How to Make Your Resume Personal

Given all the advice out there on keywords, layouts, and language, it can take some time before you start thinking about making your resume personal. That’s a shame, because you can be sure that the HR person and interviewer who received your application will check your resume before they read your cover letter. 

Finding a way to make your resume personal could make the difference between whether they get around to reading your cover letter or not.

Now, I’m not suggesting you add a story to your resume. It’s not the place. Save your stories for the cover letter and conversations. However, you can raise some eyebrows and grab your reader’s attention to stand out from the pile.

Make your personal statement personal

I read generic personal statements all the time. They are filled with business-speak terms and MBA jargon that we toss around because they sound “business” but never really reflect on. They do well on keyword searches but score low on personality.

The key to avoiding this mistake is to think carefully about what these terms actually mean and – more importantly – what they mean to you.

For example, I worked with a client who was writing a personal statement for a grant application. The granting organization, the people with the money, had “personalized medicine” on their website as a goal or vision or whatever.

What did his personal statement say? That he worked towards promoting personalized medicine. 

We spent some time digging into the term personalized medicine. First looking at how he understood the term and then at what it meant to him. It was not an easy conversation because we are used to taking this kind of language for granted and essentially cutting and pasting it into our own work.

When we were done, though, he had articulated his own ideas about personalized medicine. It was a beauty, by the way. His version of personalized medicine meant that patients could decide on the goals for their treatment.

Ever read that on a hospital mission statement?

The reason you haven’t is that he specialized in treating a chronic disease that seriously disrupts people’s quality of life. Only years of treating them have shown him that every patient has a different definition of quality of life. One wants to be able to go dancing every weekend. The other wants to be able to get to the grocery store and that’s it. 

He turned that around and put it into his personal statement on the grant application. Are you surprised that they invited him for an interview?

Make your personal statement personal by using language and contexts that mean something to you. Your personal statement should be unique because you and your view of the world and your field are unique.

Focus on the experiences

A resume is essentially a series of lists, right? You list your educational experiences, jobs, accomplishments, skills, and so on.

Those lists are by nature impersonal. It’s difficult to find the person through lists of impersonal facts. Yet, that’s exactly what your future employer has to do.

It’s like ordering off a menu that only lists the main ingredient of each dish. So you order a particular kind of fish. How are they going to cook it? Are there sides? How much food will arrive? There are too many questions!

And if you’ve ever read a resume, you know what this is like. You read all the dry facts and then try to tease out the person hiding behind them.

You check graduation years and try to guess how old they are. You look at the font choice and layout and try to guess what kind of personality put this together. You do the math on employment years to see what kinds of choices they made.

You wonder, quite frankly, not just whether this person is qualified or not but what they’ll be like as a colleague.

Instead of only listing the dry facts in your resume, try to include experiences from your work. 

I worked in a bakery for a while and one of the things I did was create an order and delivery system for a Christmas product in a matter of days as a result of a Christmas special. I can put that in terms of numbers, 2000 pieces baked, packaged, and mailed in two weeks. Or I can put it in terms of an experience, created a mail-order system in response to surprise demand created by a holiday TV special.

One is a fact. The other is about an experience. 

Leave strategic gaps

Everyone is afraid of having gaps in their resume, right? Gaps indicate that we weren’t working and that tends to be read as we were being unproductive. I won’t go into the difference between work and being productive here (although it’s tempting), but let’s talk about how gaps can be a good thing on your resume.

In storytelling, you create tension by creating an expectation and then leaving that expectation unfulfilled. It’s the cliffhanger. It doesn’t have to be a huge, Dan Brown style, I-must-turn-the-page cliffhanger. 

In fact, just last week I listened to a “what I ate for breakfast” story where the connection got broken off just as the storyteller was going to tell us what she had decided to try for a new breakfast routine. The last words we heard from her were actually “I decided….” and then the screen froze. I am not exaggerating at all when I tell you that 5 people from Norway to Cyprus were sitting on that call exclaiming out loud that they needed to know what she decided!

You don’t need to have a huge gap in information for people to ask questions. The art is to offer just enough information that people want to ask and know what to ask. 

This is not an excuse to be vague, alright? You need to be specific on your resume, but leave a couple of openings where people can ask questions. Use your resume as a conversation starter.

One example is the Christmas product example from above. By not naming the product and not indicating the scale of the work, I leave gaps. I could add “organized volunteers and staff to participate in last-minute product sugaring and packaging shifts,” if there isn’t much on my resume.

So, how can you leave a strategic gap on your resume? First, think about what you’d most like to talk about in your interview. Maybe it’s a particular project or achievement.

Then, add a tantalizing detail about it on your job description.

I used to work in a theater when I was in university. We had every kind of show you could imagine come through, from lectures to student performances to concerts and dance to opera. What I learned there was how to manage people and logistics and think on my feet. 

What I could write to spark a conversation would depend on the person. I’d take their age and potential interests into account and then mention events that might get their attention on the resume. Instead of “coordinated 100 events a year” I could write, “coordinated events including Patrick Stewart one-man show, San Francisco Opera, and student step show.” 

All true, both true, only one is going to spark a conversation and the other will get filed.

So look at your work experiences and the way you’re talking about them. Create strategic gaps to invite questions and then enjoy the conversation!

Add an “About Me” Section

All credit for this idea goes to a wonderful woman who participated in one of my workshops on how to introduce yourself. She had a fantastic personal story from work that she ended up adding to her CV as an “About Me” section. 

It worked. After months of applying for jobs, she ended up with two offers within a couple of weeks.

An “About Me” section is not the same as your personal statement because what you’re going to do is share something personal. It could be an experience or something about your background. It must be something that tells the reader about the kind of person you are.

It should reflect your values, goals, or qualities and be a story that doesn’t fit well into any of the other categories in your resume. What you’re doing is summarizing a story you might want to elaborate on in your cover letter.

The choice of which “About Me” anecdote you want to include when you write your resume is very personal. Ideally, it’s a story that shows a choice you make that is unique.

For example, I live in the Netherlands and speak Dutch. I might add that I interviewed for my first job in the Netherlands six months after arriving here and that the interview was in Dutch. I’d let the resume show that I got the job.

I’m looking here for something that’s both personal and professional. Your About Me section can show the kind of person you are at work.

So, there are a few ways you can make your resume personal by putting a personal twist on the information you’re including. You can expand on these personal bits by telling stories in your cover letter or save them for your interview. Hopefully, you can add enough that you’ll be able to expand on a couple in your cover letter and leave questions to answer in your interview as well.

Make your resume personal so that you stand out and grab your reader’s attention!

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