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Résumé Writing Roadblocks

Drowning In A Sea Of Résumé Content

Job Seeker's Story

As an Executive Director of a non-profit, Barbara had spent many hours writing her résumé in order to capture exactly what responsibilities she held and what contributions she had made in each position.

The first page of her new two-page résumé included her contact information and then her current position, which she had held for the past five years. This description included 19 bullets ranging from one line to up to five lines each. Each bullet described a responsibility and started with a past-tense verb.

The second page of her résumé included her early positions, which she had presented in long paragraphs to make all four fit on the page. The page ended with her education, which listed dates the degrees were awarded, followed by school names, and then the actual degree.

When company reviewers in Human Resources would receive Barbara's résumé they would feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless, unbroken, and heavy list of bullets. They would try to read the document and give her a fair shot but, because they had hundreds of other applicants, after about 30 seconds of scanning nothing would have stood out or captured their interest. So they would typically move on to a résumé that was easier and quicker to review.

Job Seeker's Stumble

Barbara did not recognize that company reviewers can receive hundreds and even thousands of résumés, both unsolicited (by job seekers who just want to join the company) and solicited (by job seekers who are responding to a specific job posting). Because of this, most résumé reviewers will spend an average of 30 seconds looking to be grabbed by relevant content in a résumé. When these reviewers are met by lengthy, heavy, or thick content in the résumé, the review process can feel quite arduous, and busy reviewers will typically skip and skim, missing much of what the job seeker might have had to offer. In fact, even if reviewers were to have all the time in the world, such a résumé would still put them to sleep.

To increase her chances of success, Barbara should have taken the time to make sure the content in her résumé was bite-sized (quickly readable and scannable) and presented to be sticky and visually distinctive (engaging content that is eye catching).

Job Seeker's New Strategy

You are probably asking, “What does it mean to be bite-sized, sticky, and visually distinctive?

  • Bite-Sized: This is content that is written in small, easily scannable pieces or bits and bytes. With bite-sized information in a résumé you will not find paragraphs longer than four or five lines. In fact, the only place you will find these short paragraphs are in the Summary section at the top of the résumé and at the start of each position to engage the reviewer with a short overview of the position's goals or challenges.
  • • Additionally, bite-sized content never has a bulleted list that is not broken down into shorter, more visually-distinctive and sticky sections.
  • Sticky and Visually Distinctive: This is content that is presented in a manner that draws the eye to individual information by using visually distinctive techniques, such as using functional categories to break up a long list of bullets under a single job or by introducing titles at the beginning of each bullet to define the individual bullets within the list.
  • • For instance, if you have 15 bullets within a job description, you might use either the functional or the title strategy.
  • • Functional Strategy: Using the functional strategy, you would separate the job description/achievement bullets into categories. An Executive Director such as Barbara might break her bullets into small functional categories, such as Operations & Finance, Marketing & Development, Staffing & HR, and Project/Program Management. With this strategy, a reviewer will look at the job and, instead of seeing a long line of bullets or a thick paragraph, his eye will easily be drawn to the category titles.
  • • Titled Bullet Strategy: Using the titled bullet strategy, you would look at the content of the bullet and provide it with a title that represents it appropriately. For example, one of Barbara's bullets would have been about public relations and dealing with the media. Therefore, her bullet would look this way:
    • Media Relations:
    • • Interfaced with local and national media to represent….
  • • In this manner, you would provide titles for each bullet, making it very easy for a reviewer to skim down the résumé in seconds to find exactly what experience he is seeking. This is a very powerful technique that makes all your résumé content sticky because no bullet gets lost as one among many in a category or under a job description.

To succeed in making content bite-sized, sticky, and visually distinctive, you should also:

  • • Focus on leaving a little white space between bullets to further break up the content.
  • – Use large, clean fonts for text, such as Arial 10 or Times 11, to make content easy to read/review.
  • – Enhance page presentation by maintaining a clean border of white space around the document with top/bottom margins between .6 and 1 inch, and left/right margins between .8 and 1 inch.
  • – Rewrite/break up paragraphs that are more than four or five lines long, bullets that exceed three lines each, or lists of more than three bullets.

When content in your résumé is clean, clear, and full of sticky, bite-sized visual cues, you will make it easy for the reviewer to engage with your document!

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsRésumé Writing Roadblocks - Be Selective And Careful With Your Résumé Content, Caution: Résumé Typos Ahead!, Oh, The Tangled Web We Weave…