You’re reading an excerpt of Ask Me This Instead: Flip the Interview to Land Your Dream Job, a book by Kendra Haberkorn. This powerful work is written by a veteran recruiter for job-seekers who want to find their dream job—not just the next job. Purchase the book to support the author and the ad-free Holloway reading experience. You get instant digital access, worksheets and a question database, commentary and future updates, and a high-quality PDF download.

Identify Your Main Characters

  • The Protagonist. You! This story is about what you want and need—a new job. Your resume needs to include the information that puts you on the best path to get to your end destination. Think through the moments you’re most proud of, the feedback you’ve received, the contributions, and impact you’ve made in each of your roles, and what you’ve learned.

  • Other Primary Characters. Along the way, you’ve worked with and met people who have influenced your story and success. Understanding their influence as well as thinking about the context of your relationships will unlock plot points you might not have previously considered adding to your resume. What type of characters should you think about?

    • The Heroes. There are surely people who have inspired you, pulled you along and served as role models throughout your career. You may envy their abilities at the start, until you realize the hero will help you see your potential and achieve it. Whom have you admired, who shined the light on your capabilities and cleared the path for you?

    • The Villains. Every now and then, you encounter someone who makes work harder, frustrates and exasperates you and seems to find joy in crushing your spirit, productivity, or results. There are important insights to be garnered from your experience with villains that may represent some huge lesson, impact, and growth in your career. We often tend to put these experiences aside, but I recommend you evaluate them closely to see what positive results came out of them (especially as there will be a lot of interview questions that you can connect back to these experiences!).

    • The Crew, Squad, or Posse. When have you been better because you were together? Thinking about the people who were by your side during periods of peak performance or intense creative collaboration as well as the day-to-day will lead you to remember moments and challenges that you wouldn’t recall if you were only thinking about yourself.

    • The Teacher. Hopefully you’ve had a manager, mentor, or colleague who took you under their wing and accelerated your ability to be effective in a given role. Think about people from across the companies you worked with who opened your mind about new ways to solve problems or who pushed you to gain the skills you needed to progress and advance.

    • The Protégés. As you have developed expertise and experience, who did you support along the way? How have you built stronger peers or direct reports by stepping in and stepping up to support collective outcomes? When did your insight or contribution change the way others approached a problem or project?

Like in any good story, characters may switch between roles as they learn, grow, and evolve… or devolve. I’ve had villains become valuable members of my crew and heroes fall to the dark side. Those can be particularly engaging stories to consider as you think about what interactions created the most growth or led to the most important professional relationships and experiences. You’ll have the chance to workshop your resume at the end of this section and in the workbook.

Consider the Place and Time

The setting, or place and time, are often included on a resume without much extra thought—this role was at that company, located in this city. Seems simple enough, right? In the most basic sense, that is the setting. However, now is the time to start to think about setting more broadly, specifically where the companies you worked at were in time and place, that influenced your experience. How you operate in a well-established company with hundreds of people is dramatically different than a high-growth startup. The distance the company traveled while you were there impacts your role and responsibilities and contextualizes why you might have pursued a specific path or hit certain roadblocks during your tenure. The more you can connect dots and make your experience come to life in relevant and specific ways, the more the hiring team will be able to assess if your skills and capabilities will be effective in their environment.

As you consider the setting, ask yourself about the situations below to reflect on how they might have evolved during your time in a particular position. This will surface new awareness about how you changed and grew in response to the world around you. With the context fresh in your mind, you might see the events and accomplishments through a new lens and with more clarity about the impact, reasoning behind, or significance of a particular experience.

Examples of Place or TimePrompts to Consider How the Setting Impacted You
Strong economy vs. recessionWere you able to choose the job you wanted, or did you have to take the job that was available? Did you have part-time or contract roles rather than a full-time, regular position? Did your trajectory (title or pay) flatten or slow down? Did you have to take a role outside your preferred industry or function? Did the company have layoffs or did your compensation and/or benefits decrease?
LocationWere you in a role at a company’s headquarters or a smaller satellite? Were you in a city where there was a density of talent to hire and a strong team to work with and learn from? Were you in a larger city or market with diverse industries and opportunities that you could access or were there limits? How did a remote-first or distributed team structure impact your experience in previous roles?
Company success or failureWere there periods of rapid growth (hiring) or contraction (layoffs, turnover) that impacted you? Did the company raise venture capital or go through a merger or acquisition? Did the company have a competitive advantage, was it disrupting an industry or fading out of relevancy? Were there news stories or features about the company, its leadership or products? Were these stories positive or negative? Was the company meeting or exceeding goals or missing expectations? Was there steady and consistent leadership or new executives stepping in and changing the course?
Your own place and timeDid you have a well-defined role or did you “wear many hats?”Were there training programs available or did you have to drive your own development? Were you just starting out in your career, hitting your stride, or angling for the next step? Was work a priority or were you more focused on other aspects of your life?
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