12 Seconds to Make It or Break It

Though the art of resume writing has been around for decades, the specifics of building a resume have undergone many changes. A person used to be able to get by with a resume full of good experience; this is no longer the case. To be competitive in the job market, one must not only have the experience on their resume, but also make the experiences stand out. Here’s why:

An employer will spend an average of 12 seconds looking over a resume for the first time, with a range from 5-40 seconds. That is less time than you’ve spent reading this blog so far, unless you have superhuman reading abilities. You would be lucky to get anything over 20 seconds. In these first 12ish seconds, the employers will make the decision to either pursue you as a candidate for the position or cut you from their job search. Obviously, they will go back and take a more extensive look at your resume if they choose to pursue you, but good experience alone will not guarantee that you make the first cut.

You may ask, how can I make my experiences stand out to an employer? Lucky for you, we have many tricks that we often use to do just that. Bold and italics are going to be your new best friends. You want to use these on information that will sum up your experiences. For example, the college you attended, the degree you received, past places of employment, past job titles or internships, or any type of certification or skill that would apply directly to the position being applied for. This is the information that the employer wants to see on his/her first look at a resume. Though be careful when using these methods to be consistent: if you bold one job title, bold them all; italicize the company name for one, do it for all. This helps give your resume a clean and organized look.

Experiments have been conducted on employers that track their eyes while they read through resumes. The results show that the employers spend the majority of their time scanning down the left 2-3 inches of the page. So this tells us what? Put the important information, such as job title, degree title and employer on the left side of the page (see how I bolded that sentence to indicate its importance?). Also, avoid using passive verbs or phrases to begin a sentence or bullet point, such as “Responsible for coordinating…” or “Got the data from…”. This is the first word, and probably the only word this employer will see in this sentence, so make it a good one! Instead of saying “Responsible for coordinating,” just say “Coordinated,” or instead of “Got,” use action verbs such as “Retrieved and analyzed the data from…”. Big words make us sound smart; therefore, use big words. And if you are having trouble coming up with such big and strong words, the AU Career Center has a whole page of them (page 13) in our handy dandy Career Handbook.

Lastly, avoid writing in paragraphs. People are turned off by the idea of large chunks of words and are much more likely to read a single line. So instead, try to bullet your paragraphs into individual thoughts, and attempt to keep them to one line. Writing in bullets also allows you to use incomplete sentences, leaving out unnecessary articles (the, a, an). Remember, you’ve got about 12 seconds, so it would be beneficial to leave out all the extra filler words and make your bullets concise.

If you find yourself in doubt while building your resume, our Career Handbook also has many examples and general guidelines to follow. By using these methods, you can ensure that the good stuff on your resume doesn’t get overlooked by a potential employer. Make the important things stand out and you will increase your chances of getting past that first cut and into an interview.

-Daniel Meadows
Peer Career Advisor

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