By Natalie Berkiw-Scenna, PMP
August 2, 2022
Project management is one of the most exciting careers. It’s an expanding field of expertise across every industry, and it presents us with limitless opportunities.
But how do we compete in an ever-growing, competitive space?
Together, we’re going to explore how you can leverage the art of storytelling the next time you’re building your resume to set yourself apart from your competition and land that next dream role.
The Project Management Resume
As someone who’s sat on both sides of the hiring table and have personally interviewed countless project managers over the years, I have seen thousands of resumes cross my desk. With this unrestricted access, I have a unique perspective that is valuable for you to know the next time you’re looking to have your resume stand out from the rest.
The reality is this, we make up an incredibly talented and skilled group of professionals. We’re given the challenging task of taking on complex projects, breaking them down into manageable tasks and activities, and leading diverse groups through to project completion. So, how does someone reviewing all these project management rockstar resumes select the top contenders to interview?
As project managers, we have the good fortune of being highly analytical and task-oriented, and these skills serve us well when we are managing and leading our projects. However, we need to start thinking differently when we’re looking to develop a great resume that truly showcases who we are, what our personal brand is, and what unique skills we bring to the table. This is where storytelling comes into play.
Self-Assessing Your Resume
Consider asking yourself this. When was the last time you did a personal assessment on your resume? Does your resume read like a project status report? Approximately 90% of project management resumes are written as bulleted lists that highlight key activities completed within each position. These are valid and provide the resume reviewer a decent view into your background and experience. However, 10% or less of resumes take it a step further and apply storytelling to the same information, allowing the resume reader to immediately visualize the value that this project manager brings. That applicant figuratively jumps off the page, and like a good story, the reader wants to learn more.
So, let’s dig into how you can apply storytelling so that your resume immediately gets noticed.
What is Storytelling?
Storytelling is the art of using words to create an experience for the reader’s imagination. It invokes emotion. And as humans, we all love a good story. In fact, we crave it, and it makes us feel connected to others. Have you ever read a really good book where the author did a great job of describing the main character and you immediately connected with the storyline? In fact, you probably couldn’t stop turning the pages because you wanted to learn more about what happens next.
Well, in this case, you’re both the author and the main character. It’s up to you to bring your character to life so that you entice the reader (the resume reviewer) to want to learn more about you. Like any good story, you need a character (you), a conflict or challenge (your projects and initiatives), and a resolution (the outcome and the value). Your goal should be for the person reviewing the resume to say, “Wow, this looks like a great candidate. I have to bring this person in for an interview to learn about how they did that.”
How to Apply Storytelling
When applying storytelling to your resume, this is all about showcasing the value that you bring that sets you apart. You can apply storytelling in your resume with a simple formula: Leading Word + Accomplishment + Value.
Start with a great leading word, describe what you accomplished (or a challenge you overcame), and then describe the value of that accomplishment. Let me give you a few real examples that highlight the differences between resume content without and with storytelling.
Here are two examples of task-oriented items I see on many resumes, without storytelling:
- “Developed a governance model for this project.”
- “Collected project and process data and presented it to key stakeholders.”
Now, here are a few similar examples with storytelling applied:
- “Championed the development and implementation of a new governance model and department leadership structure that included the consolidation of several programs which resulted in improved advocacy efforts for fundraising, elevated the promotion of the overall brand, and supported greater decision-making.”
- “Aligned and positioned the data collection of our call center improvement project with our organization’s key metrics and KPIs, and clearly demonstrated how our implementation directly transformed the overall satisfaction of our customers and led to both increased revenue per client and greater customer retention.”
Can you feel the difference? By leveraging the art of storytelling, you allow your accomplishments to instantly catch the attention of the reviewer.
Some other great leading words include accelerated, achieved, cultivated, engaged, facilitated, initiated, leveraged, navigated, resolved, spearheaded, transformed, etc. to name a few.
The next time you’re building your resume, select the projects and accomplishments that you’re most proud of, and then, bring each of those situations to life by describing the value. When you start writing these out, don’t worry about the length initially or the amount of detail that you add. You can continue to clean this up and refine the content throughout your editing process. Just start by telling the story around each accomplishment and its importance. Remember, this is not the time to be modest and downplay your achievements. This is the time to find your inner author and show the reader why you are the perfect candidate for the job.
Whether you’re a seasoned project manager or just starting out in your career, I invite you to consider leveraging this simple formula and the art of storytelling the next time you’re updating your resume so that you stand out and shine.
Be the hero in your resume story. Your possibilities are limitless, and it’s time to get you noticed.
Want to learn more? This article is based on a module from a brand new, comprehensive course called, “Supercharge Your Project Management Career,” where I outline how to complete a detailed, personal self-assessment to define your core values, personal motivators, ideal work environment, and skills and strengths, define your personal brand, develop your LinkedIn profile, explore opportunities for networking and building relationships, resume writing and tips, and preparing for your next project management interview.
Consultant and Trainer, International Institute for Learning
With well over 20 exciting years of project management experience, Natalie Berkiw-Scenna brings her passion and guidance to support other project managers to grow their careers through mentorship, coaching and education.
She brings her wealth of knowledge and expertise from her PMP and Lean designations, and years of leading complex, strategic projects. Her book, Unleash Your Meeting Potential™, can be found in retailers around the world. She also launched this material as an online course after teaching this valuable content to several MBA programs and at various educational events and symposiums including IIL’s 2021 International Project Management Day.
Natalie has international project experience in both Canada and the United States, and has worked primarily in the healthcare and non-profit sectors. She currently provides her expertise to Beaumont Health in Michigan. In her spare time, she focuses on training and coaching others to build their confidence and credibility to take their careers to the next level.
Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.