CV Storytelling: 5 Techniques Job Application Success

08 June 2020

Cv Storytelling Blog Picture

Your CV should be the story of you. This one’s a story with purpose; to earn you an interview that leads to the next step in your professional journey. So, what can we job seekers learn from storytellers? And how can we use storytelling techniques write truly engaging “CV stories” that stick?

[Oh, and just to be clear, we’re most definitely talking ‘non-fiction’ stories here. Stick to the facts!]

First, let’s consider what makes stories so compelling…

Why are stories so engaging?

Since prehistoric times, we humans have loved a good story. Books, plays, cartoons, TV dramas, movies add richness to our lives, but even everyday conversations tend to be packed with storytelling. So, why is storytelling so universally loved? Well, stories are one of the very best ways to convey rich, detailed information in a manner that’s truly memorable.

Stories aren’t just for fun. They matter, a lot! As hunter-gatherers, stories of deadly lion encounters and triumph over adversity could have helped others avoid perilous situations of their own. In the modern world, stories help us understand complex social behaviours and, yes, even our professional world.

Telling Stories In Your CV

Employers LOVE a story. They love that candidates who convey the story of themselves are:

  • Easier to imagine “making an impact” within the new organisation

  • More memorable, when shortlisting for interview

  • ‘Explainable’ to colleagues and decision-makers (this candidate is great because they did “…XYZ…”)

Consider a simple example. Imagine this is an opening line from your CV:

  • REBECCA SORREN
    Senior Data Architect – Java, Scala & AI Specialist – 4 Years’ Experience

In this one line, we’ve certainly covered the facts. We’ve checked the boxes, but have we told the story? Have we – crucially – demonstrated to an employer how these traits could prove useful in their organisation? Perhaps telling more of a story could improve our chances of an interview:

  • REBECCA SORREN
    4 years’ experienced Data Architect - Adept at untangling legacy Java systems and introducing future-proof AI technologies utilising Scala for large corporate organisations.

Hey… Now we’re talking! Not only have we conveyed all the important ‘information’, we’ve also structured the CV as a story, providing a far richer picture of why we (“Rebecca”) are so clearly the best person for the job.

So, how are you going to add storytelling to your CV? Let’s review some tips.

5 Ways To Improve Your CV With Storytelling

1) Turn Bullets Into Stories

Most CVs are structured in reverse-chronological order. At each job posting listed, a number of bullets will summarise the key functions fulfilled, achievements reached and milestones clocked. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with the structure, the bullets themselves can often be turned into micro-stories that will be far more engaging.

Consider that each bullet point (or at least the majority) should have some kind of “beginning, middle and end”: what was the situation? what did I do? what was the outcome?

2) Discover Your Story ‘Type’

It’s said that there are only 7 basic plots for any story. Whilst your CV is hopefully not a tragedy, and ideally not a comedy either, some of these might ring true:

  • Rags To Riches: The upward path from zero to hero

  • Monster Slaying: Defeating an antagonistic force

  • The Quest: Journeying through adversity to reach a goal

  • Rebirth: Changing ways to shed old traits and improve

Organisations and individuals can be charted on these ‘plots’. Those who’ve worked in startups will be familiar with “rags to riches”. Change and transformations specialists should recognise “rebirth”. And professionals of all kinds will find parallels in “the quest”.

Once you’ve drafted your CV, see if you can spot any plot patterns. If you’re all about “monster slaying”, consider putting that front-and-centre as your over-arching story; “a proactive project manager, adept at delivering results in adverse conditions.”

3) Include “Baddies”

Baddies are an important part of many a good story. Yours needn’t be a witch or a dragon, though. It could be…

  • A legacy software system

  • A sluggish corporate culture

  • An unfavourable commercial market

  • Your own lack of specialist skills

Showing your ability to recognise and overcome difficulties immediately marks you out as a “problem solver”. In today’s fast-moving business world, this is a skill that employers value above almost all else.

Too often, job seekers skip straight to the ‘solution’ (“I trained in graphic design”), skipping the ‘problem’ it solved (“the company required fast turn-around media output.”)

4) Stop Generalising: Be Specific

Numbers, facts, specific examples, achievements… the more specific you can be in your CV, the better. Just like in a novel, where detail allows readers to build a rich picture in their mind, the detail you include will allow employers to truly understand your value.

Plus, thinking back to “why are stories so engaging?” – our brains are wired to enjoy absorbing information. Information is essential to our livelihood. So if you want an employer to read your CV story for more than a few seconds, pack in the facts!

5) Fill In The Gaps

Imagine a Netflix box set that skipped a few seasons, resuming action without explaining what happened in between. You’d feel short changed, right?

Many job applicants feel that leaving gaps in a CV are better than including ‘mis-steps’, or even personal time that doesn’t ‘fit the professional path’. Consider that leaving gaps in your CV story encourages employers’ imaginations to fill them. Isn’t it better to own your story and tell it in your own words?

Where possible, keep your story complete and ensure there’s a full narrative arc – ideally, one that leads neatly towards the opportunity you’re applying for.

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Good luck with your CV storytelling! When you’re done, you may also like our advice on The One Line CV: How To Sell Yourself In Just A Few Words – ideal for LinkedIn headlines.

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Writing or updating your CV is a vital skill, whatever stage you’re at in your career. When you’re happy with yours, make sure to register with us or update your profile, and check out our latest jobs too.