How to Make Your Resume Tell a Story (Because That's What It's Supposed to Do)

Resumes—no one picks up a handful up at the end of a long day and reads them for pleasure. And for that reason alone, most people look at me with confusion when I tell them that this one piece of paper needs to tell a compelling story.

But unlike the stories you may be drawn to at the end of that long day, this one doesn’t get the easy out by working in star-crossed lovers or a murder mystery. Rather, it needs to make its case—the case to hiring managers that you’re the best possible hire—with bullet points and action verbs.

Here’s how to realistically make that happen.

1. Start With a Summary or Your Skills

The quickest way to set the tone is to start off with something that’s immediately relevant to the job you’re applying to. Occasionally, your most recent experience will fit the bill, but in many cases you’ll need to pull some career highlights out into a summary section.

Or maybe you’re a little too early in your career to have a list of “highlights.” You can still use this idea, but instead place your skills section at the top of your resume to make sure readers keep them in mind as they look at the rest of your experience.

2. Add Unique Sections

Especially if you have a winding career path, the next step is to give your experience some structure that’s easy to understand. Say you’ve been working a string of part-time graphic design gigs as you try to transition to the field from a sales background. The standard chronological format of an experience section might make you look a little flighty or unfocused.

However, if you break up your work experience into two sections—“Design Experience” and “Sales Experience”—then suddenly everything makes sense. Don’t be afraid to break away from the standard format if doing it another way will help you illustrate your story better.