Writing about what you do and especially, how well you do it, is a blush making, stammering task for even the high flyers amongst us. But it is a totally necessary one for a job application, cover letter or CV.
And there is a way of writing your career successes as a concise narrative, of getting to the heart of what you do well without saying ‘I’ over and over and feeling you have to apologise at the end – well really it was a team effort.
This method relies on the expert novelist’s skill of showing not telling.
As part of my other role as a coach, I work with individuals who find that something isn’t right in their lives. Very often this is their work and they seek change. So I am asked, with my writer’s hat on, to review and comment on many CVs. Headings such as Career Narrative are becoming more common but the plot line has disappeared, the climax is missing and the lead character, the main one, the one the whole thing is about, has disappeared into a vague collection of clichés.
That is how my career path actually looks when I think about it, but wait! Resumes are a construction. And you are the author.
I know life may not be straightforward, clear and concise but when you are in charge of writing it, you can make it look like that.
I am not talking about inventing facts, but more about presenting what the reader needs to know as a connected series of intentional choices, with some exceptional events that need celebrating.
All stories have a beginning, middle and end. They have a problem, which needs resolution. In this story you are the heroine who fixes all, but the focus is not on you but instead on the outcome. Feeling relieved?
This is summarised as Situation- Complication – Resolution. I didn't make this formula up by the way – you may have come across it before in other contexts - this is just my explanation of how to use it.
Begin with an issue. It can be a miscommunication between two key stakeholders, a sudden decrease in budget or an unpopular decision that has to be explained to a large group of people. It can be smaller than that - the promotion of a vital staff member leaving a gap, anticipation of a problem that hasn’t happened yet or the misuse of a logo. Whatever it is, outline it in one sentence. For example: I was assigned as team leader to a group who were the lowest performing team in the southeast region, measured by safety error reports.
What was likely to be the consequence of this issue if it went unresolved? How would it affect others, the branch, the brand and the organisation? Make it clear just what the end result of inaction might have been. Here’s an example that follows on from the situation outlined before.
The lack of productivity of the team was affecting the safety record of the company, and the whole group were likely to lose the contract and their jobs. Through a restructure, the responsibility for their area would go to another group who did not know the region or its peculiar requirements, resulting in loss of vital knowledge and potential risks.
This where you, the heroine of the hour, come to the rescue. You have to mention yourself, but the main focus is on the outcome, the crisis averted, the problem solved, the happiness generated and the specifics of that. In other words, use figures or quotations if at all possible.
In eight months I turned this group into the top performing team in the organisation, topping the safety records for the quarter and earned the unqualified approval of the Area Safety Manager who completed a safety walking tour of the site. Management were delighted with the result of an 80% reduction in error reports and the group continue to use the techniques we developed together to keep standards high.
How easy is that? And did you notice the whole story is about what you did but only used the word ‘I’ twice? That’s the value of the story. It doesn’t rely on telling - I am an effective and respected team leader who gets results - it shows what that looks like.
This example comes from a real person who wasn't planning on telling this story in her resume or at an interview because it didn't seem that big a deal. What? But don't get into comparisons. What seems like a small anecdote to you can be amazing to the next person. We all have some aspect of our way of working that can be made visible and vibrant through a story. Find yours by talking to people who've worked with you and asking what they've noticed. And then make it shine.
Tell your story… and your reader will want to interview you to find out more.