Your Career Narrative Is Just As Important as Your Work History
This piece is a part of ‘The Career Strategist’ blog series
Recruiters and hiring managers at companies you’d like to work for are busy reviewing dozens or even hundreds of applications for a single role. They only have a few minutes (if that) to spend looking at your résumé, LinkedIn, online portfolio, or Hired profile. To maximize your chances of making a meaningful impression and landing a phone screen with the recruiter, set yourself up for success by offering a clear career narrative upfront. Here’s how to do so:
Have a catchy headline
You know that sentence at the top of your resume or below your name on your Hired or LinkedIn profile? That’s your headline and it provides a snapshot of who you are, what you do, and how much value you can add to an organization in just a sentence. It should be impactful, catchy, and clearly state what job you currently have and/or are pursuing. A few things to keep in mind: if you’re a new grad, your headline should clearly communicate the role you are looking to be in. On the other side of the spectrum, if you have multiple years of experience, your headline should not only highlight key skills that you have, but also what you’re looking for in your next opportunity.
Here are a few examples to get you started. A headline for a mid-level software engineer with an interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning could be: “Java engineer with 5+ years of experience, seeking roles in AI and ML.” It states the language they’ve worked with the most often and recently (Java), how long they’ve been doing this (at least 5 years), and what they’d like to focus on (artificial intelligence and machine learning). A recent grad who just earned a visual design degree should have a headline reflecting this experience: “Junior visual designer with strong interest in typography seeking role in edtech.” Although you might be tempted to include personal interests, you only have one chance to make an impression on the recruiter.
Be strategic about your summary
Think of your summary as an extension of your headline. This section allows you to build out the details of your headline by including context around your past experience (if you have it) or talk about your motivations for the role you’re looking for. This is your opportunity to provide that glimpse into your three-minute elevator pitch as a professional before diving into your work history.
In your summary, write up to three paragraphs touching on the following points: what job you want, what you’ve done, what skills you have, and why you are the perfect candidate for the role in question. If you have a diverse skill set that spans several disciplines, tell them which you’re most interested in and try to zero in on one or two roles at most. For example, if you’ve worked as both a backend engineer and a data engineer, make it clear that you’d like to continue pursuing a career in data engineering. If you have a background in graphic design and just completed a user experience design bootcamp, tell them you’re looking for user experience design roles. Employers can only guess what you’re interested in so you might as well make the job easy for them by explicitly stating the roles you want
After discussing the job you’re looking for, explain how your previous experience explicitly relates to the role you’re pursuing. When doing so, provide a few lines about what you’ve worked on, what languages, skills, programs, or tools you’ve used, and any achievements or accomplishments you’d like to mention. Next, reflect on your previous experiences and state how these make you the perfect candidate for the job you’re seeking. Don’t hesitate to mention professional attributes, such as adaptability and strong communication skills, that make you stand out and contributed to your previous successes. Your objective is to keep the message focused so it retains the hiring manager’s attention.
Inject personality into your profile
After establishing your career narrative in your headline and summary, give your résumé and online profiles a breath of life by injecting your personality. Bringing your application to life will not only make you stand out among dozens of other applicants, it will also make you more memorable to hiring managers. Part of the way your application will be judged is by how well you convey having the qualities that make candidates in a role successful. As an engineer, you’re supposed to use logic, rationality, and consistency. If your work is primarily client-focused, attributes such as being personable and relatable will be prioritized. If you’re applying for a role in design, you should represent yourself in interesting, unique ways.
But how do you insert your personality? If you’re a good writer, show off your skills. Being able to write well is not an inherent skill. For example, if you’re a product manager, it’s important to communicate effectively since time is often not a luxury. While you can probably write a lot about your experience, whittle each role down to five points that touch on each aspect of your job in the work experience sections.
If you’re a designer, prove it. Instead of using a generic résumé template provided by your word processor, make your own résumé with the design programs you rely on every day, such as Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, or Photoshop. Designers need to know how to organize information clearly, so make sure to keep the design fundamentals of type, space, and color in mind. A visual designer will be judged on the quality of their visual layout, so make sure your résumé and portfolio accurately reflect your skill level.
As always, stay on topic. If it doesn’t make sense to talk about your love of coffee as it pertains to your desired role, exclude those details from your résumé. Add anything that relates to the role in question and nothing more.
With these tips in mind, you’ll grab the attention of hiring managers and be that much closer to getting your dream job.