New Year, New Resume

Posted by: Matt Nagler, Managing Partner
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Matt Nagler

We all update our resumes. We add jobs, skills and descriptions, maybe review them for information that is outdated or not relevant and do some editing for length. In recent years though, technology and social science have given us some tips on how to make them as impactful as possible.

Formatting matters – and not in the way you think.

An eye-tracking technology study of HR professionals in 2012 measured what they really see when they’re looking at a resume for an initial impression of fit. Even the resume readers were surprised by the results. They self-reported spending 4-5 minutes on each resume. The actual time? Six seconds. And while the readers thought they read the whole resume through, their eyes followed a consistent pattern, lingered on certain sections for longer periods and barely skimming others.

The hotspots that took 80% of the reader’s time were the left-aligned “bursts of information”:

Current title and company
Previous title and company
Start and end dates of these positions

The remainder of the initial viewing was pattern-matching – finding keywords that matched the description for the position they were hiring for.

How to format for clarity and impact.

Make sure there is white space – it draws the eye to the important points. Take out graphics and blocks of text (they got no eye-time) in order to reduce clutter. And bold the headings that you know are most important. The harder it is to find the pertinent information on your resume, the less time someone will spend looking at it.

Since readers are scanning for word matches, do make sure your resume reflects your experience as it relates to the job you’re looking for. Be consistent and use terminology that is common in that industry. If you’re having trouble thinking of buzzwords, look through the company’s website and see what they use.

Once you’ve past the first stage of review your resume is going to get more scrutiny. Beyond the usual caveats – no typos, spelling mistakes or grammatical errors! – clarity is still imperative. Provide clear descriptions of each job in 4-6 bullet pointed lines. Quantify the information you’re giving people. Numbers not only give a clearer picture of what you did, but jump out at the reader. Instead of saying you “Managed the Adult Education budget”, say you “Managed a $30,000 Adult Education budget for 1,000 students.”

Instead of listing what you do as separate from your accomplishments, link your actions to results whenever possible. If the vendor-review you did for your company led to saving your department money, say that instead of listing them separately.

There’s a bonus to all this. The more you have to think about your resume in order to clarify the information for the reader, the more clear you will have made it for yourself. And the better you’ll be in the interview.