Resumes used to be cold boring documents that listed the jobs people had and for how long. The first time I saw a resume in high school (when objective statements were still in) I did not understand how a piece of paper could sell something as complex as a person.

Resumes do not need to be cold business documents. They can be celebrated documents that highlight your professional accomplishments and tell your career story.

As a resume writer and playwright, I use many playwriting rules when I craft a resume.

1. Format Matters

When a writer submits their play for production consideration, they follow a strict layout standard. Spacing is important, as are dialogue, action description and even the font. Scripts that do not adhere to the format, do not get read. The rules are there for ease of reading, and demonstrate that the writer knows her/his craft.

Resume formatting is important. The loveliest keywords cannot make up for a bad format. Give the reader some white space, a readable font, and ensure that the font that doesn’t date you too much (eg. don’t use times new roman). Some categories that are expected on every resume including a profile, work experience, and education. A badly formatted resume makes you look unorganized.

2. Write it to be Read

While a play is ultimately intended to be performed live on the stage, it needs to be created with a reader in mind. It needs to clearly describe the environment in which the action takes place. It is the same for resumes, set the reader up to understand the type of place you did your work. If you worked in an unconventional workplace, provide a scope statement that lets the reader know what the workplace was like (how many employees, what type of business).
There has been a movement to ensure that your resume can be scanned by ATS systems, but at the end of that system is a human who will read the resume. Make it enjoyable by being clear and telling a story.

3. Every play must have exposition, complication and resolution.

Every play provides the audience with background information called exposition. Plays also include a complication or obstacle that needs to be overcome or dealt with. Finally, the drama works to be resolved.

Your resume is actually all exposition, but it cannot simply be a list of tasks. Have you been to a play where the main character goes on and on about where they come from and it is boring and you want them to just get on with it? Don’t do that on your resume. Explain your background by showing how you overcame obstacles and show the result.

The result is important. In plays, it gives the audience closure. While some plays purposely leave unanswered questions for the audience to mull over, they aren’t always the most liked. You don’t want to frustrate the reader – include your results in your resume. Provide resolution.

4. Each play has a character that wants something.

Plays are driven by what a character or characters want. It is the same for resume. Why are you writing this resume? To get an ideal job. Use the document to show that you want a particular job with that particular company, what you have done that qualifies you for the job and what skills you will use. Make sure to show those skills in action. The other character in your job search is the hiring manager. Write with their needs in mind. What story or information do they need to see to call you for an interview?

5. Every scene should advance the story.

In a play, every scene builds on the one before it. The same goes for resumes, ensure there is a sense of structure to the way you show your accomplishments and there is a career story to follow. If you find every bullet point is just you saying the same point over and over again, you need to go deeper.

6. Learn to cut what you love.

There are times in playwriting when I write a line that I think is quite beautiful or funny. When my dramaturg (a playwriting coach) sees the line, he crosses it out. It would hurt because it was a beautiful line, it was art, but he would argue it didn’t add to the story, or it was out of line with the character’s personality. I had to cut it.

I know you have jobs and stories to share that you are proud of and love. But, they don’t all need to be on your resume, especially if they aren’t strategic. I have a document called “Lines I have Loved and Cut” that is full of great phrases that could be used in the future.


7. Show, don’t Tell

Lastly, show the reader the action instead of telling them. Just like a character who is scared on stage shows more by hiding under their bed, than saying “I am afraid”; you show more about your qualifications by demonstrating the skill through storytelling than just listing it as a skill with no context.

I am all about helping people use their stories to land new jobs, and if they don’t know what kind of job, I help with that too. I also love crafting resume with people. Resumes that are fun to write and that will show off your skills in the right way. You can hire me to review, edit or write your resume. Email me at kerri@career-stories.com

If you know someone working on their resume, share this with them.