Nowadays hordes of college students and young grads tailor their resumes in a desperate attempt to get noticed by recruiters from all sorts of companies. Not so long ago I went through this myself, and I know how it is – to spend a sleepless night before career fair perfecting your resume down to minor details so that the next morning the recruiter would glance at it for 5 seconds before she says to go apply online. The problem is that we are completely missing the point of resume: we think that the content is what important to the recruiter when it is not, we think that the more we have in our resume the more impressive it looks, and we think of our resume as of a 1-dimensional document. We’ve missed all the points. It is important to get in the head of the recruiter to understand what would make your resume catch their eyes and really stand out in the ocean of other resumes.
Essay vs. Webpage
Recent studies show that recruiters only look at your resume on average for six seconds before they know if they are interested or not. If we want to make these six seconds count, here are some tricks we need to understand about the way our resumes are looked at.
We pay too much attention to the content of the resume hoping that someone will actually read it thoroughly. We use serif fonts for our resumes (like Cambria, Times, Georgia). Serif fonts are widely used because they are easier to read line-by-line; they help your eyes to stay on track while they are moving across the body of text. So the problem is that we treat our resumes as essays, whereas a modern resume should be more of a webpage.
Essays are intended to be thoroughly and thoughtfully read. An essay reader is assumed to read every single word in an essay, so if there’s something bright and shiny in your essay, it will get noticed, period.
In contrast, webpages are intended to be skimmed or scanned. When we look at a webpage of a news website or Facebook, we are looking for something interesting, something that catches our eye, completely ignoring blocks of possibly relevant information.
Needless to say that recruiters are skimming our resumes rather than reading them thoroughly. Once you understand that, the following advices become more obvious.
1-D vs. 2-D
All of the standard resume templates supplied by Microsoft Office and Pages are linear in that they are suggesting that your resume should be written, and therefore should be read line-by-line. If you were to direct me to some specific point in your resume, you could say ‘look at the line number fourteen’. That again, comes from the essay mentality that has long dominated the world of documents that previous generations were creating. We are living in a new era, and if Facebook and Amazon were serving their data in a line-by-line manner, none of them would be multi-billion dollar companies.
We should learn from the online industry, because they know the value of human attention. All the science behind the landing pages and conversion rates is all about making people stay on the webpage long enough to get interested, and finding the most crucial pieces of information instantly.
It so happens that the body of plain text is not the best way to make the content searchable for humans, whereas organizing data in blocks might make it way easier to navigate or search.
Imagine you were given a resume organized in blocks with well-defined headings. The recruiter will know exactly which block to look at to find information that is most important to her.
Organizing your resume in a 2-D manner using blocks gives you yet another advantage. If you are using linear layout, it means that once your line ends, the whole horizontal space next to that line is useless. Your precious resume real estate is wasted! It is not necessarily the case with the resume organized in blocks. If you happened to have a lot of short lines in your ‘education’ block, just shrink its width and use the space to the right for something else.
In the resume above all the space in red could’ve been used more wisely with the use of blocks.
Don’t forget, the piece of paper is 2-D, so take advantage of that. If there’s a lot to put on your resume, you’ll get extra space to fit everything. Plus, it makes the layout more user-friendly and easier to scan.
Visual vs. Informative
Like I said, just like the webpage designers, we fight for the über-short attention span of our “users”. Use of visuals goes a long way for a webpage, and we should take advantage of that as well. I am not saying you should create a hero image for your resume, or even add an avatar. In fact, statistics say that once you put your photo on your resume, you get an 88% chance to get rejected because of that. Having images on your resume makes it look unprofessional. However, it doesn’t mean that we cannot utilize visual aids to make the core data more discoverable.
To give you just a few ideas, instead of labeling your skills with words strong, average and so on consider using progress bars. They are commonly used UI elements and they get the point across quite well. Don’t worry that the progress bars per se don’t convey any measures – your degree of knowledge is hard to measure anyway. All these bars mean is that you are most proficient with Java, and C++ is one of your weaknesses.
The following piece of advice is the one to be careful with. However, due to the relatedness to the webpage design, it has a right to be heard. If you have already worked for some companies that you are proud of (Google, JP Morgan, NASA), or you did some projects using relevant technologies (Arduino, React JS, etc.), consider including gray scale icon of that organization or technology in your resume. The point is to make these items more discoverable in your resume. The logo of Chase Bank is more recognizable and eye-catchy than the word itself. However, like I said, irrelevant graphics make your resume look unprofessional, so be careful with that. Make sure your images are small, black-and-white, and consider including them only if they are well recognized. Restrain otherwise.
More vs. Less
When we are in our freshman and sophomore year we are too ashamed of the fact that our resume could fit in 5 lines. That shame forces us to put tons of irrelevant or unimportant stuff on our resume, which we find hard to get rid of later on when truly important things that we accomplish want to make it to our one-pager. That’s how our resumes grow extremely clunky and hard to read.
Next time you think that a 5-line resume is bad, revisit the Google front page, or look at your MacBook’s lid. Minimalism has its style, and it doesn’t matter that in your case minimalism might be a necessity rather than an option. In fact, a 5-line resume would be a gift to a recruiter on a career fair (given that these 5 lines make it count).
Can you imagine what Mark Zuckerberg’s resume would look like? In the ‘work experience’ section there would be just one line: “Facebook Inc. Founder and CEO of a multi-billion company”. He never graduated so, he might omit his ‘education’ section altogether. He could include his high school, his awards and honors, his hobbies, computer skills, leadership skills, and so on. But all of it will only create extra noise around his killer one line: “founder and CEO of a multi-billion company”.
So the advice here is pretty straightforward: don’t include in your resume what doesn’t have to be there, even if there’s not much of meaningful stuff to put on. Less information makes it easier to discover and concentrate on important things.
Remember, simplicity is ultimate sophistication.
Cool vs. Conventional
With all these awesome advices you are now ready to re-engineer your resume, and throw the old essay-like resume to trash. Don’t hurry. Remember that all HRs are different, and some of those you will meet might be overly conservative. They might dislike your new resume format simply because it’s something unfamiliar. So what I would do, for the career day I would print out two stacks of resumes: cool ones and conventional ones. And when I walk up to the recruiter, I’d say: “Hey there! Wow, so many people are looking for a job in your company. Let me make it a little less monotonous for your eyes. What would you like, a regular resume, or a cool resume?” Chances are the guy is in a good mood, and if he is intrigued by the way you pronounce the word ‘cool’, he’ll definitely give a try to the latter option. If he sees all these irritating icons and shrugs, you have a backup resume to hand to him.
But consider for a second what happens if he likes what he sees? He is intrigued by your new approach to resume design. If he is to appreciate the engineering behind your smart layout, your wise use of horizontal space, your use of Sans Serif that’s easier to skim through, he’ll think you are a smart ass and give you some credit even before he started talking to you. He spends more than 6 seconds looking at it only because he is interested, and the ultimate goal of you standing next to him is achieved: you stand out from the ocean of other potential employees. He’s hypnotized. Now open your mouth and start talking!