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How to Write a Narrative Resume

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You've probably heard this disturbing statistic: Hiring managers tend to spend less than one minute reading your resume to decide whether to keep it or toss it. With so little time spent on the particulars, managers and recruiters tend to recommend against using the narrative resume, since it requires hiring managers to spend time reading a potentially long document instead of skimming over a list of bullet points. If you think the narrative resume is the format for you, some recruiters recommend using it as just one part of your application packet, accompanying a longer, bullet-point document that details your work experience, education and other pertinent details.

The Purpose

If you're choosing this type of resume format, remember why you're doing it. Narrative resumes allow you to tell a cohesive story that can tie together your career better than a bullet-point list of the jobs you've held and the volunteer experiences you've had. Think of it as a "one-page novel" of your life, suggests Pamela Slim, author of "Body of Work: Finding the Thread That Ties Your Story Together," in an article in "Chicago Tribune." Narrative resumes should be well written, so if you don't consider yourself a good writer, be sure to get some help from friends or colleagues who will be willing to edit your prose or help you make the document the best it can be.

What to Include

Before you start writing anything, think about the overall message you are trying to convey. In the "Tribune" article, Slim advises you to explore the ideas that drive you and what changes you'd like to see in the world, to list out the skills and life experiences that have shaped you, and to detail where you've found the most success and fulfillment. Also think about where you want to go in the next stage of your career. You might start by writing the headings "Inspirations," "My Unique Traits" and "My Future" on a piece of paper, and then adding a list of ideas under each heading.

Use Short Paragraphs

Use those three headings and the details you've written out to craft one paragraph under each heading. Poorly formatted resumes are hard for managers to read, so try to keep your paragraphs short. Long paragraphs tend to bore the reader, reminds Alison Green, author of the "Ask a Manager" blog. This is a narrative resume, but that narrative doesn't have to be boring. Keep dates out of this document; you can add those relevant dates in the bullet-point resume you'll include with this document.

Formatting That Stands Out

While you're writing a resume that's decidedly a departure from the standard format, there's no harm in adding a few elements to help the pertinent information stand out. All resumes need to include specific keywords that pertain to the job at hand – particularly because a lot of companies now use automated search engines to weed out resumes that don't contain relevant keywords. Look to the job posting to find the words managers might be looking for, and then include them where you can. For example, if a hiring manager wants someone who is independent or a self starter, definitely include the words "independent" or "self starter" in the narrative. To really make those keywords stand out, you might also opt to put them in bold type.


Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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