Writing a Resume can be a labor of love, but all too often in today’s uncertain economic climate that love can go unrequited when it comes to job applications. If I had a dollar for each time a client said they had not received a response to a job application, I would be considerably wealthier.
Like a first date, it is critical to make a first good impression when it comes to writing a resume. Employers and recruiters tend to work on a strict ‘love (or at least attraction!) at first site’ policy, and if your resume is not up to scratch, you can expect immediate rejection.
Writing a good resume is a challenge. In a few short pages the author is required to distil a lifetime of work experience, achievements and aspirations, whilst at the same time convincing a third-party of their value as a potential employee.
It is not unusual for applicants to spend a considerable amount of time drafting and redrafting their resume. And given the potential benefit a good resume can deliver – namely obtaining that desired job – the effort agonising over the right words, phrases and content is time well spent.
Given the amount of time and effort the author can spend writing a resume, many job applicants still entertain the notion that employers or recruiters will reciprocate, by spending a fair amount of time pouring over the details of their resume.
Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth, especially when it comes to the first screening. With hundreds and potentially thousands of resume’s to review, recruiters will typically give a resume short shrift on the first pass, as they attempt to cull the numbers to a manageable level. It would seem that when it comes to early resume screening, it is rather a case of ‘wham bam’ than a considered ‘get to know you’.
In all probability, a recruiter will look at a resume and decide within the first minute, often within thirty seconds, whether to accept or reject a resume. Due to the sheer volume of applications, employers and recruiters simply don’t have time to carefully review all resume’s first time around. They are actively looking to cull back the list of potential candidates, and will ruthlessly weed out those resume’s that fall short of their expectations.
While a good resume needs to hit the mark on many levels, it is crucial not to give recruiters any obvious reasons to throw your resume on the early reject pile. Below, I have listed some important items to address to ensure you avoid any obvious or glaring shortcomings, thereby making it harder for recruiters to exclude your resume in early screening.
While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’, the items discussed below capture key factors responsible for early resume rejection;
Brevity – A concise resume is a good resume, and will earn early brownie points from the reviewer, while an overly long resume will have the opposite effect. If a reviewer has to go actively looking for key information, you will have already received your first black mark.
If you can comfortably capture information in a single page, then do so. Even if you are highly experienced, try to keep the number of pages to a minimum. Recruiters are time sensitive and will penalise unnecessarily long resumes accordingly.
First Page Format- When it comes to writing a resume, the first page is ground zero. Before a reviewer even begins to read through the details of your resume, they will be making both conscious and unconscious assessments of the layout of the document. If competition is tough and you are competing with many well presented and written resume’s, a flawed front page can often equate to rejection.
The first page of a resume should always present well. This can be tricky because you need to capture as much noteworthy information as possible, whilst keeping the layout neat and easy to read. You can achieve this by adhering to the brevity rule above, and also being ruthless with what to include/exclude. Too many resume first pages contain information that is either superfluous or could be included later in the document.
In terms of layout, there should be consistent use of headers, paragraphs, bullet points and white space to clearly delineate between sections of the document and key points highlighted. Along with use of appropriate font and size, the document should not only be easy to read, but should be easy for a reviewer to identify key information.
First Page Content – First page content of a resume will vary depending on the experience of the candidate and the role in question. The first rule of first page content is to ensure that you capture any critical information that might get you hired. There is no benefit in burying important information in the latter part of a resume, as it may never be looked at.
While adhering to this rule is simple enough for a one page resume, it requires more thought for highly experienced and senior roles. With years or even decades of experience behind a candidate, serious thought needs to be given to information included versus excluded.
Some things to consider with first page content include;
Contact Details – Name and contact details should be easily identifiable at the top of the each page. Contact information should include at minimum, address, email and phone details.
Job Title – Include current role or job title at the top of a resume, below Contact Details. It will add value to an application, particularly if applying for a similar or related role, indicating the applicant already has practical experience.
Profile Summary – It is helpful to include either a well written Objective Statement or Profile Summary near the top of the page. An Objective Statement should be a concise statement outlining what type of employment an individual is seeking, and is preferable for less experienced candidates. Alternatively, a Profile Summary should be used for experienced individuals and clearly outline what the candidate has to offer. A Profile Summary would generally include a high level statement of key expertise plus a few major strengths and achievements.
Expertise – It is helpful to follow the Objective or Profile Summary with a section outlining the individual’s primary ‘Areas of Expertise’ (also referred to as Core Competencies, Key Capabilities, etc). These are often depicted in bullet point form, and should be clearly aligned with the stated requirements or selection criteria of the role.
Work Experience – Work history will typically begin on the first page of a resume and for most people will make up the bulk of resume content. Work experience needs to list most recent roles first, and include organisation, position and dates employed.
Also included should be responsibilities and achievements. This should not be an exhaustive list, but should include those of greatest importance and those aligned to the position description. Be sure to include achievement outcomes and metrics if possible, as they will lend weight to your assertions.
More emphasis should be placed on recent roles, or previous roles that are aligned with the position being applied for. Older and less relevant roles simply need organisation, position and dates employed.
Qualifications – Including academic achievements on the first page will depend on individual circumstance. Typically, academic information will be included up front if there is limited work experience of note (less than 2-3 years). If relevant work experience is greater than 3 years, then education should appear towards the end of the resume.
However, like all rules, exceptions exist. You may want to include education up front if you believe it positively differentiates you from the competition or if applying for an academic role which places great emphasis on academic qualifications.
Photographs – The general rule is to avoid placing your photograph on your resume unless stipulated by the recruiter. Weight of opinion suggests that adding a photograph is a gamble as it can work either for or against the applicant depending on a variety of factors relating to both the recruiter and the applicant (including sex, age, attractiveness, photo quality, etc). Because submitting a photograph is ultimately a gamble that won’t necessarily come off, it is best to let the resume speak for itself.
A resume should not be a static document. It should be reviewed and re-drafted each time an applicant applies for a different role. Different roles have different selection criteria, and a resume should be constantly modified to suit the requirements of each new role. Recruiters are quick to identify and penalise instances of static cover letters or resume’s.
The single most significant reason for immediate rejection of a resume remains spelling and punctuation errors. Given the leg-up with auto spell check applications, one would expect fewer errors of this nature, however these spelling and grammar applications come with an unfortunate (though sometimes humorous) side effect if not used properly. Some well know examples include the banker who was “highly experienced in all faucets of finance’, or the Project Manager with ‘extensive steak holder management skills’.
My advice is simply to check and double-check your work. Better yet, also get a third-party to proofread your resume. You would be surprised how often someone else picks up an issue in your resume that you have missed.
For many individuals I would suggest getting some form of help with your resume evaluation. This can be as simple as getting someone you know and trust to review your document, or perhaps enlisting the services of a professional resume writer. A resume writer can add significant value for many reasons, including poor grasp of language, intermittent work history, returning to the workforce after a long break or simply looking for an edge over the competition.
In my experience, an independent or experienced eye cast over a resume will often identify errors, irrelevance or poor communication that the author can miss. Individuals often get ‘too close’ to their resume to fully appreciate all the nuances of the document, and as a result they are not able to ‘see the forest for the trees’.
Like a first date gone horribly wrong, if a resume is not right the first time, don’t expect to be called back for a second chance. As outlined above, there is little sentimentality when it comes to harsh realities of resume screening.
However, by following these helpful hints or getting some help from an independent third-party, you will greatly improve the chances of your resume surviving first round screening. And by avoiding the early reject pile the opportunity to further any potential relationship with a prospective employer won’t be over before it even begins.