Does Your Resume Have What It Takes To Survive The First Cut?

By: Ruth Anderson


To be a success, your resume must have sufficient "scan appeal" to pass a first cut that initial stage when a busy employer, faced with a stack of resumes, scans each one for about 30 to 60 seconds and rejects most. What can you do to make sure that your resume survives the first cut?

For answers, consider the following analysis of a typical 30-second scan. Then learn how to evaluate your own resume for scan appeal.

The first 5 seconds.

Resume writers spend most of their time thinking about wording. Yet, it is the immediate visual impact of your resume that first influences how the employer feels about hiring you.

Without consciously thinking about it, your reader "decides" within seconds whether your resume is visually pleasing. Consider your own resume from the 5-second perspective. Is there a good balance of text and white space? Is the resume monotonous, or does it use a pleasing variety of visual elements (heading sizes, bold, italic, bullets, etc.)?

Your reader also develops an immediate feel for whether your resume will be easy to read. Make sure that your resume invites the reader to scan by using a clear and consistent format, and by highlighting key points in bulleted lists. Important information should never be presented in long, dense paragraphs.

The next 10 seconds.

After taking in your resume's visual qualities, the employer's eye focuses on the top half of the first page. He or she will be trying to get a quick overview of who you are and what you can do. Much like the computers at employment web sites, the employer will scan quickly for information that suggests you are a good match for the job at hand.

To take full advantage of these 10 seconds, most resumes should start with a headline and a summary section. The headline (typically stating an "objective") declares in one or two lines the essence of who you are and what you are seeking.

The summary section (often titled " Summary of Qualifications" or "Personal Profile") uses bullets and succinct wording to highlight what is likely to most intrigue the employer. Before writing this section, make a list of the 5 to 10 criteria that are most likely to guide the employer's choice then summarize your qualifications in a way that speaks directly to the employer's interests.

The last 15 seconds.

If your resume is visually pleasing and starts with an effective summary, your reader will naturally want to scan the rest of it. At this point, the employer will look for: confirmation that you meet the job's requirements, supporting evidence for your summary section, and any intriguing details that add to the picture of what you would be like to work with.

Your job is to consider where the reader's eye is most likely to be drawn, and use these places to your advantage. They include: section headings, subheadings, the first sentence or two immediately under headings, position titles, bulleted lists (especially the top one or two items), words in bold, words in italic, and numerals (i.e. numbers that are not spelled out).

Consider all of these to be tools at your disposal when creating scan appeal. Is there an accomplishment, for example, that you want to highlight? Try putting it at the top of a bulleted list and including one or two numerals (such as "reduced costs by 10%" or "supervised a staff of 12"). If appropriate, use some bold or italic either within the item or in the wording that introduces it.

Testing for Scan Appeal

Your resume should be tested for scan appeal before any copies go out. You must be able to answer two questions. Given just 30 seconds to convince the employer to consider you, what must you bring to his or her attention? And, what does your resume actually convey in a 30-second scan?

To conduct a preliminary test yourself, review your employment strategy i.e. list the top five things you think are most important for the employer to know about you. Then look at the parts of your resume most likely to be seen in a scan, and make sure each item has been highlighted in some way.

For an even more telling test, give your resume to several people who don't know you well, and time them as they scan it for 30 seconds. When they are done, have them set the resume aside and jot down everything they remember.

Would the information they noticed and remembered provide compelling reasons for the employer to hire you? If the answer is yes, your resume has excellent scan appeal.

2005 Ruth Anderson About the author: Ruth Anderson is the owner of Vantage Point Coaching & Consulting and author of WRITE RESUMES WITH CONFIDENCE: How to Create Outstanding Resumes and Have the Confidence to Use Them with Success. Learn more about her products and services, including the unique INTRODUCTION TO COACHING and JOB SEARCH TUNE-UP programs, at http://www.vantagepointcoaching.com or write ruth@vantagepointcoaching.com.