How long do recruiters look at resumes? I’ve heard anywhere from six seconds to 15—and whatever it is, it’s definitely less than a minute. In fact, recruiter Gary Nelson thinks to really catch a hiring manager’s eye, your resume needs to not just pass the six-second test, but the blink test. In other words, it needs to grab a recruiter’s attention nearly instantly.
So, how does one do such a thing? Here are a few ways to make your resume instantly eye-catching. (And, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: It’s not with colorful graphics or professional headshots.)
1. Use the Good Ol’ Resume Format
A common mistake people make in an effort to make their resumes a bit more flashy is to get creative with the formatting. And while this is sometimes okay in more arts-centric professions, in general you really don’t want to mix up the standard resume formatting too much, because it makes it harder for recruiters to find what they’re looking for (not to mention it wreaks havoc with applicant tracking systems). It’s helpful to remember that recruiters don’t forward a resume because it’s pretty—they send resumes along when they see a candidate is qualified. And in the end, if someone can’t find the information he or she needs immediately, it’s a toss. (Here are a few other things that will get your resume thrown in the trash.)
So, make sure your skills are seen, not tucked them away somewhere unexpected. Keep your name and contact information at the top, make your section headings stand out through bolding, underlining, or all-caps text, and have your achievements written out as bulleted statements. It’s all about making it easy to find the right information to convince them to move you on in the recruiting process—not to win a graphic design contest. (Unless, well, you’re going for a graphic design job.)
2. Make the Best Stuff Loud and Clear
While you don’t want to shake up the formatting too much, you do want to make sure your most relevant experiences are as close to the top as possible. With only a blink, you know the recruiter is looking at the very top of your resume—not halfway down the page, and definitely not somewhere near the bottom.
What does this mean? Think about what’s most important in getting you hired for each specific position you’re applying for, and rearrange your resume accordingly. If you’re an undergrad interested in management consulting, put your education section up top, and make sure your GPA is front and center. If you’re an experienced project manager, you’ll want to have relevant skills up at the top of your resume in a summary of qualifications section. And, if your most recent experience isn’t the most relevant to the job you’re seeking, then it’s time to create a tailored experience section, like “Business Development Experience” or “Editorial Experience,” that goes above the rest of your positions. The key here, again, is to make sure whoever’s reading your resume gets the message about what you have to offer—instantly.
3. Use Emphasis Strategically
Aside from making sure everything is where it’s expected and moving your strengths to the top, you also want to be thoughtful about what else is highlighted throughout your resume. In other words, think about what you want to showcase, then use bolding, underlining, and italicizing to emphasize those things.
For example, if you have an internship at a well-known company like Facebook, Gucci, or Zappos, you’ll probably want to point to the company name rather than your position title. Alternatively, if you wore multiple hats as one of the first employees of a small startup, you may want to put greater emphasis on your job title than on the name of the company. Since your resume only gets a quick glance, it’s likely that whatever is bolded is going to be what’s looked at. Make sure it makes an impact.
While your resume might be memorable because you printed it on lime green paper, trust me—that’s not what’s going to get you noticed. If you know you’re qualified for a position, your goal is to make it easy for a recruiter to find evidence of this on your resume. Counterintuitively, to pass the resume blink test, keep everything where it’s expected to be, move your strengths to the top, and don’t be afraid to show off in the rest of your resume.
Photo of eye courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author