In High School, I took a creative writing course as an elective. After all of these years, there is one piece of advice that has stuck with me, which has become central to my career coaching: Show, don’t tell.
My teacher was not shy with the feedback. When my homework was graded and returned, sentences like, “She sat on the comfortable couch” would be replaced with: “She sunk into the overstuffed velour cushions, which seemed to gently wrap around her as she nestled into the well-worn fabric.”
Clearly, the second statement above evokes much greater emotion through the visualization, which makes a stronger connection with the reader. The story and the character are more memorable and seem to “leap” off of the page. The reader can almost feel the comfort of the couch and is drawn into wanting to know more.
This same philosophy applies when writing resumes. Accomplishments that “show” a set of skills versus simply telling the reader about a list of tasks will automatically be more memorable and build a more compelling case. For example:
- Head Sales Manager for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Region, overseeing 12 territories and 14 Sales Reps.
- Drove up annual sales by an average of 23% across 12 territories in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Regions by motivating a team of 14 Sales Reps to exceed quarterly goals in 9 of the last 10 sales cycles, bringing in $7.5M in revenue over the last three years, with over $2.5M in brand new business.
Which statement draws you in and makes a stronger connection? How about this:
- Managed multiple IT projects including overseeing a new operating system roll-out to the entire company.
- Simultaneously managed multiple IT projects with budgets totaling $875k annually including a global implementation of a new Windows operating system to 750 employees across 11 locations in North America and Asia, resulting in more efficient data processing speeds and less than .001% downtime.
While concrete facts like locations, proper names and numbers are great tools for “showing” your accomplishments on a resume and making a connection with the reader, you may not have this information for every role or accomplishment. You can still do a bang up job of “showing versus telling”. For example:
- Scheduled and coordinated the 3-day, annual company-wide meeting.
- Researched event venues, negotiated with caterers and vendors, scheduled travel arrangements across three time zones, and coordinated the daily agenda with the VP of Communications for the 3-day annual company-wide meeting, resulting in a smoothly executed event.
The additional details in the second statement add scope, show a broader skill set, and create an action-based bullet point that conveys the energy that the candidate brought to the event planning. This evokes emotion in the reader and enables her to see that this candidate can handle himself in a chaotic situation.
Your take-away? Review your resume and identify how you can strengthen it by “showing” (versus “telling”) your professional experiences.
Bonus: This strategy also works in an interview when you’re responding to questions. Don’t just rattle off a list of strengths – follow up each one with a brief, concrete example.