how can my resume show that I take charge and people like me?

A reader writes:

What is the professional way of saying on a resume, “I always take charge of things and people like me”? Writing that is clearly cringy. Maybe the cover letter is a better place?

At my current company, I started in more of a technical role, but I did not supervise anyone. My boss wanted to hire interns but was having trouble interviewing them, so he asked me to sit in on it. I was able to ask them relevant questions, select the people I wanted to hire, and supervise their projects. After success there, I moved into a supervisor role for a less technical department. The interns who I hired who became full-time employees still seek out my guidance and opinion on how to handle different things at work. The group that I supervise is more of a job than a career and for the most part are not looking for career advancement.

Prior to this job, I was in grad school in an STEM field and had several fellowships related to community out reach and mentorship. Two-thirds of them invited me back to participate for an additional funding cycle but with additional responsibilities or leadership.

I can go on with additional examples of coaching, tutoring, etc., but you get the idea. I have a lot of experience making connections with people, getting them to work and ending up in charge of whatever I’m involved in. How do I talk about this on a resume?

Instead of talking about traits (“I always take charge of things and people like me”), talk about how that has impacted your work — what outcomes have those traits led to?

Think of it this way: From an employer’s standpoint, it doesn’t matter if you have those traits if they don’t show up in the work results you get. So that’s where you want to focus.

For example:

  • “coached and mentored X interns, Y% of whom were later hired into full-time roles”
  • “serve as go-to resource to junior staff on X, Y, and Z”
  • “consistently promoted to new levels of responsibility, including managing X and Y”
  • “grew program from X to Y” (where Y is bigger/better than X)
  • “built strong relationships with community members, which led to X”
  • “built reputation for proactively taking on new projects and shepherding them to success, such as X”
  • and so forth

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam

    I’ve often heard of the resume being called your own personal marketing document. While that isn’t really untrue, since I’m definitely not a marketing person it’s never helped me much as an approach to resume writing, particularly since a lot of my accomplishments are of the variety that are hard to put numbers to.

    So lately I’ve begun to think of my resume as more of a storytelling device instead. Each of my accomplishments has a story behind it (in that there was a problem and I came up with a solution), so I consider that my job is to tell that story to the resume reader as clearly and concisely as possible. Just this change in a mental approach really has helped me spruce up the ol’ resume.

    1. fposte

      This is excellent, and so true. And that’s why the functional resumes fail for me–they don’t give me the story of a person.

    2. nani1978

      So Adam and fposte, what format do you use or recommend? Do you use bullet points? I am genuinely curious. I am working on reformatting mine and trying to approach it differently, and the only examples I have seen lately are terrible. I don’t necessarily feel my own resume should even be 2 pages long but to have people 10-15 years younger than me with resumes that bleed onto page 3 make me scream! (It’s not really their age; it’s the including-every-job-ever mentality.)

        1. nani1978

          That’s a relief, as I can’t imagine mine without. I guess I am really wondering how best to integrate a full story into the short snippet, but as I type this comment out I can see the benefit of structuring your job story first and then pulling out bullet points of improvement and achievement rather than job duties. Thanks for the inspiration!

          1. Treena

            Think of writing the dust jacket summary instead of the story itself. Write enough so that the interviewer will say to themselves, “Hey, I want to hear more about that!” Just enough to get their interest, but leave the full story for the interviews.

            1. Stranger than fiction

              Exactly and that’s why it’s like a marketing tool. Most companies don’t give you every detail of their product or service on their website because they want you to contact them for more info, resume is the same idea, pique their interest and then elaborate when they call and interview you.

            2. afiendishthingy

              Being concise is always a struggle for me. Last time I was job searching I did a basic description of duties and then bullets with key accomplishments, but it’s so hard for me to decide which details aren’t necessary. Should I get rid of the job description part and just show it with the achievement bullet points, e.g. if I’m applying for a job involving supervising junior staff I would just have the bullet that says “coached and mentored X interns, Y% of whom were later hired into full-time roles”?

              1. Kira

                I think you’re right that you want to remove the description. I’m imagining the description looks like this:

                Job (dates)
                [description] responsible for saving the whales and solving world hunger
                – saved 200 whales
                – solved hunger in 4 countries

                See how you can skip the description there?

          2. fposte

            Right, I don’t think Adam or I meant that the resume is literally telling a story, in the long narrative sentences kind of way; I don’t want to read three pages of that any more than you do!

      1. Adam

        Yes, definitely bullet points. I’m not changing up the basic format at all. Just my mental approach towards the task of resume writing. I don’t get marketing or, more accurately, I’m not very good at marketing mentalities and am not interested in bettering my skills in such. I get telling stories, so if I can frame it in my head as a focused conversational storytelling that makes more sense to me!

  2. Amber Rose

    I struggle with this too. I often get “you’re awesome” type comments from coworkers, how the heck to translate that into a bullet point?

    But if I stop and consider what prompts these comments, what specific things I’m doing that people are grateful for, it gets easier.

    1. Kelly O

      This is how I’m framing it as I update my resume to reflect my new position. (And yes, I’m updating it because if I have learned nothing from the last two years or so, you never, ever know what is going to happen.)

      If someone says “Great job!” I stop to think about what happened, why I received the compliment, and how it could be integrated into future job searches. It felt really self-centered at first, and then I realized that if I don’t take charge and pat myself on the back every now and again, I can come off as insincere in interviews, and in the office in general.

    2. Annonymouse

      Easy. Write a bullet point of “awesome at kicking ass and taking names.”

      Okay, so clearly I was being a smartass here. In all honesty, this is part of my resume re-writing struggle. I’m in a very dysfunctional work environment (to the point that I often laugh hysterically and tell my co-workers that X is “Classic [Annonymouse’s Workplace]” because it’s either that or I’ll spend my work days in the bathroom talking myself down), and my boss is the type who eschews anything that feels “too corporate,” to the point that I am salaried but working with no elevated title or clearly written job description and we have zillions of policies that have been abandoned until it’s convenient. (And my boss wonders why zie can’t win an unemployment claim!)

      What is working for me is jotting down bullet points of specific work strengths when I think of them.

  3. Alabama Job Counselor

    Excellent guidance, AAM. I emphasize with every client with whom I work that they must TARGET their resume to a minimum of a specific field they want to pursue and even a specific JOB for which they’re applying. I try to relay to them that numbers, percentages, and cost saving factors “drive the train” to tweak the interest of hiring managers. If applicants can’t get their foot in the door, they’ll never get the interview they need to “sell themselves”.

  4. Letter writer

    Amazing, thank you! The rest of my resume is results/improvement bullet points and I was having trouble stating people skills in the same way. Your examples are totally helpful.

  5. voyager1

    I would be careful about selling yourself as a “take charge” person. For some that comes across as bossy, and can be resented if you are not in position of authority.

    I like that bullet points but number 3. Your resume should show how you have been promoted, you shouldn’t have to tell me.

    1. Daisy

      Well, but it says promoted “to new levels of responsibility”, which sounds like being given more responsibility under the same job title. I don’t see how the resume would should that without your writing it on the resume.

      1. Sadsack

        Ah, good point. I was thinking that voyager1 meant that it should be obvious from looking at the job history that there were promotions, hence my comment below. However, if the person’s title hasn’t changed but she was given more responsibilities over time, then it is important to state that on the resume.

    2. Sadsack

      Depending on the job titles, it may not be obvious that a change in job title was a promotion instead of just changing jobs. There is a difference.

    3. fposte

      I think the phraseology matters, but in general taking initiative and willingly picking up new stuff is a good thing. I get very excited when I see that somebody’s done that.

    4. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah on the take charge thing it instantly popped in my mind not all hiring managers would appreciate that. It’s very role/company/culture dependent.

      1. voyager1

        I have always worked in roles where the promotion would be say Teapot intern, then Tea Pot Specialist I, Tea Pot Specialist II and so on. That is where I was coming from.

        But maybe listing the promotion might work for company that doesn’t do that.

      2. Zillah

        OP, this is totally besides the point, but I want to point out that “bossy” is a pretty gendered word (it’s typically applied to women, where men get called “assertive”), which is something to be aware of if you think of yourself that way.

        1. Letter writer

          @Zillah I was going to mention that but I figured it wasn’t really the place for it.

          Not being called bossy specifically but gendered politics are a big reason that I’m looking to switch industries. I’m usually the only woman in a room and I’m the highest ranked woman in my company – at not that impressive of a position. There’s a few other women at the same level and we’re all sick of showing up to a meeting and being expected to take notes or run the computer. Especially if we didn’t call it and there are more jr employees already in the room.

          1. voyager1

            I don’t get bossy as a gendered term, not like say brassy is. I had to look that one up when I heard one female call describe another that at a previous job. I really can’t remember when I heard someone call another person bossy that wasn’t under the age of 12. Maybe I just don’t get out enough or know enough people.

            1. Coach Devie

              I am sitting here trying to recall a time I have ever heard an adult male being referred to as bossy and I am finding no examples. I honestly can’t recall any instances in which male children are referred to as bossy (but thinking I may have an example or two) however, I can recall countless instances where this as been applied to little girls and adult women as well. I admit, even as hard as I try to be careful with things like this, the moment I hear bossy my mind does associate it with females.

            2. Zillah

              I’ve definitely had “bossy” applied to me multiple times in the past few years, and I’m 27.

  6. Lily in NYC

    These are such helpful examples of how to turn a trait into an accomplishment, thank you. It’s something I really struggle with.

    1. Sadsack

      Yes, for those of us whose jobs don’t rely on sales percentages and similar metrics, it is difficult to describe our achievements in a meaningful way. Examples like these are so helpful!

  7. Revanche

    I have also used increased retention/lower turnover as a data point for those jobs where the expected turnover is normally high. It’s a good way to show that you were, for what we’d assume are good reasons, able to keep people on longer and promote more.

  8. harryv

    Would it be a big red flag or a turn off for hiring managers to ask something along the lines of, “Is there any concern or weakness about my candidacy or which I can help clarify before we end this interview?”

    1. Treena

      I don’t know, it seems kind of weird to remind them to bring up something that they’re concerned with.

    2. Coach Devie

      Save this question for the job open thread on Friday and you may find you get much more traction with people answering it!

  9. AnnieNonymous

    Alison’s advice here is very good. When I started reading the question, my first thought was that the OP was trying to gloss over a lack of skills and experience by coasting on personality. That obviously isn’t the case, but I don’t think I’m the only person who may have jumped to that conclusion, so it’s good to know how to present this stuff to a hiring manager.

    I would also be careful about overselling normal job duties as above-and-beyond accomplishments. At my old job, our bookkeeper would sometimes sit in on interviews and note her opinions about potential new hires. I doubt she puts that on her resume. Heck, I helped train new hires at my first job at Old Navy when I was 16. I hate to be a negative Nancy, but this question sort of reads like the OP doesn’t have much professional work experience and 1) doesn’t understand that “job drift” is normal, and 2) doesn’t realize how quickly people are going to call his bluff.

    Maybe I’m coming at this question from a weird angle, but to me this sounds like someone who’s trying to cut corners when it comes to gaining real, substantial work experience.

    1. Kira

      I read the first sentence and thought OP was maybe trying to show of a weird accomplishment, think “I’ve got a finger in every pie!” or “Jack of all trades but master of none scenario”. But it does sound like OP can translate that original statement into concrete successes (given additional responsibilities, demonstrated success in a mentoring role). I’m all for sharing that! The job drift you mention is often interpreted in my workplace as leadership and conscientiousness.

      And regarding the interviewing, I think it’s completely relevant and belongs on a resume for a management position. I’ve interviewed interns too, but I didn’t have that kind of success. OP can say that they helped pick good candidates then lead them through the internship to full time employment.

      1. Coach Devie

        Yeah and up-thread, OP mentions she is applying for a management position, so all of this is relevant to her career goals.

    2. No Longer Passing By

      When I looked at the examples that Allison gave, it appeared that the OP was seeking to show her management skills. I thought that it was more than likely that the OO is trying to jump from non-management to management and wanted to show that she’s not a wild card as she has had some exposure to managing people. Then the OP showed up and clarified, in responding to a comment about appearing overly bossy, that she’s seeking a management role.

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