Has your resume lost the plot? Consciously or subconsciously, we are always looking for patterns, for plotlines that we can relate to. We want to be told a story.

Understanding this can be the key to a persuasive, memorable, stand-out resume.

When an employer reads your resume, they are looking for a clear narrative. Even when quickly scanning for key skills, they want to see a chronological path that your career has taken. The human brain loves stories.

Recruiters want to see where you worked last, where you worked before that, how has your role or job titles changed between positions. What is the trajectory? Where are you headed?

That is why the vast majority of employers say that they prefer chronological resumes over functional ones. Clear chronology builds credibility. It tells a story that the reader can relate to. It has a plot.

In his guide to writing, Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forester writes of how the essential element of a plot is causality. Things don’t just randomly happen, there’s a reason they happen. A cause.

    “A plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality – ‘The king died and then the queen died’ is a story. But ‘the king died and then the queen died of grief’ is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it.”

When tailoring your resume for a new job, show causality. Explain how your career has progressed, leading from one job logically to the next, building towards the job you are applying for.

    “I was promoted to manager of X, because of the results I delivered in Y.”

    “When my team won the A Award, I was approached by company B to head up their new division.”

    “I took what I had learned as a successful head of sales, and transitioned into fund raising in the not-for-profit sector, because I wanted to do more meaningful work at this point in my career. I want to contribute to a cause.”

Nowadays, people change jobs roughly every two years. Job hopping is the new normal, so this should no longer be a resume red flag. It is important however, to show that you job hopped thoughtfully. There was a reason for career moves. You are building a career and making job changes that allow you to take on increased responsibility, learn new skills, or transition closer to an ultimate goal.

Haphazardly jumping from job to job can make you appear to have lost the plot. Which makes you seem like an unstable employee and a poor choice to hire.

Remember your story line, and be prepared to explain the progression in interviews too. Employers will want to hear why you left various jobs along the way, so make sure you can speak to well-plotted career moves and what you have learned from them. Keep your story straight. Inconsistencies between multiple interviews, or your resume and interview can kill your credibility.

When you want to be convincing and memorable, tell someone an authentic, relatable story. A well-written resume plots this out for your career – and the essential element of that plot is its causality.


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter

See also:
So, what are you going to do with that English degree?
How to tell a story
The biggest mistake on a resume (and how to create a masterpiece)
Perfect your texts: How to create error-free documents every time