CV advice: Don’t just list your skills, tell a story

Storytelling is changing the way candidates and organisations approach the recruiting process. What are the advantages of this?


Experienced candidates are quite familiar with the various procedures involved with recruitment. After all, writing a competent CV has become something of a science, and job interviews are often full of tropes and cliched questions.

As the IT industry encounters frequent disruptions, candidates have the perfect opportunity to reflect these trends in their job applications, through both the way they construct a CV to how they present themselves during interviews.

Conveying knowledge often involves storytelling, which adds context, personalisation and character to candidates’ CVs, and can make candidates stand out significantly among their competitors.

So, how can candidates tell a story, and what does it mean for IT recruitment?

Add context to skills

Companies that post advertisements for specific positions receive a collection of similar applications, with any number of candidates likely to sport the desired attributes and possess the same qualifications.

In these cases, it’s often up to candidates to try and stand out from the crowd. While having unique work experience or a particularly noteworthy qualification is one way to do this, storytelling is becoming an increasingly popular tactic to bring personality to a CV without sacrificing professionalism.

According to CV consultant Blue Sky Resumes, the key for candidates is to not only list their skills or examples of past successes, but also provide context that builds character. When done well, prospective employers are left with an impression of the person they’re looking to hire or interview, rather than just a wall of text.

This context can be anything from producing tangible results for previous employers to customer feedback that indicates a job well done.

What happens in the interview?

Ideally, a well-constructed CV will lead to an interview, which is the next vital stage of the storytelling process. On many occasions, candidates will be prompted to say a little bit about themselves: the perfect introduction to storytelling in an interview.

By adding context, character and appropriate entertainment during their introductions, candidates can then make interviews more personal experiences, rather than interrogations where they simply rattle off a list of skills and qualifications.

According to an article published by The Muse, telling a story during an interview differs greatly from similar events in more informal circumstances. According to the article’s author, Lily Zhang, candidates should introduce the punch line early – or even lead with it – and then back this point up with relevant anecdotes and examples.

Ms Zhang’s advice for telling a story in job interviews mimics the trends seen in CV writing, where context, actions and results are all essential to the success of the process.

How does it affect companies looking for talent?

Of course, candidates aren’t the only ones capable of dictating stories to make themselves more professionally attractive. According to a July blog post by Chris Murphy on Glassdoor, organisations can also differentiate themselves from the competition using these techniques.

Glassdoor says this is particularly valuable advice for organisations that advertise on job listing websites. In these instances, they’re often competing with many other job listings for the attention of hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates. In an environment often dominated by text, visual storytelling elements greatly change the attractiveness of an advertisement.

The author argued that the true value in a story lies not necessarily in how well-crafted it is, but in how many people it can reach and engage. In these cases, the addition of a YouTube video on a job listing that introduces that company is likely to provide a notable point of differentiation compared to those that rely solely on text.

These additions are also more in-line with the digital lives of an organisation’s potential talent pool. According to YouTube, more than half of all video views on the site come from mobile devices, proving the mobile space as a great medium through which to communicate with evolving audiences.

Can storytelling grow your personal brand?

Storytelling is not just limited to these two elements of the recruitment process, and candidates – or even people who aren’t currently looking for jobs – can grow their personal brands through these methods in a number of ways.

An entry on the LinkedIn blog described social media as the ideal place for candidates to grow their influence outside of the recruitment process. In particular, professionally oriented sites such as LinkedIn are designed around the concepts of networking and sharing industry-specific expertise.

People can use this service like a traditional CV, just in digital form. By connecting with their peers and sharing past experiences or thought leadership pieces on the Pulse blog for users, candidates can grow their influence in their industry of choice.