Monday, April 19, 2010

Showing vs. Telling

Huh. The more I pay attention, the more the superiority of showing something vs. telling it seems to crop up. This article on revamping your resume underscores ten overused cliches on resumes and offers examples of how to show a potential employer that you have the skills they are seeking rather than just telling them. Some examples:

  • Kill this: Results-oriented professional. Replace with your own version: I love to solve thorny supply-chain problems
  • Kill this: Strong work ethic
    Replace with your own version: I taught myself HTML over a weekend in order to grab a marketing opportunity
  • Kill this: Meets or exceeds expectations
    Replace with your own version of this: Invited to join our executive staff at a strategy summit during my first year at the company

Of course, in the article it doesn't mention showing and telling. But they definitely advocate showing and the examples cited demonstrate why it is so much more effective.


  1. Yeah, it's funny that the the term is "story-telling" when the effective method is to show what is happening rather than explaining.

    It's amazing how the same techniques find their way into other areas like advertising and mass marketing.

    Nice post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Showing gives scenes a real sense of presence. Like watching a movie. You're right in the action.

    A touch of telling here an there can fill in the essential background and give the reader a helping hand.

  3. How 'bout this:
    Kill 'I fixed breakfast'
    Replace with 'I gathered eggs from a chicken, butchered a hog, cut my own bacon, cured the remaining meat of the beast, made some soap with the fat, winnowed some grain, ground it for flour, prepared pancakes, and tapped a maple for some syrup. By the time my children awoke, their breakfast was on the table.'

    Oh, wait. I must have milked a cow in the process. Tonight? Hamburgers!

    Or maybe not. Brevity is important too.

    How about:

    Kill: I fixed breakfast.
    Replace with
    I have killed a 300 lb. hog with my bare hands. You will hire me.

  4. @ Jennifer: Ha! The only response I can imagine to that is "Have HR deal with this person. Oh, and call security."

  5. I haven't written a resume in over ten years, but you're so right. You do need to show not tell. I never realized how linked resume writing and fiction writing were until now. And of course, both require a level of creativity. :)