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Resume Writing Secrets for Telling a Powerful Career Story

Results are key to telling a strong story on your resume, and their most potent ingredient is metrics. To help you understand what I mean, I’ll tell you two versions of the same story.

Version one: It took me forever to buy a suitcase at Macy’s today. It was super crowded, the wait time for the elevator was really long, and then there was a huge line to check out.

Version two: I spent an hour buying one suitcase at Macy’s today, but it could have taken twice that. There were 7 elevators with a 15-minute wait, so I took 7 flights of stairs. There were easily 20 people ahead of me in line to check out and 1 casher, so I asked to move ahead since I had only 1 item. This was on a Wednesday morning in April, not around the holidays!

Which of these is A- more believable, and B- more compelling? I’m going to take a guess and assume you picked version two. Version one—blablabla, crowds, long lines… sounds like a bunch of excuses–who cares? But version two is extraordinary—7 elevators? A 15-minute wait on a Wednesday in April? Craziness on a grand scale! Version 2 also illustrates what kind of Macy’s I’m talking about—not some small-town, junior-size store with 3 floors, but a 7-story department store, certainly in a major city. We know where you were, what challenges you faced, and how you addressed them. Version one makes the person look passive, just following the crowd, while version 2 shows urgency—the shopper races up the stairs and negotiates with others in line to get ahead.

We use metrics this way all the time in telling stories to our friends over drinks, recounting astounding statistics from the news, even describing the weather—it’s 102 in the shade today! So why don’t we do the same on our resumes?

If you’re leaving out metrics because you don’t think you need to compel your readers…big mistake. Whether recruiters, hiring managers, or contacts, everyone is busy, skims quickly on a screen, and will only slow down enough to study your experience more carefully if something concrete catches their interest. Here are some tips for filling your resume with metrics and telling a story:

  1. Avoid recounting your job description in your bullet points.

    As with version 1 above, we’ve heard it all before–job descriptions are the same for everyone in similar roles. If you create bullets with a job description as a base, it will look as if you’ve done exactly what your predecessor did, achieved no impact, and never once had an idea of your own.

  2. Quantify not just the result, but every noun!

    The 7 elevators and 15 people from version 2 can be translated into the nouns in your world: a team of 30, 17 new partnerships, 21 office locations.

  3. Metrics are all about context and scale.

    Remember that we are outsiders to your company and don’t know the things you might consider obvious. Even recruiters may not be industry experts, so assume nothing about the foreknowledge of your reader. A 3 million dollar increase this year sounds great only if we know that in the 6 years before your arrival, revenue went up by only a million. A team can be as small as 2 or as big as 200.

  4. Commonly quantified nouns:

    People under your leadership, time (established office of 25 in 3 months), efficiency, cutting costs, increasing revenue.

  5. Maintain confidentiality while still providing metrics.

    If you can’t include dollar amounts, offer percentages—increased profitability by 85 percent. You can also double, triple, or reduce by half.

  6. The metrics that matter most are those that illustrate your impact.

    You can provide the size of your company/office/budget in a scope statement, which is a 1-3-line intro to your bullet points. But the bullets should include metrics that directly describe your value add.

  7. Metrics are welcome everywhere.

    Avoid creating a special section detailing your achievements. Instead, reference metrics in your summary and use your work experience section to lay out metrics-rich achievements.

  8. Even if you’re not in a numbers-driven role as such, you probably have metrics.

    How many clients did your NGO serve? How much time/money/effort did your initiative save? How much more traffic did your ads generate? How much positive feedback did your designs receive?

  9. Fit your metrics on the page.

    It is best to use sentence fragments in a resume, which eliminates extraneous words: “I generated $15MM dollars’ worth of new business in the first 3 months by jointly creating 5 new ad campaigns with my hand-selected team of 25 experts” can be written “led team of 25 to develop 4 new ad campaigns generating $15MM in first quarter”

  10. Write your metrics in numbers, not words:

    $25,000, not twenty five thousand dollars.

  11. Do your homework.

    If you don’t remember your metrics from 10 years ago, try your best to look them up. Sometimes a simple google search is enough, sometimes you need to hunt up old files or emails. Either way, it’s worth the effort, even if the metrics are approximate (25/30 projects per month) in order to sound convincing.

  12. Don’t do this in a vacuum!

    Including the right metrics isn’t easy for most. Few of us have enough objectivity about our work. We downplay our achievements, don’t know what is obvious and what isn’t, and don’t recognize important metrics even when we know them well. Most of us also fall into the trap of believing a resume should recount what we do, when instead it should recount what we’ve achieved. Because objectivity is key to a good resume, it is beneficial to work with a professional resume writer who understands our industry and role. This person can guide us to provide the right metrics, then present them in a concise, engaging way.

Need assistance weaving metrics into your career story? Click here to pick a time on my calendar for a resume consultation.

About the Author

Lilly-Marie Lamar is a career advisor for Ivy Exec. She provided career advice to college students and professionals in the U.S. and abroad, and was a Fulbright scholar. Lilly-Marie has a degree in education from Columbia University.