Your Resume Will Never Tell Your Story – You Have To Tell Your Story

It’s time to look for a new job.

And through the stress of the occasion, you realize something both difficult and simple: you’ve left your real skills and passions off the table for years.

And now is a chance to consider what you really do, and what you’ve learned, to reintegrate threads of what you care about, and to vision a better job. I understand, you might not have room for this in your brain. But give it a moment to consider.

I remember my moment of realizing this. The year was 2009, my job was falling apart at the seams, and I had no backup plan. I had leapt from start-up to start-up for a dozen years, using my all-hats capacities to slightly shift into new relevance each time, here a producer, there a writer, there a storyteller. And at my company, bumping through the Great Recession, were just making payroll every month. For better or for worse, I was the CEO’s confidant who knew our real status. And I knew I needed a new job.

Standing in mid-town San Francisco, looking up at the Flood Building from a parking lot next door, I called my friend Jon, who had been a pioneer in building job boards for 15 years and told him of my travails.

“I guess I need to shape up that resume,” I said, staring at a chain link fence at the edge of the lot.

“Jay,” he said, “your resume will never tell your story.” He went on. “You have to tell your story.

I froze. He was so right. For some time, I had wrestled with the idea that even my friends didn’t know how to describe me. For years I was the animation guy, the traveler guy the sustainability guy. And in recent years I had become the story guy…yet I wasn’t telling my story.

As the days passed and layoffs began, and the company – based on sustainability – turned out to not be sustainable, and as I began to look for jobs, I quickly found that I was standing in a long line for roles I didn’t even want. My resume was a casserole of start-up and media jobs that just didn’t represent who I had become. It didn’t take me long to realize that I needed to find a way to explain my most clear and integrated expertise, even if it didn’t seem to fit what the marketplace thought it needed.

For me, I decided not to pursue a job – I pursued creating a business. And many of you will also decide to (or need to) set out on your own.

Either way, YOUR RESUME WILL NOT TELL YOUR STORY. You may look at your profile or resume at your resume and asking “WTF do I do now?” or “Do I care about this kind of work anymore?” Or you may be asking the era-appropriate question: “Is it the most relevant way of describing my role of optimal value?” If you’re concerned your job is no longer existent, or you just need a freaking new story, now is the time for a re-do.

And of course, your story isn’t the same as your resume: Your story is about reveling insights and transformations that inform how you can be most helpful to your most essential audience. Your resume is your experiences that fulfil on that story.

Here are some steps for you to revitalize your story for your friends, associates and future interviewers.

  1. Shuffle it up. You get so used to telling the same story over and over again it can come across as flat. So mix it up. Just for a moment, forget about your current story. Take a big step back and consider this: When you began this journey, what were you setting out to do? Maybe it was two years ago, or ten or twenty. What did you accomplish? And what are you setting out to accomplish now? Tell it in a new way.
  2. Get clear on terms. Your story isn’t the thing you do or the thing you say. A story is a problem, approached in an interesting way that makes us care. The way you make us care is to depict your journey…not a list of things, and not a job.
  3. Focus on lessons. This one will occupy some coffee time. Consider your last two gigs and not just what you accomplished, but what you learned. How do you describe those insights, and how can you place them in a story? Now consider three other lessons you’ve learned that inform your work. See if you can shape them into stories.
  4. Dig up some gems. Having worked with many leaders over the years to build the next stage of their careers, I find that people often leave behind a core skill or passion that they fit into the next job they stepped into. Those key passions or skill get left behind. So think back to that thing that you loved doing early in your job or your last job, something you were good at, but for one reason or another (money, opportunity, a difficult time) you didn’t know how to continue on that path. Consider if you can bring one piece of that passion into this new path…and try to integrate it into your new story.
  5. Resist the list. First of all, you are not the things you have done. It is your job to draw out the meaning from your journey. Telling anyone the list of things you do will not help you.
  6. Shape up your story skills. This will help you deepen any conversation. Here’s a little primer for how to tell a story. Try using these three pivots in your story: then one day, until finally, and ever since then. The ever since then will reveal what you’re dedicated to now.
  7. Choose three emblematic moments that represent you working your magic in your last two jobs. Think diversely, and in scenes. What are moments that *show* how you impacted your team, your product, your bottom line, your customers? What was a representative act of innovation that you brought to life? Think in moments, not jobs.
  8. Tell that story. As you shape your retellable story, make a list of 10 allies you’d like to chat with, live or virtual, and tell that new story.

I wish you good luck in your transition. May your story lead the way to a new integration.


Jay Golden is a speaker, storytelling coach and founder of Retellable. He wrote Retellable: How Your Essential Stories Unlock Power and Purpose.

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