Build Your Life resume and Get an Edge on the Competition

Are you just the sum total of the qualifications you've achieved to date? Does Grade 5 piano, a Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award and a clutch of exam grades capture the complexity of you? Somehow I doubt it! And yet, when it comes to university and college applications or job interviews, those who are sitting across the desk from you will have little else to go on if you've just submitted the standard UCAS form or curriculum vitae. So, don't slot in - stand out, by also handing over your 'life resume'.

What's a life resume? I'm so glad you asked! It's a brief, nicely presented document that captures all those experiences and achievements you have battled for, or are working towards with sweat equity, but which don't fit into the neat little boxes you've been asked to fill in. 

my academic qualifications

  • 9 GCE O Levels
  • 3 A Levels
  • 1st Class BA Honours degree - ‘Communications Studies’
  • Post Graduate Diploma of Education in English and Drama

This tells you I’m educated and reasonably well qualified for my role as a teacher, but it tells you nothing about what makes me tick, my values, passions and personal philosophy in life. Now take a look at this:

excerpt from my life resume

  • When I was 15 I discovered what I thought was an ancient broadsword, while running on a beach in Kent, only to discover that it was a Victorian fence post! Ever since, I have had a burning urge to discover real treasure and was once featured on the front cover of ‘Treasure Hunter’ magazine - I am yet to uncover my hoard but live in eternal hope.
  • Last year I raised £1000 to provide safe drinking water to the Pygmy people of the Congo by performing 1240 burpees in 6 hours, despite the fact that I had dislocated a finger the week before. Later that year I led almost 100 barefoot kids, between the ages of 11 and 18, across burning hot coals. Noone got burned and we raised another £3000 for charity.
  • I nearly drowned in my late twenties while attempting an underwater escape from handcuffs off the coast of Malaysia. I retired soon afterwards and feel that escapology is overrated as a career.
  • I have taken part in several precision knife throwing competitions and have podiumed three times in national events.
  • I once got into a heated argument with Uri Geller; we made our peace and he bent a teaspoon for me as a gift, which I have on display in my kitchen.
  • I have survived for 6 days and nights in the wilds of Scotland, armed with only a knife and head-torch, but struggle to change a duvet cover without breaking into a cold sweat.

All of these events are true, no matter how improbable they might seem - but what more do you now know about me as a person? What are some of my strengths and weaknesses? What kind of a work colleague and teacher am I likely to be? The magic of a life resume is that it speaks volumes, without using inflated cliches. It also opens up all kinds of opportunities for conversation if you are being interviewed. What questions were sparked for you?

what is your brand?

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With advances in Artificial Intelligence and automation, we all need to be looking for our USP (Unique Selling Points) - we need to be thinking about ourselves as a brand and not just as a replaceable cog in a machine. The career landscape of tomorrow will likely see you serving in multiple roles across several different industries. You will need to be able to retrain quickly, adapt on the hoof and be responsive to disruption. You'll probably have multiple streams of income and you'll need excellent personal organisation and interpersonal skills. The job for life with a golden handshake, following decades of loyal service has gone the way of the dodo and who you are matters as much as what you can do.

Your life resume tells the people on the other side of the desk from you, whether you are the kind of person who can add value and fit into their team or institution. It is a personal manifesto that tells them what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you up at night.

I should be clear that your life resume does not have to be wild or showy - I present a snippet of mine here not as a model to be replicated, but as an example of how this kind of document can shed some light on those hidden, but vital aspects of your character and personality that are not addressed in a typical application form. I would no doubt be an abrasive and unwelcome maverick in certain industries - I fit nicely into the niche I have found, but am definitely an acquired taste! In contrast, you may be an introvert with a passion for beekeeping and Japanese flower arranging. Perhaps you once took part in a 7 day silent retreat in a nepalese monastery and are planning to make your own range of herbal teas using the produce from a community allotment you sublet. If this is you, I'm hooked and want to know more! You see how this works?

crafting your life resume

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So what should be in your life resume? If you are still in your teens and feel that you haven't had enough life experience or opportunities yet, don't worry, but don't just dismiss this exercise either. The clock is ticking and before you know it you'll be 18 or 28 - trust me, this life flickers past if you don't grasp hold of your dreams and challenges with both hands.

Write down the kinds of things you'd like to have on your life resume, pick the top three and then take the first few steps towards making them a reality. You don't have to have completed everything on your list - you can write about open loop projects and ambitions too, but don't just make this a wish list - it should be a work in progress with the emphasis on 'work'!

If it helps, you can perform a ‘mind dump’ using the following categories as starting points - family, school, community, health, the environment, travel, talents and skills, relationships, creativity, spirituality, finances. Feel free to add additional categories that I haven't covered here and then jot down all the interesting things you have achieved in those areas. Consider getting down some of your more spectacular failures too - they can make for great stories and speak as much about who you are as your successes and trophies do. If you dry up at any point, talk to trusted friends and family and ask them what you should include - they will often see your strengths and unique qualities in fresh ways. 

Once you have your working document, revisit it a couple of times a year so that you can update it - and if it doesn't need regularly updating, ask yourself why not? You are perfect as you are right now, but this current iteration of ‘you’ should seem an inferior and outdated model twelve months from now! Step out of your comfort zone, embrace the difficult challenges and dare to grow. By building your life resume, you will become more interesting, more marketable and, most importantly, you'll be crafting a life well-lived.


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Andy Fisher is the creator of Tests of Life - an educational project designed to help students, parents and teachers navigate the 'hidden curriculum'. He is an English teacher and PSHE co-ordinator, based on the east coast of the UK and uses his blog, podcast and digital products to spread the word that schools should be preparing young people for the tests of life, and not just for a life of tests!