What’s Your Career Narrative? (Competitive Advantage)

March 05, 2023

A client of mine, an ambitious M&A banker, had just finished a large deal and was ready to jump into the job market. This deal he just completed was massive and really increased his “value” amongst potential hirers. He was overwhelmed with excitement, already making plans for which bulge bracket bank he wanted to join.

“Awesome move. What’s your plan for tying this deal into your CV?”

“I’ll add it on to my list of completed deals on my CV.”

I looked up from my phone, eyebrows raised. In my head I was thinking, “Dude. Are you kidding me right now?”.

This deal he just completed was huge. There were only a handful of bankers who have had experience in deals of that size. This deal really set this client above the pack. It was by far his most important career accomplishment.

Burying your most important career accomplishment in a “list” on your CV would be disaster. No recruiter has the time to study your resume or profile to “hunt” for your best accomplishments. You need to present it up front, in a neat story for them to gobble up and remember.

Over the next 20 minutes I told my client story after story on how important it is to present your best career accomplishments up front, giving examples of my previous clients who had 10x their interview call rates by re-crafting the narrative in their CV.

The most important lesson, by far, can be distilled down to this:

Forget about your spell check and focus on engaging the reader with a really great story, that ties your entire career history together.

I know this sounds awfully fluffy, like something out of a Pixar documentary, but let me break it down for you in pieces. Hopefully by the end of this blogpost, you’ll understand how important it is to craft a narrative in your CV.

Identify Your Narrative

We all have narratives which we use in our personal social circles.

When growing up, my narrative was always “fat boy who that time sat down and tore his shorts” (kids can be so brutal at times!).

With your CV, you have a chance to craft a Professional Narrative. As you’re controlling the information (your CV), you can tweak it to plant relevant ideas into the reader’s mind.

A great professional narrative is one people will use to refer to you again and again. Like “Let’s interview that American guy who built 4 factories in China” or “Call that creative director who made that IKEA lookbook ad

Notice how memorable those narratives are? It’s the buzz phrase that recruiters will use to describe you over and over again.

Why Do You Need A Narrative?

Competition. When there are hundreds of applicants to a role, you need to stand out.

Fancy fonts and CV buzzwords only get you so far. Recruiters are immune to them – they’ve seen it all.

The content in your CV will always shine through. With the right selection of work experiences and organisation of information, you can control your story.

There’s an art here. A craft you can master to further your career.

News agencies do it all the time. They tweak the selection of words to completely change the perspective of the story. Take this screenshot from WSJ for example:

                                             Same story. Two different narratives.

Now that you understand the importance of having a narrative, let’s move on to putting in on your executive summary.

How To Write An Executive Summary: Before & After

The narrative is a common thread that runs throughout your CV.

It however, starts in your executive summary (an alternative to your resume objectives). When I was a recruiter, I often glanced through the executive summary prior to continuing to read down the resume. It’s like the cover of a book – you’re gonna read it!

Since the executive summary is the first thing recruiters will read, it’s your opportunity to start the narrative on your terms – control the story!

Executive Summary: Before

  • Finance Manager with experience at large listed companies within San Francisco
  • Strong understanding of compliance requirements for NASDAQ listed companies

As a headhunter, when I read this I think: “Finance manager with NASDAQ company experience

It’s a pretty good narrative. But it’s not the least bit special. There are hundreds of finance managers just like this at large technology companies.

Executive Summary: After

Here’s the same profile, with a different narrative.

  • Finance Manager with 12 years of experience at Facebook, Twitter & Linkedin
  • Led end-to-end accounting compliance for Twitter’s IPO in 2013. (NASDAQ: TWTR)

Now, when I read this I think: “Facebook finance manager who also led Twitter’s IPO

The latter version is so much more memorable. It has a brand. I identify it as special. As different. It’s not another face in the crowd – this one has a narrative!

The same style of emphasis can be applied throughout the CV. Every line should be tweaked to sell the most memorable story – “Led Twitter’s IPO

Writing Your Executive Summary

When writing your executive summary, you have to think thoroughly about 2 main drivers:

  1. Your competitive advantage
  2. What the company needs

When #1 & #2 align – you’ve found your dream job.

For example, I know of a lawyer who won a couple of small film awards while studying in University. His narrative reads: “Award winning film-maker with specialisation in copyright law

He’s just snagged a job working as a lawyer for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in Australia. It’s just perfect – the MPAA needs lawyers with an understanding of the industry.

This jobseeker is a lawyer who loves film making. His competitive advantage and the MPAA’s needs align perfectly.

Had the jobseeker not played up his film-making background, his applications narrative would have been “Just another recently graduated lawyer” – not particularly memorable. I’d be surprised if that narrative stood out to the hiring manager for the MPAA role.

We’ve previously gone through how to identify your competitive advantage in deep detail.

The gist is this: knowing your competitive advantage lets you focus on jobs for which you’re a great fit.

What is Competitive Advantage?

To the consumer, it’s branding. To the business strategist, it’s unique selling point. To me, it’s competitive advantage.

Take David Beckham for example, he’s widely heralded as the “free kick specialist”. If you were a goalkeeper, you’d shudder every time he lined up a free kick 30 yards from your goal. He’s scored so many from that position.

Adidas, his sponsor, recognise Beckham’s competitive advantage. And they remind you of it when selling their predator range of boots.

That’s his brand, his one unique competitive advantage. Beckham knows it. Adidas knows it. And boy do they milk it.

Time and time again, you’ll see that people who know their competitive advantage thrive in their chosen field of work.

So, it makes perfect sense for job seekers to play to their competitive advantages, yes?

And yet, so many don’t. Here’s an example.

How do we identify Competitive Advantage?

We’ve got a client working with a colleague of mine. Let’s call him Nigel (not his real name).

Nigel was previously a Project Manager (PM) with over 10 years of experience in the optics field. Now that he’s job searching, he’s applying for all sorts of Project Manager (PM) positions across multiple industries including logistics and IT.

He’s not getting any responses.

I’m not surprised.

When applying to generic PM roles, Nigel is one of many applicants who while are capable, aren’t a perfect fit. (as we’ve shown before, there are way too many applicants for jobs these days). Why would you want to waste time competing for a job in the Logistics industry when you have no experience?

The hiring manger has dozens of other applicants, many of whom have more relevant qualifications. I guarantee you, he won’t call you for an interview.

But when Nigel applies to PM roles within the optics industry, he’ll stand out like a diamond.

So few people have the industry expertise he has. I’ve got almost no doubt he’ll get interview call ups to every optics related position he applies to. Furthermore, his expertise will also allow him to negotiate a far higher salary. He’s a rare commodity!

What we do for our clients isn’t rocket science. It’s actually really easy (for me at least).

We study each individual profile, identify what their competitive advantage is, decide (with the client) on the kinds of jobs to target, and then produce job application documents which:

  1. Bring out the best in the client
  2. Emphasise their competitive advantage
  3. Tailored to job ads where their competitive advantage is sought after

The strategy is super simple. I couldn’t understand why job seekers weren’t doing it themselves. You should always position yourself for the maximum potential advantage.So, what’s your competitive advantage?

Sync Your Profile with What the Company Needs

Here’s how I approach this: I empathise.

Placing myself in the hiring manager’s shoes, I imagine myself writing the job description.

  • What does the role encompass?
  • Any workscopes which were not mentioned in the job ad?
  • Are there any hidden fears the company has?
  • Is the company in turnaround transition? Or a quick growth phase?
  • What kinds of applicants will likely apply?

Once I’ve answer these questions, I’ll have a pretty good idea on how to write my executive summary and answer my ultimate narrative question:

What are the 1 or 2 things that will get the hiring manager to notice, and call me, above the 200 other applications out there.

Final Thoughts

Increasingly, I’m of the belief that a great executive summary trumps all other aspects of the CV.

All your achievements, awards, experiences – they don’t matter if it’s not tied together in a punchy story. It’ll be forgotten. Just like every other qualified jobseeker out there.

Now that you know how to write an executive summary in your CV, the next thing to do is sell your profile. Stand out and be memorable.

Return to Ultimate Singapore Job Search Hub

Harry Suresh
Latest posts by Harry Suresh (see all)