Last week a couple of friends were axed from their longtime jobs at Dollar General as part of a “corporate restructuring effort.” Lovely technocratic euphemism, that is. Anyhow, they asked me to take a look at their resumes. And I found myself doling out similar advice after seeing their first drafts.
Recruiters and other HR professionals may look at your resume for as little a six seconds (fruit flies have one of nature’s shortest attention spans, hence the allusion). Take a look at the heat maps from executive recruiting website The Ladders. Red means more dwell time.
Phenomenal writers consider the words, down to the syllable and letter levels as a rich primordial (linguistic) soup. The architecture of words facilitates speed (short sentences, monosyllabic words) or slowness (complex constructions, polysyllabic words). They have a shape and texture and form a topography of the mind. It affects how long you spend in some places, how fast you proceed through others and the view along the way.
Similarly, the font, font size, kerning, white space, line breaks, margins, bolding, italics, word choice, sentence length (among other features) all affect how a reader will proceed through a resume. Where do their eyes land first? Where are the “local equilibria” as you proceed down on the page that are restful spots for the eyes to pause?
Look at the image again. Where are the white spots? The places eyes didn’t linger. On the resume to the left, you see the reader skipping that large block of undifferentiated text at the bottom (it’s broken into bullet points, but it still looks like a lot of work). On the resume to the right, you see the use of bold guides shapes the resume’s gravity so the reader spends more time on the left.
Here’s the central recommendation: build two resumes. The first is the top 3-4 islands or oases that you want people to absolutely certainly read. Under that, build a supporting layer that is still strong, concise and interesting, but is really there for the more interested party who is going to spend more than six seconds on your resume.
It’s easiest to build a first draft and then reshape with the two-tier resume style in mind.
Some other specific tips:
- Put your name in large, bold font at the top of the resume with some white space around it. Try a serif font to contrast from the rest of the resume. This is memorable and serves as the “starting block” for your attention-based resume.
- Leave the contact information (address, phone, email, etc.) in the footer. Readers don’t need this information before reading your resume.
- If you don’t have personal domain (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org), Gmail or Outlook.com email, get one. People read into Comcast, Yahoo, AOL, et all.
- If you list a LinkedIn public profile link, make sure it’s personalized (e.g. https://www.linkedin.com/in/darsmith).
- Tend toward Action-Context-Results (ACR) or Challenge-Action-Results (CAR). Tell mini stories, insofar as you can. The ACR/CAR framework helps with that.
- If you put “Managed 30 employees” as a bullet point, that leaves so much guess work for the reader. Is 30 employees a lot or a little for this organization/industry? Were they high-skilled knowledge workers or mainly hourly laborers? What was the proportion of contract workers to salaried, long-term workers? Etc. Help them out!
- Something like “Hired, managed and cultivated a team of 30 editing professionals, during a period of double-digit company growth, successfully retaining 95% of of new publishing clients.” There’s still guesswork, it’s still a story and the reader still has to figure out how trustworthy you are, but it’s far superior to “Managed 30 employees.”
- Customize each resume to each prospective employer. What do they care about? What problems are you going to solve for them?
- A related point: skip the “Objective” section up top. On one level, your objective is to get a job where you’re applying. Your broader objectives are probably so potboiled that they’re a distraction. Just let people get into the meat of your narrative without forcing them to eat five bullet points of gruel first.
If you can manage, skip the resume.
Build a website, write a blog, push some code to GitHub, publish a design portfolio at Behance or put artful photos up on Flickr. At a minimum, punch up your LinkedIn presence or put together a fresh about.me profile.
The idea is to show rather than just tell. The general effect here is trying to learn more about you. Everything above is just means to that end.