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Hiring managers see your resume long before they see you -- if they see you at all. A poor first impression won’t get you a second chance. To make that first impression as strong as possible, dress your resume up until it shines. Run it through a series of tests or checks to make sure it’s both error-free and effective.
Start and finish by thoroughly proofreading your resume. Don’t rely on your computer’s spelling and grammar tools. Check it with your own eyes, and then hand it to someone else. A second set of eyes can catch errors you overlooked. Once you’re confident you’ve caught and fixed typos and other mistakes, it’s time to test for effectiveness. Then, after your resume passes every test, proofread it again before submitting it to a recruiter or potential employer.
A reader looking for a random book is attracted by a cover design that is pleasing to the eye. Apply this concept to your resume -- make it stand out from the crowd with a balanced layout that is pleasing to the hiring manager’s eye. Reduce the view to about 50 percent so all you see are black lines of text on a white background. The effect should look clean. Having large clumps of black without much white space between them looks messy and cumbersome.
Book Blurb Test
After being hooked by a pleasing cover design, a potential reader looks at the blurbs on the back of a book to see if it’s worth reading. Have a colleague or peer perform a book blurb test to see if he is interested enough to read the rest of the resume. Think of the top third of your resume as its blurb. That space is where you will first catch a hiring manager’s attention. Ask your test reader if the information at the top of your resume encourages him to want to read further, such as to see a chronological listing of former positions.
Twenty Seconds Test
Have a friend or colleague who does not work directly with you perform a "twenty-seconds test" to see what your resume tells him about you at first glance. Getting a hiring manager’s attention and keeping it are two different things. To keep his attention, your resume should tell him something of real value within the first 10 to 30 seconds. Set a timer to 20 seconds and give your resume to the reader. When the time’s up, ask him what he learned about you. Ideally, he’ll tell you what you want a hiring manager to notice.
Since most resumes get filtered through an applicant tracking system, or ATS, it’s a good idea to see if your resume is ATS friendly. From a visual standpoint, ATS software can muddy special formatting. Fancy bullets might change to unexpected symbols, and tables or graphics might not translate at all. Copy and paste your resume content into a notepad application, save it as a txt file, close it and then reopen it with your regular word-processing program. What you see will be what the ATS sees.
Key Word Test
An ATS will search your resume for key words and phrases. Perform a test on the effectiveness of key words in your resume by comparing what words you’re using to what you should be using, and how you’re using them. Don’t use them in lists. You’re not tagging a blog. Make sure key words fit your skills and experience; don’t include them if they don’t apply to you. Confirm that you’re including key words noted in the job ad to which you’re replying. Also consider using different variations of key words. As an example, you might want to state that you have a BS in one section, and a bachelor’s of science degree in another section -- that way you’ll know the ATS will recognize at least one version.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.