Keara Fortson’s project-management experience told her to focus on the bottom line, but her resume writer helped her to balance numbers with the whole story.
By Don Sears
Quantify your return on investment, career experts say. Show results, numbers and accomplishments.
But are resumes more than that?
Well, they should be if you want to get noticed and receive calls about opportunities and interviews, says certified professional resume writer Wendy Haylett, who works with TheLadders.
In her 25-year career as a resume writer, Haylett said, she has seen countless examples of resumes that aren't telling nearly enough about the context of the work performed. "I'm consistently seeing missing stories from clients. ... There is a lot of focus on results, but not enough on situations and context," she said.
That was the missing piece for resume client Keara Forston, a senior project manager in health-care information technology.
In a project manager's resume, focusing on results would seem like the right way to go. Right? How much did you save the company? Were you under budget? Were you on time or early? All key questions you need to answer, and then some.
Her resume was not short on accomplishments, results or certifications; it was short on situations. Forston, whose resume was redone in April by Haylett, was recently hired as a project manager with Reston, Va.-based High Performance Technologies Inc., which works on federal technology projects.
The emphasis on results, while a must-have, is a balancing act that shouldn't overshadow the significance of situations. "Keara had solid results info but had a pretty weak summary profile," Haylett said. "I needed to know what made her different."
A grimy window vs. a soiled window
Job seekers sometimes have difficulty recognizing the importance of that contextual information. "If I get some resistance (from a client), I tell them, 'OK, let's say that you were telling your spouse when she came home that you cleaned the windows. OK, no big deal, right? But what if there had been a fire next door the night before, and your windows were caked with soot? Wouldn't that be something important to know?' "
As an example, Haylett pointed to the generic opening language in Forston's old resume:
Proven ability to motivate and guide diverse teams to meet organizational expectations. Strong talent for observing and learning quickly, highly motivated and able to take on challenging projects with effective interpersonal and leadership skills. Consistently recognized by senior management for exceptional achievement.
"That language could have been used for an administrator or anyone, honestly," Haylett said. "This was not the story. I found out she was a senior-level project and program manager who had 15 direct reports and helped save a stalled-for-a-year regulatory project, among other things."
Stop withholding the whole story
To a resume subject, completing a questionnaire sometimes feels like yet another formality she’d rather leave to the writer. After all, she is paying for a service. But only the client knows the context the writer needs to tell the real story. Once Forston found the time, she cranked out a few pages of very useful information about projects she’d led. While it took some digging Forston felt good about the experience.
Forston’s information let Haylett craft the resume to prove Forston’s unique value. Haylett was able to inform the resume profile and top half of the resume so that it was easily scannable and showcased Forston’s specialties in project management, computer systems and health care.
"The top half of Page One was something I really focused on improving," Haylett said. The new Project / Program Management profile now reads:
SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER with more than five years of program management office development and leadership in system development guiding healthcare IT data management and reporting. Record of success driving mandated or needed organizational change — instrumental in development of PMO policy and artificates used to structure project implementation in a newly-developed PMO.
Manage high visibility, enterprise-wide projects with a consistent record of success streamlining procedures and documentation to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of people and process. Consistent ability to dive deep into the details while maintaining a big picture perspective for steady program leadership. Known for quickly bridging the communication gap between business and IT resources, while driving consensus to achieve program and corporate goals. MBA in Project Leadership and Development with additional competencies
A story-telling resume lands a dream job
"I was a little skeptical of the experience at first," Forston said. "But within about a week of putting this new resume out there, I was getting calls from recruiters and companies. … I had my old resume out there, and I just wasn't getting responses."
The new resume worked well enough for Forston to migrate from one job to the next seamlessly.
"I wanted to get out of health care from the insurance side," she said. "And so now (with the new resume), I'm on the technology side of the house with a health-care aspect, which is exactly what I wanted."