30 Second Screening: Will Your Résumé Survive?

Anecdotal evidence consistently suggests that many recruiters and hiring managers spend less than 30 seconds on the first reading. Will a Summary or Profile section help your résumé to cut through?

I hear many opinions both for and against the idea of including a Summary or Profile section at the beginning of a résumé. Some recruiters say they ignore them because they are usually fluffy motherhood statements that add no real substance to the document. In most cases, I would agree with that, because the Summary is often a rather bland, generic section containing rather tired over-used résumé-speak.

On the other hand, if well written, the Summary (I personally prefer to call it a Profile) can be a powerful way to get the reader’s attention and differentiate yourself from other candidates. This should help to sustain a high “strike rate” surviving the usually brutally brief first screening.

There is plenty of good material around on what the Summary should include – hard skills, soft skills, range and depth of experience, industry background, key strengths, and so forth. No argument with any of that but if you are not careful it can end up looking a bit generic, just like other people with a similar background. All this adds up to a “ho-hum” reaction from your target reader and a real possibility that they will assume the rest of the résumé is of limited interest and only skim read it.

So what can you do to grab ‘em and hold ‘em?

The 2-line value proposition

Take a leaf out of the book of professional marketers and develop a crisp, differentiated brand statement that clearly articulates your value proposition in no more than two lines.

Think of well-known brands. Copywriters communicate the core message of the brand and its main attributes instantly. They know that on a billboard, in a magazine advert, or on TV, they have only a few seconds – in some cases less than a second – to grab and hold your attention.

What if you took the same approach to the first two lines of your resume?

Take some time to think through what it is that really sets you apart. You may have more material to draw on than you think.

For example:

  • Review 360-degree feedback and performance reviews you have had and look for positive commentary and strong results
  • Reflect on what your referees will say about your strengths and personality
  • What do you think you are known for (positively of course!) in your organization and even within your industry?
  • Think through the evidence for how you have delivered value in your career; focus on the most recent 5 years
  • Try to articulate what motivates you deeply; what’s really important to you, professionally

Work on weaving this crucial information into a 2-line statement that clearly indicates how you will add value in a new role and organization. Be prepared to draft, edit, and re-write several times – it’s worth it.

Look out for another post in which I will try to show some examples of bland versus powerful 2-line value propositions.

Related: What You Ought to Know About Resume Writing.

By Gavin Lister

Gavin Lister is an executive career coach who guides senior leaders through transition. A former recruiter and manager, he is dedicated to helping clients articulate and communicate their "special edge" in a competitive marketplace.