Include Tension and Conflict



Updated August 22, 2022

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.

The desire to move beyond and even forget particular conflicts we have throughout our careers is natural. However, conflict in your career, like the tension in a story, is where some of the most interesting and important moments occur. In fact, these moments often represent the catalyst for characters to transform. Being able to articulate how these tests impacted you will add depth, interest, and a dose of reality to your resume. Without realizing it, you’re also preparing for the interviews by thinking about the experiences that pushed you and those that you might want to avoid in the future. These memories can be helpful in building the list of questions you’ll ask certain interviewers.

Interpersonal conflictConsider a broader lens
Relationships that got off to a bad start that ultimately turned aroundExternal factors that shifted timelines, product design, or even internal operations
The dynamics in meetings during periods of stress or high stakesWhen a customer backed out of a deal or a colleague unexpectedly left the team
Trust, or rather the lack thereof, within a team or organizationHard moments, unexpected changes, or big surprises
Failure that led you to quit, change course, fire someoneTimes when you made a mistake or intentionally disrupted progress
The times you cried or lost your temperA moment or experience that was embarrassing
Tough conversationsA period when you were bored or unengaged in your work
New hire or new manager changing the status quoWhen you didn’t believe in the company, its product, or people
Moments that made you look for another roleLack of a feeling of belonging, being “othered,” or needing to assimilate

As you reflect, acknowledge the frustration, pain, and problems, and the context that surrounded them. Then, think about what positive growth, lesson, or change happened as a result. That is where the magic lies and what will be most helpful as you craft your resume, prepare to respond to interview questions, and evaluate if you’d encounter similar challenges in a new role.

Connect Your Story to Their Needs

One of the reasons I recommend taking the storytelling approach to updating your resume is that it helps you think about your journey and accomplishments in a new light. When confronted with a blank document, the pressure to put the “right” examples down is real and there is a tendency to fall into self-doubt. This can result in bullets that are bland (when you’re writing something to fill space) or even untruthful (when you don’t think a particular bullet is strong enough so you modify the details to sound more impressive). Then, because many people write resumes in isolation without feedback from those who worked with them or know them well in a professional capacity, resumes often fail to capture the reader’s attention—and that’s the entire point! Recruiters and hiring teams want to connect dots quickly between candidates and their role. Think about what they are looking for and how you can specifically and clearly connect your experience to their needs.

important If time and capacity were unlimited, resumes should be customized to a specific company and role. Because that level of tailoring often requires more time than you have available, consider developing one or two versions, each emphasizing a unique angle on a potential company’s needs. For example, you might be open to manager and individual contributor roles. Consider framing one resume about management and leadership, going deep into your ability to get results through others via coaching, delegation and feedback. For the other version, you could focus on the depth of your expertise, technical or functional accomplishments, and examples of your ability to collaborate.

Or, let’s say you are applying to a Fortune 500 company and a Series A startup. For the Fortune 500 company, you might choose to include more information about your cross-functional talents, project management capabilities, and communication skills. For the version you’d submit to the startup, you’d highlight examples of your flexibility and resilience, when you delivered results under pressure, and your ability to take on new and diverse challenges.

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