It doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
There’s a statistic floating around that hiring managers will spend an average of seven seconds per resume. There’s another that says recruiters spend an average of about three minutes on a resume but have formed an opinion within the first 60 seconds. Have you been sending out enough resumes to fill a freight train and wondering why you’re not hearing back? This might be why, and it’s pretty harsh: Your resume doesn’t matter as much as you think it does.
And please don’t misunderstand, you absolutely do need to have a well-polished, typo-free resume. But as counterintuitive as this may seem, your resume should tell your story. I know a resume doesn’t look like a storytelling device, and there you are probably right, it is really the outline of your story. It’s the table of contents of your career that interested parties review, more quickly than you might have realized, to see whether they actually want to hear the whole story.
Because it’s the table of contents of your career story, it should represent your skills and experience in a compelling way. It should not just be a list, because lists are boring. It is the tool that helps you get sorted into the interview phase. Your resume will not get you a job, it is just one tool in your entire job-seeking arsenal.
This advice will make it easier for you to check the boxes you need to send your resume out and move on to the next phase of your job search:
- Leave white space. Especially if the rumors are true and your resume is barely being read, you don’t want to cram it so full that you make it hard to read quickly. By putting spaces between the sections and otherwise leaving white space, you are allowing the really good stuff to stand out.
- Use the right keywords. At this point, the robots are close to taking over and that means big companies use keyword sifters (though I doubt that’s the official term) to analyze your resume before they even get to a human. This means that if your resume says “senior marketing professional” but the job description calls for a “marketing director” your resume might not make it. Think about the most important terms to use that will make the reader (or robot) want to interview you and make sure they are included.
- Use concrete examples/numbers when possible. Listing off your responsibilities with no narrative structure doesn’t tell your story. Percentages and statistics, especially when they are used to show the growth in your territory or the savings in your region, tell a story and are skim-able. And a good story told with the right numbers can get you moved to the next phase of the selection process.
- NO TYPOS. This is self-explanatory. Read it 100 times and give it to 100 friends if you need to, but with the market for qualified talent as hot as it is, a typo on a resume is a good enough reason for yours to be tossed to the “no” pile.
So, the rules for resumes are pretty straightforward for most of us. And don’t get me wrong, resumes are great. Some of my best friends are resumes, but resumes can be a problem too. More often than we would like, clients come to us and assume that the resume is the end all be all of their careers. Sometimes clients spend weeks or more trying to get one version of their resume just right. But this is usually because the client is anxious and doesn’t feel confident about their chances. Working and re-working a resume can give us a sense that we are working on our job search, even if we aren’t making much progress because we spent another week polishing the resume.
But don’t treat a resume lightly either. The difference between ensuring there are no mistakes on your resume and obsessing over its perfection before sending it out is a small but important one. Do not use let your quixotic focus on absolute resume perfection be an excuse to sit on it for another week. Don’t let the inevitable insecurity that comes with a job search spill over and slow you down from getting your resume out. Be confident, tell your story, and make sure there are no errors. That’s the best you can do with a resume.
Because you know what the best kind of resume is? The one in a hiring manager’s hand.
Written in collaboration with Nora Philbin.