Considering all of the work that goes into putting a resume together, those estimated five seconds hardly seems fair, nor nearly long enough for an employer to get an idea of your potential as an employee.
But that's how most people get their foot in the door, so polishing a resume is a key task in the job search, as I discussed Wednesday morning on WalletPop's "Your Job Will Come" podcast with editor Andrea Chalupa. Listen to it here:
There are plenty of tips, and just as many tricks, for getting your resume taken seriously. But before we get to some of those, one of the main things to remember is to proofread it again and again. After editing it yourself a few times, give it to former colleagues, your spouse, friends and anyone else you trust. Everyone needs a copy editor, and as a journalist, even I had typos and misspellings on my first-draft resume.
I won't get into the nitty-gritty of setting up your resume. There are plenty of sample resumes out there, either online or in books. Once you've determined how to organize your resume, here are some basic -- but very important -- tips to keep in mind:
- Quantify your work achievements by using numbers. Don't just say you increased sales. Be specific, such as you increased sales by 30%.
- Use the best Word formatting so the resume looks neat. I didn't realize until a few months into unemployment that Mac computers can turn words into garble. As a precaution, I often paste the resume into an e-mail, along with attaching it as a file.
- Use words that match the job you want. Since computer programs are often used by large employers to scan resumes for keywords for the job description, use those keywords in your resume. This is why it's important to rewrite your resume for each job you apply for.
- Use power words. Instead of saying you "gave work assignments to staff," say that you "directed workflow, and supervised and trained staff." Verbs are good.
- Don't bash your former employers. While this issue may be more common in interviews, don't write anything on the resume that puts a previous employer in a bad light.
- Stick with plain paper. You want to stand out from the crowd, but not in an obnoxious way. One of my colleagues once received a resume on vibrantly fluorescent pink paper, printed in the blocky old Mac font. What was meant to be eye-catching was instead unreadable.
- Send a gift. A coffee mug with a note, "How about a cup of coffee sometime?" should grab their attention. Send it FedEx or a similar method and put in the note that you will call them within the hour to discuss the job opening and your qualifications. Then make sure FedEx e-mails you when the package has arrived, and call soon thereafter.
- Deliver it in person. Another WalletPop colleague knew a recent graduate who landed a job after dropping off her resume in person and chatting with the school principal. He liked what he heard, had a face to go with the resume, and she got the job. Getting to the front of the line of applicants by doing it in person also shows your initiative.
- Find someone in the area where you're applying for a job and use their address. This is a little under-handed, but employers will often toss resumes from out of state because they don't want to pay relocation costs.
- Put a conversation starter up high. Personal interests can help open up conversation at smaller companies, so saying that you backpack might be a good way to get things going. For a more corporate resume, you might want to stick with professional traits. I have a few that usually get employers talking: By working in newspapers and being laid off at a newspaper, people almost always want to discuss how important newspapers are to their lives and how sad it is that newspapers are dying. Near the top of my resume I list a Pulitzer Prize I won as part of a team in 1997 in North Dakota. It's a great story, and ends with me meeting my wife there. A happy ending...and a story that illuminates some of my job skills.
- Attach a Post-it note. This is definitely a trick. Often a secretary or office assistant will open the resumes to weed out the non-qualified candidates. Take a regular Post-it note, write something like "This one looks good! -- J," and attach it to your resume. Who is "J"? Who cares. The hiring manager will see it and likely pay close attention to the resume. By the time they realize it's not from their screener, you've already gotten it reviewed. Just hope the screener doesn't trash it first.
WalletPop staff who contributed to this article are Jason Cochran, Lita Epstein, Willy Volk, Lou Carlozo, Andrea Chalupa, Sarah Gilbert and Josh Smith.
Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net