Purpose Statement on Your Resume
19 May 2020
A great résumé works when it succinctly captures the unique contribution you offer through the work you do.
One neat way to communicate this is through the inclusion of a purpose statement on your résumé. A career purpose statement is not a job description. Instead it describes you. (Note: purpose statement is what I have called this in this article, but you might also call it a mission, or a compass, or your quest, or workview, a calling, or something else…
It's not for every résumé, but if you are keen and ready to communicate the difference you want to make through the work you do, or give an insight into what inspires you as a leader, a purpose statement is a great addition.
A purpose statement needs be no longer than a few lines, and is often the lead element in a résumé. The words will be unique to you, but a rough format is: “I make this type of difference, through doing these types of things…”
It needs to be authentic though. Badly written, forced or artificial purpose statements, that people include because they have been told they ‘should’ put them in are not useful.
If you would like to define a career purpose statement here are a few methods. No one method is recommended over another and a combination of methods is probably more ideal. Additionally, you may find that simply giving yourself time and space for reflection is all you need to do.
Grab four pieces of paper that you will enjoy writing upon. On the first list all the things you like – keep adding to the list over a few days. Don’t hold back, list it all.
On the next sheet of paper list all the things you are good at. Again, don’t be modest, list everything you can think of (even the things others think of for you).
Your third piece of paper is for listing the things that annoy you. These are the things you would like to see improved in the world. They can range from the most minor things to big hair intractable problems.
The final piece of paper is for making connections that jump out for you between the things that have been listed on the other pieces of paper. Play with what you list here. Take item #7 on the first sheet, pair it with item #16 on the second and item #9 on the third sheet and write down what that statement would be (e.g. “I solve x problem, through my fascination with y, and by doing z”). Then do it again, and again, and again with different combinations. It won’t take long for the ideas to couple up in a way that makes sense to you.
Nick Craig and Scott Snook in their classic HBR article From Purpose to Impact suggest exploring three questions with a group of trusted peers (they emphasis doing this with others who will ask you questions and pull more out of your answers than you can do for yourself). These questions are:
What did you especially love doing when you were a child, before the world told you what you should or shouldn’t like or do? Describe a moment and how it made you feel.
Tell about two of your most challenging life experiences. How have they shaped you?
What do you enjoy doing in your life now that helps you sing your song?
The final step is to then refine a statement from your answers (and keep refining it) that is succinct and calls to you.
Mind maps are another way to pull a statement together. Start with the central words: My Career Purpose and branch out from there.
Defining a purpose statement, of course, has much wider benefit than simply enhancing your résumé. It becomes a powerful guide for career (and life) decision making. People clear on their purpose navigate life better and add significant value to those around them.
Defining a purpose statement is not a set and forget exercise. Your purpose statement will evolve over time – this is how it should be. So, come back to it periodically and ensure it keeps resonating for you.
As always, wishing you a flourishing career.