Did you know that the average hiring manager only spends an average of twenty seconds on your resume? That’s not enough time to even begin to read through all of your accomplishments or experience. It’s barely enough time to read through all of your job titles!
If you have so little time to make enough of an impression to warrant a second look, how do you make your resume stand out? Visual cues can help direct the hiring manager’s eye to the most important or most impressive parts of your resume and make a quick but meaningful impact.
Locations and Orientations
Most hiring managers let their eyes sweep over the page, taking in only a big picture overview and actually reading very, very little. That’s where you put information can be as important as what you put in there.
To take in as much information as possible, the person who reviews your resume will likely scan your resume, reading perhaps the first line or so, then skimming the left hand edge for keywords or anything impressive, before concluding with the last line or so. If interested, they may then scan the inside portions of the document, looking for anything that stands out, such as numbers, length of employment, or specific keywords.
Be sure to put your most important or most impressive information then up front, either at the top of the page or to the left margin. If you value your education most, put that up top. If your job titles are more impressive over the place you worked, put that farthest to the left, and vice versa. There are no rules about the order in which things must be listed, so if it benefits you, organize things in non-chronological order.
Bullet Points and Sub-Headings
Another great way to draw attention is strategic use of bullet points and headings. As potential employers scan down a page, their eyes are automatically drawn to larger print, bold headings, and other formatting. An unexpected indentation or a prominent bullet point can cause someone skimming down a page to stop and read for a second.
However, it is incredibly important not to overuse this technique. Too many formatting changes can make a page too busy and cluttered. A busy hiring manager won’t take the time to decode what it all means and fish out the important information; she’ll just skip your resume altogether.
Finally, what you say in those bold, large print sections matters. Once the eye is stopped if the headings are not enticing or interesting, they’ll just be passed over again. That’s why it is important to sell your bulleted jobs in the best way possible. Consider what is most important over your many jobs: where you worked or what you did. If you can present a narrative of increasing responsibility or have held jobs closely related to the job you are applying to, put your job title first. If you have held more low level jobs in the past but have worked in impressive companies, consider putting the company name first.
You should also consider how to describe your job. Many people who have served in administrative roles have realized the power in words. Instead of describing themselves as secretaries, they have styled themselves as administrative assistants, or executive assistants, or assistants to presidents. Never lie about what position you held, but always choose carefully the words you use to identify yourself.
The way things are presented on your resume can matter as much as what they say. Format carefully and have a friend look over your resume. Try giving them only twenty seconds and ask what they got out of their scan. Adjust your resume so that your most important information, the information you most want your potential employer to take away is most prominent and readily available.
These visual cues can make the difference between a twenty second scan and a full read-through of your job application.