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Make sure people will read (not just skim) your resume

Getting past gatekeepers

Imagine you’re a recruiter.  Imagine you have a stack of resumes piled high on your desk.  You don’t have time to read them carefully, so you skim them (at best).  Those that look interesting you save, those that don’t, you toss.


Recruiters today spend an average of seven seconds looking at a resume before making that crucial pass/fail decision.  It’s crazy that seven seconds can make or break your future, but that’s the reality we’re dealing with.  When looking for a job today, you can’t afford to alienate a reader, not even for one of those precious seven seconds.

Gathering allies

Imagine it were you staring down at a stack of resumes.

  • What would keep you reading any one?
  • What would turn you off and make you to toss it?
  • How much effort would you put out to decipher something unclear?
  • What was your gut feeling when you first saw the document?
  • How much did that gut feeling influence your reading?

Like it or not, human behavior is swayed by emotions.  When a task is pleasurable, we pursue it.  When it’s painful, we move in the other direction.  When we’re stressed and have to make a fast decision, we tend to act on impulsive.

And so it is with everyone who reads your resume.

Bottom line?  You can’t afford to antagonize a single reader.  If it’s hard to read your 9-point size words, or if takes an effort to figure out where you worked when, chances are someone will stop reading and hit delete.

Two Golden Rules

Your resume is a marketing tool.  It has to make a good impression instantly.  It has to look clean.  It has to have an inviting look and feel.  Its appearance must be easy on the eye. Its contents must be easy on the mind.

Golden Rule #1:  Your resume must appear professional at first glance.

Here are tips for creating a crisp look:

  • Stick to one font.
  • Use a point size of at least 10.
  • Keep bolds and italics to a minimum.
  • Use white space liberally
  • Make headings consistent
  • Use bullet points where possible
  • Stick to standard-sized margins.

Golden Rule #2:  Not one word, phrase, acronym, abbreviation, or idea should cause the reader to stop and say, “Huh? I don’t get it. That’s not clear.”

Given the ease of email, hiring managers often pass candidates’ resumes to others for their review.   This may mean doubling or even tripling the number of people you expect to see your resume. In competitive times, you can’t afford to have even one of these many readers become confused.  People feel anxious when they don’t understand something, and that anxiety colors their overall reaction.

Every single line of your resume must be clear.  If it isn’t, any reader (at any point in the hiring process) can prevent you from getting the job you want.

To create a clear resume, follow these guidelines:

  • Imagine you’re writing for a 10-year-old.
  • Use simple words.
  • Keep sentences short. (like this)
  • Avoid professional jargon.
  • Spell out acronyms.
  • Ask for feedback from someone not in your field.

So what?

At this point, you might be asking, “Why all this focus on format? What about all the cool things I’ve done?  Whatever happened to content? Aren’t my accomplishments important?”

And you’d be right.  The content is precisely what perspective employers want to see.  I just want to make sure those with the power to hire you get to review your resume.  I don’t want your work experience to be misunderstood by a gatekeeper.  I don’t want you to lose opportunities because someone is too tired to make sense of your bullet points.

Don’t let the stress levels of your readers limit your career.

Writing a resume is not rocket science, and, in normal times, the process doesn’t have to be strategic.  But these aren’t normal times.  Competition is fierce.  Everyone you encounter in your job search (hiring managers, recruiters, networking contacts, spouses, friends, family members, etc.) is tired of tough times. Everyone’s nerves are on edge.  Present yourself with calm and dignity, and you will stand out.  Make the hiring process simple for each person involved, and you will be admired.