THE BLOG
06/29/2010 04:45 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Help Me Write a Great Resume Bullet!

Dear Liz,

I've never liked "puffing myself up" and always hated resumes for that reason. How can I say I'm an expert at anything when there's always so much to learn (especially in my field)?

Thanks,

Maggie

Dear Maggie,

The good news is that we don't have to puff ourselves up in a resume. We can tell stories. The story lets the reader know what we've done and lets him or her decide whether we're a good fit. When we focus on the stories, we don't need to stand back and praise ourselves. Stories also get across our abilities much more powerfully than our suspect self-assessments do. "I negotiated a $50K discount in our $175K annual office-supplies order" is a gazillion times stronger than "Strong negotiating skills." We tend to believe the first person because s/he's specific. About the second person, we may think "Well, I'm glad you're impressed with your own negotiating skills."

Take care,

Liz

Dear Liz,

The storytelling part is the tough part for me. But I'm doing my best. I never thought of asking the money I saved my employers and/or clients, and now of course it's too late. Wish I'd done that. Hmm...

Thanks,

Maggie

Dear Maggie,

It's not too late to tell stories about our past jobs, or figure out what we saved employers or clients in the past. You don't need to know the exact dollar savings or the revenue your employers realized from your work. We can extrapolate. As long as we could make a reasonable case for the calculation that gave us the number on our resume (if asked - and that's not likely) we are good to go. Here's a way to think about that economic value: remember the pain that got your employer to give you a certain assignment in the first place. What was wrong? Now imagine what that problem was costing the employer in lost sales or added expense, per month. Post another question if you're not sure how to get those numbers.

Best,

Liz

Dear Liz,

Ok, here's a real world example: 15+ years ago I was the admin assistant at a hospital. One of the nurses noticed my design skills, and asked me to redesign one of the hospitals business forms. So I did, and found it fun. She was part of the Business Forms Committee, at the time, and after that form I became the designer for the committee. I can't remember how many business forms I designed, and redesigned, but it became a hospital-wide project.

At one point, the Print Room called me asking how I was designing the business forms, and if I was using the software they were using. I told him I was designing the forms in Microsoft Word (and Excel when necessary). He wasn't too happy about that, and a few months later, it was understandable why. The hospital no longer needed the Print Room, and software for designing business forms. They were also able to cut the team that only handled this area.

I haven't a clue how much money I saved the hospital. By designing the forms in Word and Excel, each department was able to print the forms when necessary and no longer had to wait for them to be printed downstairs.

Thanks,

Maggie

Dear Maggie,

Great example! That's tremendous. You saved the hospital at least $100k/year in print room expenses by pioneering desktop publishing. The fact that you sort of fell into it is a wonderful part of the story. (I feel sorry for the guy, but if he had been a bit more up on what's going on in the content world he would have been better prepared.) Your resume bullet might look like this (it'll depend on what title you had there, and what sorts of jobs you're looking for now):

- I designed one business form in Word, leading to the assignment to re-design forms across the hospital and ultimately, move all business form design to the desktop, saving $100K+/year

Extrapolating the numbers (savings, in this case) is the easy part. You've already done the harder part, recalling the stories. We're so trained to say "I answered calls, I went to meetings" that it's easy for us to forget killer stories like yours! Way to go, Maggie!

Liz

p.s. My online courses "Put a Human Voice in Your Resume" and "Build Your Personal Brand" kick off this week. There's more info here.