DEV Community

loading...
Cover image for Get Hired: The Storytelling Resume

Get Hired: The Storytelling Resume

techdebtor profile image sam Updated on ・7 min read

I have something I want to share with y'all because it worked for me. I got a new job this year and had to rewrite my resume while job searching. I rewrote it with one thing in mind - I wanted to tell my story and advocate for myself as an awesome developer. And guess what y'all, this resume got me a 90% callback rate from applying at 16 top tech companies.

So here's the pitch - do you feel like you have the general structure of your resume worked out, but you struggle with making your work experience sound interesting to a reader? There's so much good advice on how to write resumes out there, but I found that the best resume I've written came from a process I call the storytelling resume.

I call it the storytelling resume because it lets you tell your own story through your resume's text. Here's what mine looked like after following this process:

Resume
(Raw text available here)

My goal in writing this resume was not to just list out my accomplishments, but also to paint a picture of who I am and what I'm like to work with.

Why? Because "soft skills" are just as important as technical skills.

To give you an example, while I was negotiating my most recent job offer, I was in a meeting with the company's head of engineering. We were talking about company culture, and he brought up my "Other Skills" section on my resume. He was very complimentary - he said that it showed I'd be easy to work with and matched with the company's core values of transparent communication. He also mentioned that I had shown strong communication skills during the interview. He then segued into telling me that they reevaluated my job offer and actually wanted to hire me on at a higher title. My soft skills got me a promotion!

So how do you craft a storytelling resume?

Learn Your Story

First things first: you need to know who you are and what you're looking for.

To get started, answer these questions:

About the Role

  • What role are you looking for? E.g. Front end, back end, dev ops...
  • What type of product do you want to work on?
  • What type of tech do you want to work with?
  • What size company do you want to work for?
  • What kind of team environment do you thrive in?

About You

  • How did you get started in tech?
  • What nice things do other people say about you?
  • What makes you great to work with?
  • What are your technical strengths?

Look for commonalities in your answers. If you thrive when pair programming and others tell you that you write great documentation, then your strength is in communication. If you're self-taught and want to work with machine learning, you're a self-directed problem solver.

Need some ideas? Pick a few items off this list:

  • Problem Solver
  • Strong Communicator
  • Generalist in [practices/technologies]
  • Specialist in [practice/technology]
  • Dedicated
  • Flexible
  • Quick Learner
  • Self-Starter
  • Easy to Work With
  • Leader
  • Teacher
  • Mentor
  • Cross-Functional

For my own resume, the traits I picked were problem solver, strong communicator, easy to work with, and mentor.

Brag About Yourself

Try describing your favorite coworker, and tell me an anecdote when they did something awesome.

Mine would be:

"I had a coworker on my previous team who you could always count on to get the job done right, on time, and documented well. She started our team's documentation library and was meticulous about keeping it up-to-date. Most importantly, she was fun to work with and always kept everyone laughing."

This is how you should talk about yourself in your resume - like you're the world's best coworker.

Now, try to write a similar bio about yourself, using the traits you identified earlier.

Mine would be:

"Sam is easy to talk to and is always happy to break down technical designs and concepts. She's mentored everyone on our team in some way or another. She's especially good at designing scalable features and fixing tricky performance bugs."

How did I come up with that?
Problem Solver -> "good at designing scalable features and fixing tricky performance bugs"
Strong Communicator -> "always happy to break down technical designs and concepts"
Easy to Work With -> "easy to talk to"
Mentor -> "mentored everyone on our team"

From here, we can expand each point in the bio into 2-3 points. For example, for the "mentor" label, I could say that I've:

  • Given architecture talks to my department
  • Pair programmed and whiteboarded with junior engineers
  • Trained senior engineers that were transitioning from C# to Java

These bullet points are your resume's bread and butter. They delve into the how and why of you being great to work with.

Show, Don't Tell

When writing your bullet points, it can be tempting to just list your accomplishments. It's important to give the person reading your resume some context. One way to do this is to highlight the impact of your work.

For example, the bullet points I wrote above could be improved with some context:

  • Gave brown bag talks on our product's back-end architecture (Java 11 with Kafka and Zookeeper) to onboard an audience of 50+ engineers to our product
  • Led whiteboarding design sessions with product, UX, and engineers to ensure cross-functional alignment
  • Pair programmed with junior engineers to onboard them and in turn make my team as productive as possible
  • Trained a team of 6 senior engineers that were transitioning from C# to Java

The secret is in adding details.
For example, I went from:
"Gave architecture talks to my department" -> "Gave brown bag talks on our product's back-end architecture (Java 11 with Kafka and Zookeeper) to onboard an audience of 50+ engineers to our product"

If you're struggling to add details, answering who/what/where/why/how might help you:

  • Who did you work with?
  • What did you do?
  • When did you do it?
  • Where did you do it?
  • Why did you do it?
  • How did you do it?

So for me, the "who" was "an audience of 50+ engineers", the "what" was "giving a talk on our back-end architecture", the "when" was "during product onboarding", the "where" was "in my department", the "why" was "to onboard engineers to the product", and the "how" was "brown bag talk".

Another approach is to answer just one question: How did the company benefit from what you did? This is ultimately what most resume readers are looking for, and that's what answering all the previous questions tries to illustrate. It's easier to figure out the impact of your work if you're highly specific about who you worked with and what you did, but it's even easier to see it if you just explicitly state it.

Several of my bullet points already address this:

  • Gave brown bag talks on our product's back-end architecture (Java 11 with Kafka and Zookeeper) to onboard an audience of 50+ engineers to our product
  • Led whiteboarding design sessions with product, UX, and engineers to ensure cross-functional alignment
  • Pair programmed with junior engineers to onboard them and in turn make my team as productive as possible

My final point of training senior engineers could stand to show business impact, though:

  • Trained a team of 6 senior engineers that were transitioning from C# to Java which expedited a complete rewrite of our message aggregator

Put It All Together

If you follow this method, you will end up with a verbose record of everything that makes you great to work with. That's great! Now comes the challenge of fitting it into your resume.

Some things you can consider:

How much detail should I give?

Resumes are short and you'll likely need to tailor down your bullet points. This method produces a lot of details because it's easier to trim down a bullet point than it is to bulk it up. Another benefit is that if you are sending out multiple versions of your resume, you can pick which details are relevant to each audience. When you're trimming a bullet point, the question to ask is, "what's the minimum information I need to give that will make the reader see that I did an awesome thing?"

Here's how I edited the following 3 bullet points into 1:

  • Gave brown bag talks on our product's back-end architecture (Java 11 with Kafka and Zookeeper) to onboard an audience of 50+ engineers to our product
  • Led whiteboarding design sessions with product, UX, and engineers to ensure cross-functional alignment
  • Pair programmed with junior engineers to onboard them and in turn make my team as productive as possible

End result:

  • Mentored junior engineers and provided hands-on support with tech talks, whiteboarding sessions, and pair programming

How did I decide what to cut out? I looked at what was redundant with other information on my resume.

  • Gave brown bag talks on our product's back-end architecture (Java 11 with Kafka and Zookeeper) to onboard an audience of 50+ engineers to our product

My work with Java is mentioned elsewhere on my resume, and the size of my department is established in another bullet point.

  • Led whiteboarding design sessions with product, UX, and engineers to ensure cross-functional alignment

Working cross-functionally is established in another bullet point.

  • Pair programmed with junior engineers to onboard them and in turn make my team as productive as possible

This was cut for length.

Other resume sections

These tips primarily apply to bullets going under the "Work Experience" section of your resume, but you can use this same method on other sections, too. My "Other Skills" section lists 4 traits/behaviors of mine that make me a nice engineer to work with. Those bullet points are things like "Passionate about documentation" and "Leaves lot of code comments" and they came up while I was generating my work experience bullet points, but they didn't quite fit anywhere on my resume.

You could also use this method to bulk up your resume summary. If yours sounds dry, then try throwing in the top trait of yours that makes you an awesome engineer to work with. Mine was "Always eager to learn and teach others."

Summary

The steps to writing a storytelling resume are:

  • Learn your story and know what you're looking for
  • Brag about yourself like your favorite co-worker would brag about you
  • Turn that brag into some bullet points
  • Elaborate on the bullet points using who/what/when/where/why/how
  • Trim out any redundancy

Discussion (10)

pic
Editor guide
Collapse
vinuvignesh profile image
Collapse
bege13mot profile image
Иван

Hi Sam,

Thank you for the article. Which tool did you use to generate this resume from the raw text?

Collapse
techdebtor profile image
sam Author

I used Canva. It's free and they have a great selection of pre-made resumes you can use as templates.

Collapse
pavelloz profile image
Paweł Kowalski • Edited

Thank you very much for your insights. This post will change lives. For the better.

Collapse
harshanas profile image
Harshana Serasinghe

Thank you for the great explanation. This will be really helpful for me.

Collapse
naveens16 profile image
Naveen.S

This is an absolutely valuable tips for all the beginners. You really laid the content in very simple way.

Collapse
xarala221 profile image
Ousseynou Diop

Thank you, very helpful tips.

Collapse
jolo profile image
JoLo

Hi Sam,

Thanks for your great post which inspired me to write my own one.
If you like, check it out :)
dev.to/jolo/how-i-used-css-grid-fo...

Cheers.

Collapse
peppermint_juli profile image
Juliana Jaime 🎃

Hi Sam!! Thank you so much for sharing this precious info! My resume looks SO good now, thanks to all your tips!!

Collapse
ankur97119974 profile image
Ankur

hey sam , thanks for your above post and concise . great work

one more thing how can i download this resume in doc format?