Resumes

The simple math of why your resume probably isn’t getting read.

September 13, 2013 Job hunting, Resumes No comments ,

You spend hours slaving over your resume, crafting every word of every bullet point, and yet you’re getting no interest from the companies you send the resume to.  Maybe your problem is that you’re ignoring the most important part of your resume: The first half-page, or the first screenful.

Let’s do some simple math here.  Last time I posted job ads for programmers I was getting 300-400 responses per ad, so let’s say conservatively that a job posting nets a hiring manager 250 resumes. If he spends 10 minutes on each resume, examining each in detail, that comes out to:

250 resumes x 10 mins/resume  = 2500 minutes = 41.2 hours

That’s one entire work week doing absolutely nothing but reading those resumes 8 hours a day.  That’s not going to happen.

Much more realistic is for the reader to spend maybe a minute on each resume determining which ones are obviously crap, and which ones have potential and get put aside into a pile for closer consideration.

250 resumes x 1 min/resume  = 250 minutes = 4 hours

That’s much more manageable.  Now the hiring manager is able to set aside the 5-10% of the resumes that are not clearly garbage, or shotgunned to everyone, or from offshore consulting firms offering their services.

So you have at most a minute of actual reading time, max.  I’ve seen the claim of 10-20 seconds per resume commonly cited, too.

What does this mean to you, the resume writer?

Nobody is going to read past the first half-page of your resume unless you give them a reason to read the rest.

Think of the top half of your resume as a movie trailer, a teaser for what’s in the rest of the movie.  You want that top half-page to put all the best about you out front.   You’re going to start with a summary of what’s to follow, such as:

  • Six years experience system administration for 20-30 Linux and Windows servers.
  • Fully certified as both Red Hat Something Something and Windows Certified Blah Blah.
  • Extensive experience with backup strategies to physical media and offsite solutions.

In three lines, you’ve summarized who you are and given the reader reason to read the rest.  Yes, it is redundant to what’s in the rest of the resume, but that’s OK, because (and I know I’m repeating myself) nobody is going to read your entire resume unless they have a reason to.

The top half-page of your resume is so crucial it’s why an objective is absolutely the worst way to start a resume.  Consider a typical resume objective:

JOB TARGET: My goal is to become associated with a company where I can utilize my skills and gain further experience while enhancing the company’s productivity and reputation.

There is absolutely nothing in that to make the reader want to read further. Everything is about what the writer wants, not what she can bring to the company. That resume is bound for the reject folder.

You have less than half a minute to convince the reader to read your entire resume.  Make the first part of your resume tell all the important stuff, and only the important stuff.

What if news stories were written like resumes?

April 20, 2012 Job hunting, Resumes No comments

If news stories were written like the resumes I see every day, a news story about a fire might look like this:

“There was a fire on Tuesday in a building. Traffic was backed up some distance for some period of time. Costs of the damage were estimated. There may have been fatalities and injuries, or maybe not.”

Now look at your resume. Does it have bullet items like “Wrote web apps in Ruby”? That’s just about as barely informative as my hypothetical news story above. However, your resume’s job is to get you an interview by providing compelling details in your work history.

Add details! What sort of web apps? What did they do? Did they drive company revenue? How many users used them? How big were these apps?

Or maybe you have a bullet point of “provided help desk support.” How many users did you support? How many incidents per day/week? What sorts of problems? Were they geographically close, or remote? What OSes did you support? What apps? Was there sort of service level agreement you had to hit?

If you don’t provide these details, the reader is left to make her own assumptions. “Help desk support” might mean something as basically as handling two phone calls a day for basic “I can’t get the Google to work” questions. Without details you provide, that’s the picture the reader is free to infer.

When you write about your work experiences, you have a picture in your head of the history and skills you’re talking about. To you, “wrote web apps in Ruby” or “provided help desk support” brings back the memory of what that entailed. The reader doesn’t have access to your memory. That’s why you have a resume with written words. You have to spell it out, to draw that picture for her. Your details make that happen and increase the chances you’ll get an interview.

Undecided if something should go on your resume? Add more detail for guidance.

April 11, 2012 Resumes 2 comments , , , ,

Convential Wisdom has it that resumes have to be written in the most clipped, stilted business-speak possible.  It’s not true.  Thinking that way is a disservice to our resumes and our job prospects.

A poster on Reddit asked how proficient he should be in German before listing it on his resume. You can see where he’s coming from. He’s wondering if he can add a “Languages spoken: German” bullet point to his resume, and that’s good. The problem is that the clipped business-speak mentality has him thinking that that’s all he can say.

You can and should add detail to your resume. The more detail you add, the less chance there is for misinterpretation, and it helps you think more about your skills and how you can sell them to the reader.

I suggest that instead of putting an overly terse “Languages spoken: German”, you add a sentence giving details. This might be, for example:

  • I am fluent in written and spoken German, and have been for the past 20 years.
  • I have conversational fluency with spoken German.
  • I know some German words I picked up from my Grandma.

If in the process of writing the details of your skill you find that it sounds silly, then you’ve answered your question as to whether it should be on your resume.  To be clear, that last bullet item isn’t worth putting on your resume.

This process works with any item you want to put on a resume.  As you add detail, does it still sound like it’s worth putting on there?  If not, leave it off.  If it is, work with that detail to grab the reader’s attention.

Programmers struggle with this all the time.  “How much Ruby do I have to know before I can put it on my resume?”  Add detail to answer your own question.  If you’re not going to be comfortable asking the question “How have you used Ruby?” in the interview, then don’t put it on a resume.

Finally, always remember why you have a resume: A resume exists to get the reader to call you in for an interview.  If something isn’t going to make the reader say “We need to get her in here ASAP”, then leave it off.

Eight items to leave off your resume

March 30, 2012 Resumes 9 comments , , , , , ,

Here’s a quick list of things that should never appear on your resume. Unfortunately, I see them all the time.

A photo
unless you’re applying for a position as a model or actor.
A list of references
You’ll be asked for them at the right point in the process. If you want the company to be impressed by who you know or who you’ve worked with, then put that in the cover letter.
“References available upon request”
This is assumed. The reader will not think “This guy has no references available, so toss his resume.”
An objective
Objectives are summaries of what you want to get from the company. It doesn’t make sense to start selling yourself by telling the reader what you hope to get out of him. Replace your objective with a 3-4 bullet summary of the rest of the resume. (See more posts about objectives)
Salary information
Disclosing your salary history weakens your position when negotiating a salary. It’s also irrelevant on your resume.
An unprofessional email address
Email accounts are free from Gmail, so there’s no reason to use your “cubs_fan_1969@yourisp.com” account for professional correspondence.
Meaningless self-assessments like “I’m a hard worker” or “I work well on a team.”
Everyone says those things, so they have no meaning. Instead, the bullets for each position on your resume should give examples and evidence of these assertions. (See more posts about self-assessments)
Hobbies that don’t relate to the job
Everyone likes to read and listen to music and spend time with their families. Exception is if the hobby somehow ties to the job or company. If you play guitar and you’re applying to be an accountant for Guitar Center’s corporate office, then mention that you play, even though your job won’t involve guitar-playing directly.

What else do you see on resumes that should never be there?

Never put “excellent communication skills” on your resume

February 1, 2012 Resumes 11 comments , , ,

Never put “excellent communication skills” in your resume. Who doesn’t think they have “excellent communication skills?” It means nothing. It’s fluff that detracts from the real content of your resume. Instead, give the reader examples of how you use those skills.

Imagine four different people who have put “excellent communication skills” on their resumes, and their thought processes:

  • “I give weekly status presentations to upper management about project status. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I taught a lunch & learn session on JavaScript. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I’ve written articles for the company newsletter. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I am proud of my ability to spell and use basic English mechanics. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”

So when someone reading your resume sees “excellent communication skills” on your resume, which one will she think it means? Chances are, she’s going to assume you’re the “I can spel gud” guy and gloss over it.

(Have you noticed that while you read this article, you tire of reading the words “excellent communication skills”? So does the poor hiring manager who has to read it on every resume he gets.)

Instead of putting those dreaded three words on your resume, replace it with a description about how exactly you use these skills. Doing that is an iterative process that digs down to find the interesting stuff that the hiring manager wants to read.

The other day I was helping my friend Katie with her resume, and I spotted the dreaded “excellent communication skills” near the top. We had an exercise to come up with something better that went a little like this:

Andy: “Why do you say you have excellent communication skills?”

Katie: “I don’t know, I’m just good communicating. People talk to me.”

Andy: “How do you mean they talk to you? About what?”

Katie: “There was this one time where I was on a project with these outside consultants, and consultants were upset because they weren’t getting what they need, and management didn’t know what was going on. It was just a mess. And people were really frustrated and they’d tell me all the things that were going wrong.”

Andy: “Good! And so what did you do?”

Katie: “I talked to the project leader, and explained what was going wrong that he hadn’t heard about, and we worked on ways to make sure everybody could keep track of the deliverables, and get them to the consultants. And then the project leader asked me to do status reports for upper management. It all worked really well.”

Andy: “So would you feel comfortable saying ‘Reworked project process to increase communication, both vertically and horizontally, across the company and with outside consultants?’ And can you specify how many people were on the project, too?”

Katie: “Yeah, that sounds good. And plus, there was this other time….”

Notice how with just a little digging and iteration (shortened for this article) Katie and I turned her vague “excellent communication skills” into something that tells the reader exactly how she has used those skills to benefit the business. What we wound up with is far more impressive than being able to write clearly.

As I’ve said before, don’t put self-assessments in your resume. Give the evidence and let the reader make her own decision.

What are your dreaded cliches on resumes that mean nothing? Let me know in the comments below.

Resume tactics from the grocery checkout lane

August 6, 2009 Job hunting, Resumes 3 comments , ,

Next time you’re at the grocery store checkout lane, take a look at the women’s magazines and see what they do to get you to read them. There’s a valuable lesson there for your resume.


Magazine covers

There’s always a blurb on the front for an article inside that offers a specific number of items inside. They’re of a form like:

  • 17 hottest celebrity couples
  • 23 ways to keep your man happy
  • 37 quick and easy meals for summer
  • 684 new looks for under $100

The magazines’ editors know that numbers attract attention. If you’re like me, those numbers may be the first thing you notice after the cover photo. The numbers also promise a level of service. It’s not just “an article about celebrity couples,” but a promise of seventeen of them.

You should use this approach on your resume as well.

First, we know that numbers attract attention. When scanning your resume, the reader’s eye will be drawn to the numbers naturally.

Moreover, numbers make your story more interesting and give the reader a sense of the size of your accomplishments, or the troubles you’ve solved in the past.

Consider the difference between these two bullets:

  • Ran the help desk. Answered trouble tickets, responded to phone calls and tracked spare computer parts.
  • Ran the help desk for 200-seat office. Staff of 3 answered average of 50 phone calls and 27 trouble tickets per day. Maintained 200-unit inventory of spare computer parts worth $10,000.

These two bullets describe exactly the same responsibilities, but the addition of specific numbers draw the attention of the reader, and add the details that give a much fuller picture of your responsibilities.

Without the numbers, the reader might also logically assume that the reality is more like this:

  • Ran the “help desk” in a four-person real estate office. Answered questions a few times a week about Excel. Kept a spare PC in a closet in case something tanked.

Remember, your awesomeness is not self-evident, and part of your job in telling the story of your awesomeness is giving the numbers to support it.

For more on the power of numbers, see chapter 3, “Résumé Content: Getting The Words Down” in Land The Tech Job You Love.

How does a contractor make his resume appealing to a hiring manager?

May 12, 2009 Ask Andy, Career, Job hunting, Resumes No comments ,

A reader of Land The Tech Job You Love wrote to ask:

I have been searching for this type of book for years now. One question, as I’m only on page 75: How does a contractor make his resume appealing to a hiring manager?
I do NOT want to contract, but in DC, it seems to be the only way to either get a job or get a foot-hold into a long-term opportunity. But I hear from so many hiring types that they hate “job hoppers”. But I’m not. I want and crave a long-term full-time position.
How do I address that?

Exactly how you just did it.

Put it in your cover letter. “I’ve been a contractor out of necessity for the last two years, but I want a long-term full-time position where I can set down some roots with the company. I think that WangoTech can benefit in the long-term from my skills as a …”

You can also try to turn this potential negative into a positive. “I’ve worked on a wide variety of database systems, including Oracle, PostgreSQL and DB2, for companies from a 10-person accounting firm to a Fortune 100 textile manufacturer.” You’ll show the breadth of knowledge you bring to the position.

If you’re concerned about the resume not being seen along with the cover letter, I’d suggest adding a final bullet point to the professional summary at the top of the resume, such as:

<blockquote* Experienced contractor looking to start a long-term full-time position in DC area

In some ways, it’s the dreaded Objective, which should never appear in your resume but I think that if you put it as the last bullet in the summary, you’ll put the reader’s mind at ease, before she gets to the work history that shows you’re a contractor.

I saw a comedian once explain that if there’s anything out of the ordinary with you (very tall or short, a speech impediment, etc), you call attention to it at the beginning of your routine. If you don’t, your audience will fixate on that aspect of you and not listen to what you’re saying. Just do half a minute to acknowledge the attention-grabber, and move on. That’s the approach I suggest you take in this case.

Sometimes when we write resumes, we’re so concerned with short sentences and bullets, we forget about the power of a cover letter. In this case, the cover letter shows that you’re interested in that specific company, because your cover letter discusses the very specific relationship with the company you’d like to have, and heads off a potential problem. That shows foresight and it shows that you’re thinking like the hiring manager.