Try this exercise with a friend or loved one:
Give the other person your resume, but limit their reading time to six seconds and instruct them to show you how much they were able to assimilate in that limited time.
Why six seconds? Because that’s the amount of eyeball time your resume typically receives when it’s being first reviewed by human resources staffers or hiring authorities. If you can’t convey something that grabs their attention, chances are strong they won’t hesitate to hit the “delete” button and end your chances of being considered, no matter how well-qualified you might be.
This fact should influence the decisions you make about the overall look and feel of your resume. How you organize your information, what you choose to include, your choice of words and graphic elements all should contribute to a clear and coherent message that can be grasped in six seconds. Even a simple line across the page can facilitate a reader’s understanding or detract from it, depending on how it is used.
Here are some things you should strive for when creating your resume.
Make certain that even at a distance, your page looks inviting to read and that it is easy to follow the various sections, such as Skills, Professional Experience, Education, etc. Using color to highlight the section titles can make a difference in this regard.
Is there enough white space on the page to avoid looking like a solid blob of ink?
Have pity on people with poor eyesight by not going any lower than 10-point type. Use standard, easy-to-read fonts like Calibri or Optima, or others with similar weighting.
It is likely that within your target company, a variety of types of people with diverse backgrounds and roles will be reading your resume. For example, HR, financial and technical professionals all may weigh in on a resume’s value. It is important that the document speak to each of them in ways that they can appreciate and value.
Especially if you are in a field with its own particular vocabulary that is unknown to non-specialists, make sure you do your best to explain things in a way that can be commonly understood. When you list obscure tools or techniques that you are accustomed to using, take pains to also convey what results or accomplishments you attained by using them.
Present your personal brand
It might be that your resume surfaces because it came up in a sourcer’s search as possessing the right keywords. Congratulations! But now, as they begin to read it, a succinct and well-crafted branding statement at the top can truly set your document apart from others using the same keywords. In the top few lines, just under your name and contact information, it is essential that you give a “helicopter view” of yourself, conveying your essential qualities, areas of expertise and specific content that only you can offer the employer. Keep it to no more than four or five lines, tops!
Get rid of ambiguities
A resume recently reviewed by your author had this line: “Devised solutions that produced the desired results.” Lines like this convey no real information and leave questions about the candidate’s ability to communicate clearly.
When asked, “What were the problems requiring solutions? What kind of solutions did you develop? What were the desired results and how were they achieved?” the response was: “I’ll get into that when I have an interview.”
Sadly, ambiguous statements like these are counterproductive to getting the desired interview, and are likely to sink one’s chances of getting to the point of explaining their exceptional skills and talents.
Avoid stock phrases and clichés
Expunge what you think a resume “has to have” if you believe stock phrases like “aggressive go-getter,” “results driven,” or “excellent communication skills” are necessary. You’ll immediately generate a yawn or a grunt on the part of your resume reader.
They’ve seen all these and more countless times! Instead, utilize clearly thought out phrases and sentences that demonstrate the results your “go-getter” qualities generated, thereby communicating effectively.
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