Your resume is like a commercial. The product it’s selling: you. You are the shiny, new person that employer has been looking for and you’re available for the low, low cost of an appropriate salary and benefits.
Think of your resume as a commercial about you. Since there aren’t really visuals involved with a resume (unless you’re an artist or actor) let’s think of it as a radio commercial. Most of those commercial spots have to fit into 30 seconds or less. That means they have to grab your attention and give you all the information you need in under half a minute. That’s not a lot of time.
Experts say that, when it comes to resumes, employers decide whether or not to keep reading your resume within 7 seconds of glancing through it. That means that you’ve got to make an impactful impression in almost one tenth of a minute.
So, let’s think in terms of 7 seconds and then 30 seconds.
To catch that employer’s attention you need a resume that is visually strong and appealing. It should be neat and clean looking, meaning not over-crowded with information. If your potential employer feels overwhelmed just looking at the volume of information on your resume, they are most likely going to give it up in anticipation of feeling exhausted. Remember those commercials: you don’t need to say every single detail, just highlight the most relevant information.
For those first 7 seconds, you also want your name to stand out, the headings on the sections throughout your resume, and, especially, the names of the places you’ve worked/positions you have held. In those first 7 seconds, a lot of employers are looking to see if you are competent at making a resume: this skill involves attention to detail, organization, patience, time-commitment, and basic computer skills, all of which many employers are looking for in potential employees. The employer may also be looking to see if you have the experience relevant to the position they need to fill; having your relevant experience clearly and visibly articulated near the top of your resume is a strong choice. This can be your work experience but listing your relevant skills/experience in a separate section will give them an overview of why you think you’re right for their job. If you can, do your best to tailor these skills/types of experience to the specific job you are applying for.
Now, you’ve held their attention for the first and vital 7 seconds. Congratulations! Your next job is to prove to them that they should put even more time into considering your resume and/or bring you in for an interview.
My advice is to have only the most relevant work experience and skills represented on your resume. If you’ve worked for 30 years in sales but you’re looking for a job working with children, find the experience that is best suited to childcare, customer service and so forth. This goes back to what I said about not inundating the employer with too much information. They don’t need to know about every single one of the 30 sales jobs you’ve held for the past 4 decades. You can mention that in your statement of purpose, your cover letter, or your experience list. Show them the jobs that prove that you are qualified, without a doubt, for the specific position they’re hiring for. Give them the basic information about what your job tasks were, what your accomplished, when you were promoted or recognized for outstanding work. What they need to see is that you know what they are looking for in an employee and that you know that you are it.
Keep your details succinct; you want to give them enough information but you also want them to be able to take in as much information as possible in the short amount of time they may be looking at your resume. One way you can check if you’re being succinct with your information is to type it out and then time yourself reading/skimming through it. Prune it from there. There’s nothing wrong with one word descriptions or short phrases. Think about it: if they’re spending less than 30 seconds, or even less than 10 seconds, they’re not looking for a detailed narrative. They’re probably looking at, at least, 50 other resumes; you want them to know that you’re the one for them as quickly as possible.
Now, you may be thinking that commercials are often fun or funny, and, while that is true, you need to be careful about the amount of “whimsy” you put in your resume. Resume writing needs to be professional and informative, first and foremost. You can show your personality with your format and the visual choices you make, as well as your font. I also like to throw in 1-3 fun “special skills” to show that I’m fun, funny, or, at the very least, human. On every resume I have (currently, I have three for different industries I work in) I include “juggling” in my list of skills. Some people like to include special interests as well. I encourage this only on two conditions: 1) adding special interests (or even extra “fun” skills” does not make your resume too long—depending on your industry, a good rule of thumb is that your resume shouldn’t go over two pages; and 2) you only add the “special interest” section to the very bottom of your resume.
Your potential employer is reading from top to bottom, meaning the most relevant information, the information that you want them to read in those first 7 and 30 second time brackets, should be at the top. Special interest sections and fun skills are for when they’ve determined that you probably are someone they want to interview and they’re just going through all of your details. Special interests and fun skills, like I said, show your personality. Sometimes those elements of your personality will appeal to an employer that shares something in common with you. Sometimes they will inform that employee that you have something to offer that goes above and beyond their specific call of duty.
When I was applying for a job at a smoothie shop years ago, having juggling on my resume caught my manager’s eye. She asked me to juggle outside the store while wearing a promotional body sign in order to draw in business; I got to take a break from the repetitiveness of the usual job and I got paid time and a half for the two hours I was out there. You never know.
But, again, unless it is super relevant to the position you want, leave it until the end and give that employer the chance to quickly decide that you are a “yes,” before finding out those fun little facts about you (that should make that “yes” even stronger).
And remember: you’re that new, updated product this employer is looking for. You’ve got just what they’re looking for with a fresh perspective and energy to bring to the table. Show them why they want to invest in you and do it in a quick, informative, and appropriately informative way.