15 Tips to Make Your Resume Shine in 15 Seconds

by Content Solutions on March 25, 2010

To be clear, this post will not show you how to create a phenomenal resume in 15 seconds; you should expect to spend hours (or even days) crafting or polishing your resume. Instead, the purpose of this post is to explain how your resume can catch a reviewer’s attention within 15 seconds. Why 15? Because that’s about how long someone will likely spending looking at your resume. If what they see doesn’t grab them in 15 seconds, they’ll often move on to the next resume in the stack.

The following 15 tips stem from a combination of impressive resumes that we at Content Solutions have received over the years, the best practices we’ve seen on the Web and in related literature, and the strategies we’ve seen work as we’ve applied to our own jobs. Use as you will!

1. Format for the first impression

The design of your resume is the first thing reviewers see. If your resume format is standard or cluttered, reviewers may not even read past your name before they move on to the next candidate. To ensure that the format of your resume is memorable and legible, do the following:

  • Avoid standard word processor templates (you can bet a hiring manager has seen the generic Microsoft Word resume a hundred times)
  • Benchmark against your peers on the internet for design inspiration
  • See tips for giving your resume a facelift

Below are examples of effective resumes that Content Solutions has created:

Sample resume 1

Unique resume 1

Sample resume 2

Unique resume 2

2. Prove that you’ve studied the job description

Reviewers will be able to tell if you’re submitting a generic resume to multiple companies. To show that you’ve carefully read and have understood their job description, do the following:

  • Customize your cover letter or e-mail to the company (see #4 below for more details)
  • Tweak your job title(s) to match what they’re looking for (but be honest and reasonable)
  • Pepper your resume with the same words and phrases used in the job description

However, do not merely copy entire sections of the job description into your resume or cover letter, as you then might seem to be cutting corners. Instead, revise their sentences to be your own; expound on their meaning when possible to show that you understand you know what they’re looking for in a candidate.

3. Research similar job descriptions

Read 5-10 other companies’ job descriptions for similar positions. Harvest relevant industry terminology and effective ways to phrase experience within your industry. For example, Google’s job descriptions often have a friendly, compelling tone and creative turns of phrases that you can emulate.

4. Create a concise, customized cover letter/e-mail

Your cover letter (or e-mail) should be short (~1 page), should be skimmable (with bullets or a table), and should respond directly to the job description. I’ve gotten a significantly higher response when I’ve used a cover letter (below) that shows a one-to-one correlation between the job requirements and how I meet each qualification. Because this type of cover letter is time-intensive to create, you can use this detailed format for the jobs that you are particularly interested in and then use a more standard (paragraph and bullets) cover letter to scale to other positions as necessary.

Sample cover letter

Cover letter with comparison table

5. Be honest and positive

Spin your experience honestly yet positively. Do not inflate your title or qualifications, as you’re likely to be found out either through a background check or through questions in the actual interview. Avoid starting your cover letter with “Although I don’t have all of the qualifications in your job description….” If you don’t have the exact qualifications requested, stress the qualifications you do have. Often, certain qualifications are merely “nice to haves” that won’t necessarily impact your chances.

6. Swap an objective statement for a summary

Instead of including an objective statement about what type of position you are looking for, include 1-2 sentences summarizing why you’re perfect for this job. Use key words and phrases from the job description. Examples:

  • Enthusiastic graduate in Electrical Engineering who maintained a 3.5 GPA while working and volunteering part-time; proficient in industry tools such as X, X, and X.
  • Versatile technical communicator with 7 years experience, including using XML, working with global teams, and interviewing software engineers.

7. Arrange your experience and education in reverse chronological order

Most reviewers expect to see your newest experience/education first. Often, they’ll look for tenure at companies and employment gaps. If you make it difficult for them to scan for this information, they may assume that you’re trying to hide something. An exception to this rule might come if you want to highlight an older position that is most applicable to the one to which you are applying.

8. Focus on what you accomplished, using numbers/statistics where possible

Numbers sell. I’ve noticed in interviews that the bullet points I included with some type of statistic/number are the ones that interviewers tend to ask me questions about. Whenever possible, count or measure what you’ve done. Examples:

  • Reviewed 10-500 resumes per week; hired 15 resources in 3 years
  • Edited 32 proposals to help increase our win rate
  • Maintained a 4.0 GPA while volunteering for 400 hours
  • Received an A on every major term paper submitted in 4 years

9. Remove all visual clutter

As a general rule, avoid “fancy” formatting, fonts, and graphics (unless you’re applying for a job in the visual arts). Use no more than two fonts: a sans serif for headings (e.g., Tahoma or Arial) and a serif font for the body text (e.g., Times New Roman or Georgia). Avoid italics and underlining (except for the occasional hyperlink).

10. Write succinct, action bullets

Verbs pack more of a punch than do nouns. Telling someone you did “Project management” isn’t as effective saying you “Managed 7 projects for Microsoft stakeholders.” See a list of action verbs.

11. Prune down to one page

Consider your resume as a “teaser” to entice the company to give you an interview (rather than a comprehensive list of everything you’ve done). Unless you have 10+ years of experience, you will probably be able to communicate the highlights of your career in a single page. Below are some strategies you can use to fit content to a single page:

  • Reduce margins to 0.75”
  • Minimize content that is not directly related to the job (remove unrelated bullets)
  • Edit sentences in which 1-2 final words have bumped to their own line
  • Remove the “References upon request” line; all employers know that you’ll be able to provide references should they ask
  • Remove all hobbies and personal interests (unless they are directly related to the position)
  • Save your list of references until the company asks for them
  • Do not include a photo (unless requested)
  • Do not include your age
  • Swap your full address (particularly if it’s long) for merely a city and zip

12. Nix all errors

Double and triple-check your language to remove all typos and other errors. Print out your resume and read it. Read it word-for-word. Read it backwards. Show it to your peers, your parents, or a professional editor. Do whatever it takes until you are confident that you have not included typos or misspelled words that sound the same (example: honor role instead of honor roll).

13. Follow submission instructions

How well you follow the instructions is often one of the ways that a company weeds out candidates. Did you put the requested subject line? Did you send a text-only resume instead of a PDF? Follow any instructions to the letter, even if they contradict what you’ve heard are best practices for resumes.

14. Maintain multiple resume versions

Because submission requirements vary widely by company, you will likely need to maintain three versions of your resume: PDF, Microsoft Word, and text-only. Send a PDF when you can (to ensure that reviewers see your formatting exactly as you intended). When asked to send a resume in Microsoft Word, make sure you’ve used standard system fonts like Tahoma, Arial, Times New Roman, and Georgia. Because text-only resumes require some special care, check out these tips for formatting text-only resumes.

15. Ask the experts

Sometimes, it’s quicker and more rewarding to work with a resume expert. Whether you need to create a resume from scratch or polish an existing one, Content Solutions can help you craft a resume that will shine within 15 seconds. Contact us today to get started; we’d be delighted at the chance to apply the latest and greatest techniques to your resume.

Resources we consult for our resumes

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