When you write your resume (with or without advice and professional help), who is your target audience? Who are you trying to satisfy?
First of all, you’re not writing your resume to satisfy yourself. For that matter, you’re not writing it to satisfy any “expert” – the author of the resume book you just read, or the recruiter you’re working with, or your career guidance counselor, or your cousin Fred who is a human resources manager, or even a professional resume writer.
You are writing for a particular kind of reader: a potential employer. And if you’re like most of us, you make some very, very optimistic assumptions about that reader. You are certain that your reader is eager to find the best person for the job. Your reader, you are sure, is going to read the important things in your resume, and that his or her eye will be drawn to all of those clever formatting tricks you’ve used (columns, underlining, different fonts, boldfacing, italics, strong verbs, skills, numbers, results, etc.).
But you’d better take off the rose-colored glasses. Your resume has a better than 98% chance of ending up in the garbage can (real or virtual).
- Resume readers are some of the smartest and most skeptical readers in the world. They know that at least half of what they read consists of lies, exaggerations, half-truths, and semantic and formatting “tricks.” They don’t accept anything at face value. Remember, the typical resume reader sees literally thousands; they know every trick in the book by now.
- Most readers are in a bad mood, not a happy mood of eager expectancy. They’ve got 300 resumes to read, and nobody is giving them an extra penny to carefully peruse each one. They are rushed for time, annoyed at having to read yet another resume, and hostile rather than sympathetic. Reading yet another resume is a burden that is keeping them from their attention to what they consider much, much more important matters.
- Therefore, the typical resume reader is looking for a quick and convincing reason to throw out yours. Some will even discard it if they don’t like the envelope or the way the email looks. Some will read only the resume and not the cover letter, or vice-versa. And they are unwilling to open up a zip file. You know how annoying it is to get an email that requires you to open up several files? For the resume reader, it is triply annoying.
- They are unimpressed by the latest resume “fad.” For a long time, it was (and to a great extent still is) ‘verbs.’ Since a verb is an action word, we think, the reader will be impressed by lots of great verbs. They’re not. The latest craze is numbers. You’ve got to have lots of quantitative data in your resume, or no one will take you seriously. I see resumes now that are nothing but a bewildering array of numbers, and I do not believe it is any more impressive to the typical resume reader than is a bewildering array of verbs.
- None will read in detail – that we all know. All will skim-read for about 20 seconds or less. They are looking for certain information FIRST, to see if the resume is worth reading in more detail. Usually they look for job titles and academic degrees first. Some look first for gaps in employment, some for certain skills, some for length of employment. Each reader has his or her own top priority to scan for first. And even if they read it in detail, they’ll give it to 5 other people who will skim it.
- Most readers know that their company is in no hurry to hire. Even if they are interested in you, they will take their time responding. They are not interested in calling you back right away, even if they like your resume.
- They are not interested in your personal objectives for your life and your career. They are only interested in how you can help their company solve its problems and achieve its goals—that’s why they hire. But they are totally unaware of your unique strengths and value that you can potentially bring to the organization. That’s because in most resumes, the person’s unique strengths and potential value are buried somewhere in the middle of the resume and not written for a skimmer/reader.
Sander Marcus, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Professional Resume Writer in Chicago. He has over 3 decades of experience in providing career counseling, aptitude testing, job search coaching, and resume writing to tens of thousands of individuals. He is the co-author of 2 books on academic underachievement, various tests, and numerous articles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-567-3358.http://www.center.iit.edu