Some years ago, I worked on a large career transition project for a state railway authority. This was one of those situations where the organisation was downsizing, had “spilled” all the technical and engineering jobs, and had given employees the chance to re-apply for them.

Anyone who has gone through a process likes this knows how difficult it can be, if you have not seen it coming and are not ready for it. First, there is the shock of potentially losing your job if your application isn’t successful. Then, there are the emotions associated with competing for fewer jobs against your colleagues and mates; not to mention the need to write an application and prove to your employer that you are worthy of re-employing. Without doubt, this can be one of most difficult situations for people to confront at work.

My job was to assist employees to write their résumés and prepare for interviews for the jobs that were left. Alan was one of the (mostly) men that I helped. He had worked for the railways for 36 years, having started as a labourer maintaining tracks, then becoming a gang leader. Alan then moved into an inside job as a trainee  technical draughtsman; gained his tech qualifications and had worked in the drafting team for the previous 9 years.

Alan came along to one of the career transition seminars provided for affected staff. At the seminars, staff were given advice about how to adopt a positive attitude and prepare themselves for the process ahead. They were given a guidebook with tips about how to write an application and prepare for interviews; then told to make an appointment with their designated consultant for individual assistance.

Alan and I met the next day. He had worked through the night to prepare a draft resume for us to discuss. What he handed me was extraordinary – a 36 page document containing detailed descriptions of every job he had, every course he had attended, the full range of hobbies and interests he had over the years, and details about his immediate and extended family. It was as if Alan had written his life story and I was riveted. It was, like all people’s lives, so interesting in its uniqueness.

The truth was that Alan had never written a résumé, let alone one that was no more than 4 pages long, as was required for this process. As Alan described his experience,  we highlighted the skills and capabilities that he had to offer, and the key examples or stories that illustrated his successes and his claims to the position he was applying for.

Stories can transform the facts of your career into rich, clear and compelling accounts of your challenges and successes. In Alan’s case there was so much material to work with. It took a while and much perseverance but he produced a good application and navigated the interview to remain employed at the railways – an organisation he was deeply committed to – albeit in a slightly different job. For several of his work mates however, the result was not as good. But that’s another story…


Here are 8 tips to use your stories to best effect in your résumé:

  • include a career summary right near the top of the first page – this gives you the opportunity to tell your story, highlighting your particular skills and achievements relevant to the position being applied for
  • your education and qualifications are a really important part of your story as well – include relevant details on the front page
  • in concise paragraphs (ideally, two to three lines) highlight your achievements, quantifying them where possible
  • ensure key words relevant to the advertisement are used throughout
  • keep your résumé to 3 pages (4 at most), remembering that it needs to deliver its key points in a 30 seconds scan by recruiters
  • I know it sounds obvious but please check that spelling and grammar is correct
  • present it in an easy-to-read format
  • ensure it is targeted to the particular job, highlighting the particular aspects of your stories and experience that matter most

Just in closing, I’d like to introduce you to my son Nick.  As well as being a student and working full-time, Nick  is a musician and song-writer. Here are a few lines from one of his songs:

How have you made a difference? How have you made your mark?

Everyone has a story, Most of which goes untold

Now … behold!

Until next time, go well.