, technical specs; trade show displays and association presentations; press releases and media placements.

BREWERY START-UP
With two partners, I launched Flounder Brewing Co., developing the business plan and go-to-market strategy that has enabled us to maintain 100% ownership, operate part-time, grow it slowly over 20 years, and win Sam Adams’s 2016 “Brewing and Business Experienceship” year-long mentorship prize.

FUTURE START-UPS
Building start-ups is what I do, and I am interested in helping you grow yours. Contact me through linkedin.com or by e-mail at [email address].

Note that he wrote in the first person, immediately grabbed the reader’s attention with his opening statement, and succinctly detailed his most impressive start-up work. And he closed his summary with an irresistible invitation to talk to him — to learn how he could help you, just as he helped other startups.

Interviews

Because this person took the time to carefully articulate his stories during his résumé and profile writing, he’s now ready for cover letters and interviews. After researching what specific hiring companies are looking for, he’ll know which stories to tell to convince recruiters that he’s ready to be a key player in their startup’s growth — to help them become the next David.

Résumé example #2

Here are a couple more examples of effective résumé storytelling. The first one is told by a woman who’s improved the lives of at-risk youth by revolutionizing developing countries’ educational systems. She uses a before-and-after structure to describe her work in Burkina Faso:

Co-founded American-Burkinabe organization to transform educational system and build management capabilities among African organizations working on economic and social development.

Overall Strategy and Success
  • Started with 9- to 15-year-old children marginalized and undeveloped by public schools. Ineffective and sometimes abusive teachers taught irrelevant curricula in foreign languages in often inaccessible and unsafe schools. Parents and community officials doubted schools’ importance.

  • Ended with students well equipped to thrive and contribute to their regions’ economic development. Built 20 new schools with well-trained staff teaching local-language curricula focused on practical skills. Schools easily accessible, open to boys and girls, and enthusiastically supported by community.

She then goes on to bullet point her partnership building, curriculum development, teacher training, and financial management accomplishments. As with our prior example, these bullet points are much more effective within the context of her larger story.

Résumé example #3

This next story is told by a health care EVP/COO who’s planned and executed several turnarounds of large hospital systems. In this example, she contrasted how the hospital was with what it became under her leadership:

Led transformation of top-down controlled organization suffering from high patient-complaint volume and low customer-service scores to a Relationship-Based Care model focused on everyone’s accountability to patients and co-workers.

  • Restructured Quality function by hiring new leadership team, training staff, and focusing on data-based service improvement plans.

  • Regained A rating, raised customer service scores from 18th to 50th percentile, and recaptured ~$1M at-risk dollars.

  • Significantly improved patient care by changing the focus from reactive, acute episodic care to proactive management of health, wellness, and chronic disease.

Why you’re the best candidate

Using stories rather than fragmented lists of bullet points to craft your résumé and profile involves closely examining what makes you an exceptional candidate. The focus of this examination is on not just what you did but how you improved an organization, both overall and in specific ways.

Of course, this won’t guarantee you’ll get the job, but it should get you more interviews — and more opportunities to tell your stories, tailoring them to what each hiring company needs.

Jane Heifetz
 is the founder and principal of Right Résumés and a contributing editor to HBR. She was HBR’s Product Development Director and Executive Editor for many years. Here’s her 
LinkedIn profile
.

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Improve Your Resume

Improve Your Resume

Most people use powerful action-oriented verbs, and short sentences highlighting their accomplishments in their resumes and LinkedIn profiles.

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