Dear applicant, here’s why we spent only 6 seconds reading your résumé

Aug 31, 2016

What does the perfect résumé look like? Ask anybody, and you’re likely to get a different answer each time. Some mistakes, however, are repeated over and over. Avoiding these will give you a leg up when it comes to grabbing a recruiter’s attention.

1. Lay-out doesn’t matter as much as you think it does

The first aspect people tend to fuss about is the general lay-out of their résumé. Personally, I’ve only ever come across a handful of lay-outs that were so dreadful I decided not to read on. One case that comes to mind is a job candidate who believed Microsoft Excel was the perfect tool for drawing up a résumé. Consider this the lowest benchmark, and the quality of your lay-out will increase tenfold.
A résumé should reflect your interests, experience and competences. If graphic design is not one of those, then the recruiter won’t expect a flashy document. What you should do, however, is make sure all the information is clearly displayed on the page.

2. Structure, structure, structure!

Which part comes first? Where should I list my experience? Is this job relevant enough to include in my résumé? Let me tell you: recruiters will ask about gaps in your résumé. A classic example are incomplete or failed studies: just write them down.

Something to keep in mind when trying to determine the ideal structure for your résumé is that recruiters read résumés all day. A lot of them. If your document is poorly structured, they will likely skip it and move on to the next one. 

Here are some tips:

  • List everything chronologically (most recent at the top)
  • Group relevant experiences together (e.g. put student jobs together)
  • Emphasize any experience that is truly important and relevant 
  • Use a matrix to describe your language skills
  • Limit the number of full sentences 
  • Stick to one page only

3. Make your résumé a story I want to read till the end

Last, but definitely not least, your résumé should tell a story. Most people think their résumé is just a static document that objectively details their professional career, education, experience and skills. Instead, it is the foundation on which the most interesting parts are built.

Take these ‘dry facts’ about yourself and construct a story that shows where you have been, what you are doing and why working at their organization is the next logical step.

4. Adapt your résumé for each position

The latter is also why you should (radically) change your résumé to suit each employer who will be reading it. Yes, you read that right: you can’t simply send the same résumé to different employers. When I make this suggestion, it is often countered with the argument: ‘I thought that’s what the motivation letter is for?’. If your résumé shows why you are applying for a position, then the motivation letter adds limited value.

So, take as much information as possible from your motivation letter and put it in your résumé. You can do this by actively comparing the job description against your profile and writing down what matches. For instance, if a job description mentions they are looking for a team player (which most do), then don’t just add this to your list of competences. Instead, include a small description in your employment history that clearly demonstrates your skills as a great team player. Another way to do this is by including a brief description at the top of your résumé that explains why you are applying for that specific position.
Do you agree with my assessment of résumé writing? What is your personal experience?

Author: Tomas Castro. You can connect with Tomas on LinkedIn.