The eighth-century Persian vizier's daughter Scheherazade had to tell 1,001 stories to save her life; all you have to do is tell a handful to get a job interview.

Furthermore, according to Sir Richard Francis Burton, to tell these stories, Scheherazade had to know “the books, annals and legends of preceding kings, and the stories, examples and instances of bygone men and things … a thousand books of histories relating to antique races and departed rulers … the works of the poets … philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments.”

All YOU have to know is your own career history. HER storytelling had to last from dusk ’til dawn; your stories should be no longer than a few lines apiece. Compared to what Scheherazade had to pull off, writing performance stories for your resume (or LinkedIn profile, executive bio or cover letter) is a cakewalk

“But WHY do I have to write performance stories?” you may ask. Since only you have your stories, they’re natural differentiators; they help establish your unique selling proposition, the reason your future boss should hire you instead of the other, equally qualified candidate. What she wants to know is: What’s so special about YOU? Stories provide the answer.

Everyone competing for that creative director gig has “managed senior creative department personnel to develop concepts for overall creative direction in line with brand strategy and consumer insights,” among other boilerplate CD duties.

Your future boss knows what a creative director does; don’t waste her time and precious resume real estate reciting a CD’s responsibilities. What she wants to know is how you FULFILLED those duties differently from and better than the other candidates. A compelling performance story will not only illustrate your preeminent rightness for the position; it will make her remember you. Stories separate you from the pack AND make you stand out in the mind.

Note my use of the word “compelling.” The truth is, you can’t just write a story; you have to write a GOOD story. For our purposes, a good story COMPELS the hiring manager to pick up the phone and call you in for an interview. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, which roughly correspond to a challenge you encountered, how you rose to that challenge, and the results of your action. CHALLENGE, RESPONSE, RESULTS. You can also look at this as “before,” “after” and “how you got from before to after.”

Think like a trade journalist covering the project – consider the who, what, when, where, why and especially how. A compelling performance story tells the tale of a SPECIFIC challenge, response and results; its specificity is supported by vivid details.

If, in a performance story, you’re talking about a product, tell us what the product is (a skateboard, perhaps). If you’re talking about a collaborator, tell us that collaborator’s title (maybe an art director). If you’re talking about a demographic, tell us what that demographic is (could be 18-35).

Unlike Scheherazade’s, your stories don’t have to be long. Four to five lines (or fewer) should do it. 

Here’s a before-and-after example:

BEFORE: “Crafted communications based on strategic creative briefs.” 

AFTER: “In 2013 we spun off a campaign to spotlight snowboarder Shaun White’s signature Holbrook sunglasses and goggles. I collaborated with the two-time Olympic gold medalist to craft his Oakley identity. We used vintage rock photography to connect with the target consumer – Holbrook became the market leader, scoring a record five consecutive years at #1.

Who is your future boss going to remember? The person who crafted communications based on strategic creative briefs or the one who worked with Shaun White to promote his snowboarding goggles via vintage rock photography? Let’s diagram that performance story:

THE CHALLENGE: Getting people to buy Holbrooks.

THE RESPONSE: A collaboration with White to devise an Oakley “subset” identity and vintage rock photography, among other things that don’t all have to be included here – that’s what the interview is for.

THE RESULTS: Five years at #1. And let’s not forget …

THE SPECIFICS: The Holbrook line, a sponsored athlete with two Olympic gold medals, vintage rock photography, five years at #1.

BTW, you don’t need Shaun White to write a compelling story. For instance: “Anticipating the effects of the 2008 recession on Target’s imminent holiday campaign, I initiated a 48-hour creative jam. Three days later, on Oct. 31, Target called to say we had three weeks to deliver a new holiday campaign – we were able to pitch ideas on Nov. 2 and go into production Nov. 10.”

Nor must you have a major retailer in your story. Here’s one without the big brand name: “When some of our strategic partners objected to members’ earning rewards points simply by watching videos, I led a rebranding of the video program as a source of discovery and enrichment, not just incentives. Program use doubled in 90 days, tripling revenue, which preserved our partner base and attracted new brands.”

Just two or three performance stories for each of your past jobs elevates your resume above the competition.

In the end, Scheherazade literally kept her head. YOUR stories will help you GET ahead.

Need help writing your story? Email us