How to Communicate Difficult Stories on Your Resume

by Safani, Barbara Monday, December 21, 2009
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My son just recently celebrated his birthday. It is a tradition in our family to tell our kids the story of the day they were born each year on their birthday. And while I’ve been telling my son this story for the past 13 years, it has always been somewhat sanitized. You see, my son’s birth was particularly hairy and what seemed like a routine delivery quickly turned into an emergency. For awhile, the doctors didn’t know if he would survive the birth. So every year I’ve pretty much glossed over this part of the story, thinking it would be too scary for him to hear. But this year, I decided he was ready to hear the whole story.

I encourage my clients to tell me authentic stories about their work experiences so I can craft a strong resume for them. Frequently, they shy away from telling stories about disastrous departments, sluggish sales, failed projects, or difficult relationships because they think their story has to be sanitized in order to be acceptable to a hiring manager. But I disagree. Job seekers can show their ability to influence positive outcomes, even when the deck is stacked against them and business conditions are exceptionally challenging. Here are some examples of such situations and how information can be presented in a positive way under challenging circumstances.

Selling in a challenging market…

• Secured sales meetings with 80% of target audience; successfully introduced products and services despite inherent obstacles including saturated and shrinking market.

Providing leadership in environments plagued with infighting…

• Successfully broke down business silos and improved information sharing across cross- functional teams by creating an open and transparent work environment to foster collaboration.

Salvaging a damaged client relationship…

• Reversed strained client relationship that was damaged due to a previous producer’s missed deadline by quickly mobilizing team resources to shave close to 75% off the normal project completion time.

Preparing for a failed company’s closing…

• Developed a liquidation strategy that maximized profit margin from inventory and kept vendors and staff engaged until final closing.

Managing poor performers…

• Reversed performance issues for a struggling employee who went on to become the division’s #1 account executive and ranked in the top-ten firm-wide.

What are your harrowing work stories and what positive outcomes can be drawn from them?

On the day my son was born, during labor the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. Oxygen wasn’t going to his brain. The doctors performed an emergency C-section and time was so critical that they had to start the procedure before the anesthesia kicked in. And while I don’t love remembering that part of the story, I certainly do love the end result which was a healthy baby. Happy 14th birthday to my positive outcome, Darius!