While scanning through a pile of resumes recently, I was surprised to see how few really stood out from the crowd. How few were formatted in an approachable way. How few made me want to take the next step to meet the person behind the sheet of paper.
I am not a HR professional; I don’t claim to understand all the nuance of searching and finding great people. And I know that resumes are passé; in today’s world, your website, or your blog, or your book all tell a story about you that is more personal and insightful than words on a piece of paper. But here’s the catch – for me, your resume is the gatekeeper to all of that rich content. If you don’t catch me at the resume stage, I may not take the next step to find out more about you in any of those more creative constructs.
So, at the risk of stating the obvious, here are a couple of pointers for helping us (those who are doing the screening) find you (those who want to make it to the “yes” pile.)
- Format matters. Your resume is my first measure of your communication skill. I assume that how you present yourself to me is the same way that you might craft a presentation to one of our clients. Take a look at your resume in “whole page” view. It should be pleasing to the eye – it should invite me in, rather than make me feel I have some work ahead of me. Is there any breathing room or white space? Are the sections clearly broken out and easily identifiable? Think of it as an artful presentation rather than a data sheet, and you’re likely to have more of the content consumed and appreciated.
- Edit, then edit some more. Understand the description of the job that you’re seeking and use that as a guide to make your resume sing. What are the two or three things that you really want me to take away from your experiences? Help me find them – don’t make me hunt for the nuggets among the mundane. Show me that you have the experience to merit consideration, but don’t belabor projects and experiences that blend in at the expense of those that should stand out. I’m going to read your resume with a highlighter in hand. (That’s right, I’m actually going to print it out.) Help me quickly find those things that you think I should mark in bright yellow.
- Find a way to inject some personality. There are many ways to do this, and some are better than others – but I need to get a sense of you the person, beyond titles, dates and degrees. Don’t get too cute here, but once again, give my highlighter something to grab onto. Give me something to attach to your name – “Oh yeah, she’s the one who ran away with the circus.” (Don’t use that one, unless you know, you actually were a circus runaway…)
- Details matter. It’s really hard to imagine, but I saw typos, grammatical errors, and formatting problems. Proof your work – there is no excuse for not being meticulous here. One bad typo, and you could end up in the “maybe” pile. And do not rely on spell check alone, have a friend read it over with a critical eye. Save it as a .pdf – you do realize that not all computers have the same font libraries don’t you? When I open your resume with Word or Pages my computer might just do some auto-formatting, and all of your hard work perfecting the look could be out the window.
Some final points:
- One page is an ideal length, but two pages are acceptable if your work history merits the second page. Once again, this should be an exercise in sacrifice and editing, but if you’ve been in the workforce for 15 years, then a second page is understandable. Do not include a second page to tell me about your paper route, or your role as social chairman of the fraternity.
- And finally, please realize that cover letters are most often used when a resume is physically mailed to a HR department. In most cases these days, a resume is attached to an email. Therefore, your email IS your cover letter – treat it accordingly.
I wish you all the best in your search and career. I know that there is a fascinating person behind this piece of paper. So please make it easy for me to place your resume in the “yes” pile.