Fire Up Your Resume With Dragon-Slaying Stories

If you were shipwrecked on an island in the middle of the ocean, you would need a way to communicate with the outside world. You might write an SOS on a piece of paper, put the message in an empty bottle, cork up the bottle and put it in ocean.

You’d send off your message in a bottle hoping that it might reach someone who could rescue you. The message and the bottle would be your ambassadors, since you couldn’t get off the island yourself. Your tiny bottle bobbing in the vast ocean would carry a lot of weight in your mind, because it would be your conduit to salvation.

Your resume has the same function in your job search that your message in a bottle has in your rescue. Your resume conveys everything you’ve done professionally to people who don’t know you yet.

Your resume has to bridge the gap between you and a hiring manager who hasn’t met you. Your resume has to make the introduction for you, since you can’t do it yourself.

You don’t have permission to get a ladder and climb in your hiring manager’s office window to have a chat about the job he or she is trying to fill.

You have to wait until you’re invited to an interview to get your story across. In order to reach that point, your resume has to carry your message for you.

Your resume has a big job to do, and that’s why it’s essential for your resume to have as much life and personality in it as possible. Dates, titles and job descriptions carry no emotional weight. They put a reader to sleep.

The worst thing your resume can do is to make you sound like every other job-seeker, but most of us have been taught to write a resume in the dullest and least human way imaginable. As a result, nearly all resumes look alike. We can’t tell one from the next! Every job-seeker sounds like another Star Wars battle drone.

Dragon-Slaying Stories are colorful human stories that bring your power across on the page. Dragon-Slaying Stories allow the reader — that is, your possible next boss — to feel that he or she is right there, watching you slay (or tame) a fearsome dragon at one of your past jobs. Here’s how Dragon-Slaying Stories compare to standard resume stories:

Traditional Resume Story

I was instrumental on a task force that devised and implemented written standards for cross-functional communication of Quality protocols for two operating units.

Lord have mercy! Can you imagine reading pages of zombie language like this every day on the job, for years? I’ve been an HR person since 1984. I’ve been reading zombie resumes for all that time.

You can’t get any sense of the person behind the resume through that dense thicket of bureaucratic language. The real you is hidden away! We have no idea that a living, breathing person is behind a resume written in such a robotic style.

Reading a traditional resume, I get no sense of any of the things I’m dying to know about you, like these:

  • Why did you decide to pursue any of the projects listed on your resume? What difference did those projects make for your employer when they were completed?
  • Apart from the vague term ‘instrumental role on the team’, what did you actually do in the project? Did you bring coffee to the status meetings, or what exactly?
  • Who cared, in the end, when each project you’ve described was completed? Why was the project a ‘win?’

What’s missing from traditional resume stories is context. Reading about one of your projects in a standard resume, we don’t have the foggiest clue whether you had huge impact on your last employer’s success or no effect whatsoever.

We’ve been trained to write resumes in this deadly boring, context-free way. We’ve been trained to write things like “I created our agency’s first volunteer database.”

That tells us nothing useful. Was anyone concerned that the agency didn’t have a volunteer database before? Did they need a database like that?

My cynical North Jersey brain pictures people walking by your desk and muttering under their breath, “There’s Rich working on that volunteer database again. The poor guy is so excited about it, I hate to tell him we don’t have any volunteers.”

Here’s a Dragon-Slaying Story describing the same project:

After we got funding to have volunteers distribute sleeping bags to homeless people, I built and maintained a database that tracked our volunteers, scheduled their shifts and allowed us to communicate with them instantly.

Right away your story becomes more interesting when you tell us why you did what you did. We can see the bigger picture in your story now.

Because Dragon-Slaying Stories are so information-packed, you only need one or two of them for each of the past jobs you’ve held.

A Dragon-Slaying Story is a story about a time when you made a difference. You could have had that impact over months on a big project, or you may have saved the day in twenty-five minutes one random Thursday afternoon.

Here are examples of Dragon-Slaying Stories that tell us not just what you did, butwhy — and why it mattered:

  • In my manager’s absence, I talked our biggest customer through a thorny billing issue and saved his $100K/year account.
  • When our two biggest rivals merged, I launched a grassroots email marketing campaign that grew sales 200% to $1.5M the next quarter.

We’ve been told to list our tasks and duties in a resume, but that is terrible advice. We can extrapolate your tasks and duties from your past job titles. Instead of tasks and duties, tell us what you came, saw and conquered on each job. Tell us what you left in your wake!

You can use Dragon-Slaying Stories in your Human-Voiced Resume, and you can tell your Dragon-Slaying Stories on interviews, too. You don’t have to wait for a question that starts with “Tell me about a time when….”

You can answer an ordinary interview question with a Dragon-Slaying Story. Interviewers remember stories way better than they remember facts and statistics!

INTERVIEWER: How long have you been using Excel?

YOU: Great question! I’d never laid eyes on Excel until I started at Acme Explosives. I had to fix some reports for our VP, so I gave myself a crash course in Excel using Youtube videos. Then I got sucked in and learned more from a copy of Excel for Dummies I bought for a buck at a thrift shop. Now I teach Excel to our customer service reps. I wrote my first eBook about how to use macros, last year. I love Excel!

We have to feel sorry for the job applicant who left just a few minutes before you walked in, because when the same interviewer asked her “How long have you been using Excel?” the poor thing said “About a year.”

How would anyone remember that wan answer after hearing your Excel-focused Dragon-Slaying Story? Look how much context is packed into your answer:

  • You’d never used Excel before, but your manager gave you an Excel-related project to complete for an executive, and you dove right into it.
  • Once you did what your manager asked you to do, you didn’t go back into the fog with respect to Excel. You stepped up, went to a thrift shop and paid a dollar for a book that otherwise costs twenty bucks.
  • You used your one-dollar book to teach yourself Excel to such a high level of proficiency that you teach it to other people now! You invested the time and energy to get good at something that a lot of people need help with. You are a rock star. It comes through loud and clear in your story.

Dragon-Slaying Stories bring your experiences to life. They show how you roll, and that’s the most important thing for an interviewer to learn about you.

But wait a second here, Liz,automated recruiting sites don’t care about my colorful Dragon-Slaying Stories. They just want keywords!

You are right on that count, my darling, and that’s why I warn job-seekers away from those pestilent Applicant Tracking Systems. All the juice and fizz you build into your resume through Dragon-Slaying Stories is wasted on those Black Hole recruiting portals.

Forget those things, and write to your own hiring manager directly with a pithy Pain Letter, instead.

But what about me, Liz? I’m only 23, and I don’t have any Dragon-Slaying Stories!

You have them, I guarantee it – you just don’t realize it. Your Dragon-Slaying Stories could come from school, from your life outside of work or from a high school or college job, like baby-sitting or shoveling snow.

Here are examples of Dragon-Slaying Stories written by people your age:

  • When our sorority house was flooded, I found lodging for all 42 of us at two local hotels and worked with the claims adjuster to get our house repaired.
  • After missing the first half of my senior year due to illness, I made up the lost credits taking online classes and graduated with honors.
  • When my boss was away I scheduled fourteen new landscaping jobs and got crews to all of them, on top of my regular landscaping duties.
  • In my first week on the job, I cleaned out the storage room and found a cache of photos that we’re using on our website now, saving over $20,000.

The great thing about Dragon-Slaying Stories is that unlike dry, monotonous listings of Skills, they tell us what you think is significant. That’s important!

When you tell us a Dragon-Slaying Story, we can see that not only do you have skills, but also that you know when and how to jump in and use them when the situation requires it. Dragon-Slaying Stories make your awesomeness clear to people who don’t know you. That’s what your resume is supposed to do!

Remember, your resume is your message in a bottle. It has to carry your story across the waves!

Why not pull up your resume now and add some of your amazing Dragon-Slaying Stories to it? The people who know you are already familiar with your fantastic ideas, your brains and your capabilities.

Your friends know how awesome you are, but lots of people don’t. Why not let the rest of the world in on the secret?

2 replies
  1. Jeniffer
    Jeniffer says:

    Great article, I am now working towards building my resume and I am getting loads of ideas from your articles.
    I would like however to ask with regards to the section with the example in where interviewer ask the question “How long have you been using Excel? “, how do you know or gage if the interviewer actually wants to hear a story with your answer? my impression is that some people might not really want to hear a whole history but just straight answer, is it ok for me to always provide long answers while in a interview ? or might I come across as being too chatty?

    thanks and regards


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  1. […] Human-Voiced Resume uses quick Dragon-Slaying Stories to tell your hiring manager how you came, saw and conquered at each job you’ve […]

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