A Tombstone Resume: Eulogising Your Experience


As the thunder crashes and the witches begin their chants, it’s clear Halloween is here. Gather around jobseekers while I tell you a frightening story. It’s the Legend of the Tombstone Resume, a grave recount of missed opportunities and ill-advised communication strategies that have cast jobseekers adrift, confused and alone.

copyright image (C) GayleHoward Our story begins with Jenny who is having no luck in her quest to break out of the education sector where she works as a Senior Administration Officer for a local university. As far as jobs go, it’s alright, but Jenny is keen to try something else and frankly is tired of the teachers, the students and the same old paperwork. Despite applying for many administrative jobs, she’s had no luck as agencies “pigeonhole” her as an education sector specialist. Jenny despairs she may be stuck working in schools and universities forever.

What has she done that makes people think she is incapable of transitioning her skills elsewhere? It’s simple. Jenny has written a tombstone resume. She has eulogised her experience by being so specific about job tasks and responsibilities in her current role that the reader can’t imagine her doing anything else! Jenny’s resume fully qualifies her for her current position and offers no insight or vision into how her transferable skills can be used outside that role or industry.

Consider the following phrase:

  • Processed 1,000 students’ applications during the college’s Open Day celebrations.

In an instance such as this, it appears that Jenny is attempting to demonstrate her ability to cope with high-pressure environments. In reality, all this sentence conveys to the reader is that Jenny can perform a set task-—processing 1,000 student applications during a special event.

As this is a job-specific activity unlikely to be required outside the confines of the education sector, this accomplishment may be lost on an employer who has a need for a different set of skills and is unaware of what planning and long hours are invested. As far as the employer is concerned, his advertised job does not include processing student applications, so how is that ability relevant to him?

How you translate and communicate your talents is directly related to how you are perceived. Therefore you need to write from the perspective of looking forward and not looking back.

When writing her resume, Jenny needs to explore the results rather than the job task. Was processing 1,000 applications a day more than the average? If yes, how much more? In the bullet-point example above, 1,000 students makes a strong statement, but it can be made stronger if you think that Jenny’s office colleague only processed 500 a day-—clearly giving Jenny the opportunity to make a praiseworthy comparison.

Jenny needs to consider this critical point: How will this example of my experience transfer to the next organisation?

Perhaps a more compelling description would have been:

  • Surpassed co-worker’s efforts by 100%, processing 1,000 applications throughout the duration of a large special event. Error-free entry of data into the computerised system streamlined the process, eliminated long waiting lines, and allowed training and communications to proceed on time as planned.

This statement is infinitely improved as it tries to anticipate the needs of the next employer. Granted, it describes Jenny’s job a little, but it also provides a promise to the next employer that Jenny is:

  • Competitive (surpassed a co-worker’s efforts), is
  • Accurate (entered data without errors), and
  • has an appreciation for the importance of time and productivity (ensuring training was started on time).

In short, it is a statement that looks to the future and anticipates the needs of the next employer, while giving a nod of appreciation to the past.

Critically review your résumé development strategies. Are you positioning yourself to look to the past via tombstone statements that eulogise your current job?

Or pressing forward with your next employer firmly in your sights?

I’m a member of the Career Collective and each month this group of professionals come together to write on a specific topic. This allows you to gain a wealth of different perspectives and ideas. Please visit their articles using the links below!


  1. Gayle Howard

    Updated my blog! A Tombstone Resume: Eulogising Your Experience: #CareerCollective As the thunder crashes and the … http://bit.ly/9fC6SK

  2. Barb Poole

    RT @barbarasafani: A tombstone resume: eulogizing your experience @gaylehoward #careercollective http://ht.ly/31gnV

  3. Miriam Salpeter

    A Tombstone Resume:Eulogizing Your Experience by @GayleHoward, http://bit.ly/9Lf26C #careercollective

  4. Heather Mundell

    It’s posts like yours that remind me why professional resume writers are sooooo worth hiring! Your “makeover” example of a part of Jenny’s resume clearly shows that taking the time and care to make every single word in a resume compelling results in a much more powerful document.

  5. Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

    Terrific post – replete with solutions for transforming tombstone resumes into modern-day, forward-looking career communications. Love your compelling before/after examples of candidate achievements that weave in the job seeker nuances.

    Exploring the results vs. the job task and anticipating the needs of the next employer are critical in building high performing resumes!

    Great post, as usual!



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About Gayle Howard

If you are interested in working with Gayle Howard—an executive resume writer, Certified Master Resume Writer, multi-award-winning resume writer, and Master LinkedIn profile writer, drop her a line now using the contact form at the link above. Gayle can help you get interviews for your dream job and bring the world of business to you by maximizing your exposure and connections on LinkedIn.