Job Search

7 seconds – that’s how long I give every resume. You’ve got seven seconds to show me that it’s worth my time to continue reading.

Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve been hiring resources, on contract, full-time, part-time, hourly, and salaried job positions for over 20 years. That has been across a variety of industries, although most recently, I have been hiring for high-tech corporate environments. In smaller companies, hiring managers perform their own screening, which means every resume or application hits my inbox directly.

I have looked at many resumes. Not as many as a human resources professional, but definitely in the hundreds, if not thousands, by now.

The availability of free how-to guides and articles, combined with a rigorous focus in schools around job hunting, make some of the things I see surprising. (For all of the great advice and resources out there, most resumes make me cringe.)

In seven seconds, if your resume makes me cringe or is plain and vanilla, I will set your resume aside, and move on. It’s unlikely that I will tell you, “No. Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s nothing personal or intentionally mean. But, if you don’t stand out, I won’t make time to follow up.

These are the details that don’t seem like a big deal, but they are. They say it’s the little things in life…including these little resume tips, and that seven second window to stand out. This is a list of what a business leader is thinking about resumes when you apply for a job:

1) The mass resume:

In that seven seconds, it is unbelievably clear whether my job posting is just one of many for a candidate. The resume can, and must, be tailored for every position. Often, the job title does not even match my posting. Or worse, the job title has been changed, but none of the material supports the job.

How to fix it:

If you want your resume to stand out against the many resumes that hit my mailbox, you should apply to positions that speak most strongly to your passions and experiences. This filtering activity will immediately stimulate your motivation in crafting a custom resume and cover letter. Your passion shines through when you’re excited about the job vs. just trying to pay the bills. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that I can’t tell your interest level from words on a screen. I can, in every effort you made to target your resume to the job, in every word choice, and how your portfolio matches the position. If you want to be special, apply to job positions that are special to you.

2) The absent cover letter:

Another indicator of mass-mailing is the lack of a cover letter. Your resume provides very little insight into your personality as a candidate. Writing a cover letter is a big marketing opportunity for yourself, but is completely lost if you don’t submit one.

How to fix it:

How many times have you said, “I’m great at having conversations. I wish I could just talk to someone!”?

Take the time to write a cover letter, because a cover letter IS the start of a conversation. Cover letters should be fitting for why exactly my job position stood out to you, which will reflect some of your motivations for applying, a little experience, and insight into your personality.

This is a good time to highlight what you have to offer in this role that is going to be the rock-my-world-business-changer. Make me stop in my tracks and pick up the phone immediately.

3) The ugly resume:

That’s not talking about the content of the resume – it’s about the aesthetics and the formatting.

A quality resume uses the basics that are always in style: white space is used effectively, font size is easy to read, layout is pleasant and showcases the experiences of the candidate.

Half pages? Poor layout? Paragraphs of words? Yikes.

How to fix it:

In seven seconds, I should be able to easily scan a resume and read all of the important highlights. That means professional, clear, bullet pointed highlights. Not 8 point font of paragraphs describing what you did every day, including the breakfast you ate.

4) The list of busy work you did, rather than your impact on the company:

Most resumes are lists of activities that people performed. While that’s a start, as an executive, I would rather see what the business’s result was because of the activities you performed. Why? Because as an executive within a company, the business results of my unit are my responsibility and I want people who can have a positive impact on our goals. Use statements of activity. Writing impact-based statements can be infinitely more difficult than jotting down what you did. However, that’s the difference between laying out how you will help me achieve my business goals vs. crossing items off the to-do list.

How to fix it:

Rather than saying, “Created and managed company Facebook posts”, I would rather see:

“Increased Facebook following by 500% through daily postings and Facebook sponsored photo contest.”

5) The inconsistent profile alignment:

An incredible resume and cover letter crossed my desk recently for a copywriter position. I looked up the candidate on LinkedIn only to discover that the entire profile was showing the person as a graphic designer. Is this the same person? Was this person really qualified for copywriting, when all of his work reflects graphic design? I did end up giving this person a call, as I was able to connect the dots between the submitted resume and the online profile. But, how many others didn’t bother?

How to fix it:

If you’re at the stage where you’re not sure whether you’re a graphic designer or a copywriter, for example, then find a way that can speak to both in your online profiles. For example, why not be an experienced content developer, and then include both the copywriting and graphic design experiences within the details. At a minimum, your posted headline will not be completely contradictory to the job for which you applied. Why does this matter? I am hiring people who love what they do and that their passions align with what we’re trying to accomplish.

6) Be consistent and brand yourself clearly across all of your messaging:

Be aware of all of your on and offline presence. That doesn’t just mean, “Don’t post Facebook pictures of you with a red solo cup and glazed eyes.” It means advertise yourself thoroughly for what you’re interested in pursuing and what you’re qualified for.

It’s not all bad news. There are many new-to-the-job-market who not only submit top notch resumes and cover letters, but also leverage all tools to create every advantage for themselves. Here’s what many people are doing right:

7) Well-targeted content:

Applicants who ‘get it’ have clearly done their homework. They reference the company, the industry, and the position directly; then, it is obvious that this submission has been customized just for me. In some cases, candidates even offer free advice on the opportunities they see related to the role. For example, one graphic designer included the three things they would want to first tackle in our website design, emphasizing the importance of conversion. Now that’s a problem we all want to solve.

When you do your homework and focus on the company, or have suggestions for me, I am more likely to do my homework and focus on you. Any suggestions you have, or ideas of what you want to do with the company are great conversation starters.

8) Use social media like Goldilocks: just right:

Uhm, who’s been creeping on MY site?” The amount of information available about people today can lean just a little on the creepy side, depending on how it’s used and positioned. Identifying common interests, networking groups, or business connections is great. Saying you noticed me at a networking event and that the color red looks good on me is creepy.

If you have mutual LinkedIn connections, that’s an obvious connection point that won’t take me by surprise. If you do take me by surprise, showing me that you’ve been creeping all over me, it’s creepy, and even has been coined as “creeping.” (Yes. People have done this to me before. People have noticed me at events wearing red dresses and mention my profile pictures and intimate details that they know about me that I didn’t know they knew. That’s too much.)

9) The one that actually networked:

It used to be that the name of hiring managers was secret, hidden behind a generic email for submitting your resume.

Candidates would hardly know who they were submitting their resume to, and were unable to find out (without LinkedIn or other social media). Today, many of the best candidates want to know who they’re working for and what they’ll learn. In order to attract top talent, hiring managers have to come to the foreground, and show who they are and what they can teach new hires. Because information about hiring managers is so accessible now, it’s easier to see how you might network to meet that person.

10) Leverage your network:

The smartest candidates get a leg up by working through their networks to find someone who knows me, in order to get an introduction. I will clear fifteen minutes on my calendar for the right person, as a courtesy or favor to a contact who is asking me to help. If I have already met you because of a networking connection, you will have a clear leg up when I’m hiring.

7 seconds. That’s how long I give every resume. You’ve got seven seconds to show me that it’s worth my time to continue reading.

The job market is competitive. As of December 2013, there were four million job openings in the US, according to the recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey Highlights from the US Department of Labor. The record high was in 2007 at 4.7 million.  Although the job market trend is positive, that still lives three people available for every job opening. For coveted job positions, the competition is even higher. But, you’re smart, and you can make tiny changes to stand out in a tiny window of time.

It’s the little things, like those seven seconds I spend on your resume, and the few changes that count.

Author: Tanya White is the VP of Marketing for a software company in Austin, Texas. She is also the Founder of babybirdguide.com, a publishing company committed to providing Knowledge in Bite-Sized Pieces™.


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