In our last installment, we took a look at how our brains think. We then took that information and applied it to resumes. Using a study by TheLadders.com, we concluded that you should conform your resume to expectations. Reviewers also rated resumes that have a “logical hierarchy of information” as “better” and “more usable.” We are going to use some of the same concepts from the last post, so, if you haven’t, give it a quick read. A hierarchy is an “arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance.”
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Resumes: The Six-second Rule
You will recall from the previous post that the TheLadder’s study concluded a reviewer reads a resume for about six seconds. Before we create a logical hierarchy of information for our organized resume, we wanted to talk about that conclusion. Do you only get six seconds of a reviewer’s time? The good news is, no, we don’t think so. The study isn’t perfect. Part of its imperfection is that we can’t even tell you how imperfect it is. They disclosed in a general way what they did, but they haven’t disclosed their exact method. Being able to replicate an experiment is an important part of science.
In discussing the so called six-second rule with hiring managers and recruiters, it is hard to nail down an actual average. Most seem to agree you have more than six seconds. They do confirm the part of the study we are using: there are certain things they look for in a resume. Hiring managers and recruiters spend more time on resumes that meet their expectations. Our working theory is that most people narrow down an applicant pool by spending 15-30 seconds on a resume the first time they read it. Resumes the reviewer thinks are worth a second look receive additional attention on the second reading. Our goal, then, is to make sure our resume gets that longer read-through.
Resume Tip: Tailor Each Resume To Each Job
Tailoring each resume to specific jobs allows you to identify the information you are going to be organizing. Prospective employers usually will give you some clues about what they are looking for in the language of the job posting. We know from The TheLadder study what information reviewers looked for:
- Current title
- Current company
- Previous title
- Previous company
- Previous position start and end dates
- Current position start and end dates, and education.
One of our biggest resume tips is to do your due diligence. When creating a logical hierarchy of information for your organized resume, create one for each job you are applying for. Read the job description, and the expected qualifications. (Side note: requirements or qualifications are an employers wish list. It is ok to apply for a job even if you do not meet 100% of the qualifications.) Make the language in the resume mirror the language in the job post. They have already told you what they are looking for, so give it to them. You will recall that our brains are big fans of familiarity. What is more familiar than the recruiter’s own words on your well organized resume?
All too often we find job seekers who like to use what we call the Rachel Green method of job hunting. We call it that because it is what Rachel does in the 18th episode of Friends. Rachel and the gang mass produce a Xeroxed resume, and stuff envelopes. She is planning to send a copy of her resume to anyone she can think of. We know from the show she sends the same resume to Saks Fifth Avenue that she sends to Popular Mechanics. Do not do this. It might mean more work, but isn’t it worth it?
Organized Resume: Where to Start
Once one understands the kind of information a reviewer will be looking for, we know the information we wish to present. Now, the Wild Rumpus may begin! Except instead of roaring terrible roars, this Wild Rumpus is organizing your resume into a logical hierarchy of information. I am sorry; there is no way to make that seem exciting. Here is a sample job posting for a customer service representative. It is for a completely made up company we will refer to as “Thin Purse.” Some words stand out from the description: patience, professionalism, positivity. The responsibilities section is pretty straightforward. They are looking for a customer service representative to handle and resolve customer complaints.
People read from left to right, and top to bottom. Remember, a hierarchy is an “arrangement or classification of things according to relative importance.” So we want the important things at the top left, and the least important things on the bottom right. So what is relative importance for resumes? We discussed last time that what a resume does is allows the reviewer to create a concept of “you.” We want to have their concept be the best “you” you can be. The most logical anchor for this concept is your name. That is pretty well established; your name goes at the top of the resume. Usually under that is your contact information. Should they choose you for an interview, that is where people will look for your contact information. Since our goal is to get the interview, contact information isn’t important. The reviewer isn’t looking for it yet. When they are though they will want it to be at the top, so that information can go in the top right. Under the name, I like to put the person’s current title, like so:
This, in many situations, is everything a reviewer needs. People know what a customer service rep does. They know what a sales associate does. The know what a general manager does. Chances are you already have an idea what Fats’ job is like. You have interacted with Customer Service Reps before. From just this little resume, a manager looking to fill a position has a pretty good idea of what skills the applicant posseses. The two most important pieces of information are right at the top and will be the first thing a reviewer sees.
Do. Not. Put. Any. Information. In. The. Section. Header. Of. A. Document. In todays job market, a lot of your applying takes the form of sending an electronic copy of your resume. Many, in particular larger, companies use filtering software. It can be set to ignore information in headers. Filtering software can also have trouble with serif fonts, so use Arial or Calibri. If you have have your resume in the header and in Times New Roman font, stop reading and go change it. Right now.
Also, notice how “Executive Summary” is the only item on its line, centered, bolded and in a larger font. It is a good idea to use the white space to draw the reviewer’s eyes to the important content. There isn’t a hard and fast format that is “the best.” Good formatting will always draw the reader to the important information. In our case, information we know they are looking for. The main headings will usually be “Executive Summary,” “Work History” and “Education.”
Organized Resume: Executive Summaries
You see Fats has included a section called “Executive Summary.” Some people used to learn to include a “Resume Objective” when building their resume. Many, many people misunderstood the point of the “Resume Objective.” The practice still remains, but now we call it an executive summary. What it does is tell the company what knowledge and skills you have to help the company achieve its goals. In the past, most people put for their career objective, something like “To obtain a position as a customer service representative.” You can see how this is a waste of space, and everyone’s time.
You can include an executive summary or not. I do not think it is so integral to the core concept of what a resume is that it will harm you to leave it off. I include one on my resume as the situation dictates. For Fats here, it is an opportunity to reinforce the language from the job posting. This gives the hiring person exactly what they are looking for, and makes your resume seem more familiar to them.
Organized Resume: Work History
The next most important information for most people is work history. Work History is an area where a lot of people run into problems. They often see job applications that ask for your last two to four jobs. You don’t have to put every job on your resume just because it is chronological. For example, I currently have a full time position at FatWallet. I also host live Pub Trivia events some nights for extra income – and because it is fun. There are a lot of times that I do not include “Trivia Host” on my resume because it isn’t relevant to the job. If I was applying for a job that required public speaking, I would include it. If I was applying to be a computer programmer, I would not.
Your work history should be in reverse chronological order. Current job first, and most recent job second. As the reviewer creates their concept of you, this is the easiest way to process information because reverse chronological order helps them see the progression of your career. It lets them see what skills you have likely developed. This section is also useful to potential employers partly because the start and end dates are an easy red flag to check for. If you held 18 jobs in two years, and you didn’t hold any of them for more than a month, this is a concern for employers. Unless it is an industry where this is typical, no one wants to train someone only to have to replace them in a year. Not everyone will be as on the nose as Fats. Fats has only worked in customer service, and he has only worked for one company. This is good in the sense that he has shown he is likely to stick with a company. Also, his current company has promoted him from a customer service representative (tier I) to (tier II). If he is trying to make a lateral move from customer service to the sales team, he will need to make a whole new resume. Fats did work as a landscaper during college in the summer. He didn’t develop any relevant skills, and he only did is for a few months. His resume for this position will likely include just his two customer service positions in his work history.
Make sure that the job title, company, and start and end dates are all right in the same area. Order them in a way that makes sense. We see a lot of resumes that list the dates first, often set off from the rest of the resume. This seems to be putting the cart before the horse. It makes the date seem like the most important thing, when it might be the least. Think about how much people dislike memorizing dates for history class. Dates are a necessary evil, but all they do is communicate how long, and when, you did something. What you did and the skills you have are they reason a resume exists. Lead with the job title. As discussed, this tells someone most of what they need to know. After that, put the company. Then the dates. For xample:
Widget Technician Consolidated Widgets, April 2000 – October 2012
As with resume headings, Fats bolded the most important piece of information. Fats’s resume should draw the eyes to his name at the top, the section heading, his job titles, and his degrees. The same information the TheLadders study said was what reviewers found most important.
Resume Tip: Don’t Tell What You Do; Tell What You Accomplished
Most companies use the same titles for similar positions. Fortune magazine even published a post discussing how creative job titles hurt job seekers. People already have a concept of most common jobs. If Fats were to describe his job, as many do, it would be a colossal waste of his and the reviewers’ time. Things like “spoke with customers via phone, email and chat client,” “documented complaints” and “maintained customer satisfaction,” have no business in a well-organized resume. Instead, use what we call the result-by-action format. Fats could put “increased customer satisfaction and efficiency by 56 precemt by developing a rubric to help identify issues requiring a manager’s intervention as early as possible” or “increased customer survey response rate by asking the questions while on the phone instead of sending a follow up email.” This helps companies see how you meet their needs. Again, here is an opportunity to relate your experiences to the job posting itself. Do not use a block of text, keep it short, and list one to three bullets. This may also prompt some easy questions in an interview.
Organized Resume: Education
The final piece of information from the TheLadders study is education. In many ways, this gets the same consideration as your work history section. Most people have a concept of what a high school graduate is. What a person with a bachelor’s degree is. Unless you are a recent graduate with no work history, this is the least important section for many jobs. There are some things to think about. If I know the person reviewing my resume is an alum of the same university, I would be sure to highlight that. For the most part, listing the institution and the date your degree was awarded is enough. The further removed from college the less information this section will contain. A lot of the resume tips we see present a hard and fast rule such as “list the last two educational institutions.” In the United States, getting into an accredited college, without a high school diploma or equivalent is the exception, not the rule. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher, consider leaving you high school education altogether. For this current job posting, high school diploma is a listed requirement. Since it is language from the post I would include even though having a bachelor’s degree usually means you have a high school diploma or equivalent.
The main piece of information this post is looking for is if the applicant has a diploma and/or a degreesSo bold that information, and have it mirror your work history:
Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Services Administration Central Michigan University Degree Conferred 2012
High School Diploma Port Huron High School Diploma conferred 2008
If your resume seems a little thin at this point, academic honors and accomplishments are fine to list. Keep them relevant. If you are wondering why we haven’t discussed references, its because I don’t usually include them. Everyone knows you have them, and everyone knows you are going to include people with great things to say about you.