On average, HR professionals spend seven seconds looking at a resume before deciding if it will move forward or get recycled.
I don’t actually know how true that statement is. Perhaps it’s just a myth told by college professors to scare students, but it’s an intimidating thought, right? That you may have a handful of seconds, give or take, to make a good first impression.
What I do know is that with the amount of information we absorb each day, it’s increasingly important to make your first impression stand out among the rest.
Recently, we’ve seen many resumes, portfolios and cover letters at SPR while searching for our new team member, in addition to the personal branding work we provide for some of our clients. As we’ve reviewed, we’ve noticed what makes a candidate really stand out in the best ways – and in the worst.
So whether you’re on the hunt, just looking to update your documents or advising a friend, here are three tips to help get you that job:
Do Your Research & Tailor Your Message
The application process can be extremely time-consuming and sometimes even downright painful. While you can certainly apply to hundreds of organizations you’ve never heard of, it pays off in the long run to do your research and apply it to your professional documents.
When researching, you may find your values don’t align with half the companies you applied at or are just uninterested in their work. Save your time by delving into who they are — visit their website, check them out on social media and take a look at what media coverage they’ve received.
For example, when a dear professor at Grand Valley first sent me SPR’s job post last year, I didn’t know much about the firm, Mary Ann and the team or its values. By doing my research I was able to learn about our social contract and really love the work SPR does. I addressed this in my cover letter to Mary Ann, which in turn made me stand out among other applicants.
Depending on your industry, more or less design is expected — an attorney’s resume will look much different from that of a graphic designer’s. Generally speaking, switching up the old 12 Times New Roman aesthetic will already set you aside. Don’t be afraid to play with color, change up your margins and use a couple different (legible) fonts.
My best advice? Search for resumes on Pinterest. While many are quite design heavy, the examples will broaden your perspective and spark your creativity. Note what you like, what you don’t like, what you can always expect to see on a resume and what works in each style. From there, you can make it your own by combining multiple ideas — just make sure that by the end of this process it’s a cohesive document. Remember, good design will lead your eye through the information and won’t take away from the content. Intimidated by design? Take a look at our basic design tips.
Bonus: If you can make your resume, cover letter and references documents match with the same color scheme, fonts etc., you’ll demonstrate how attentive to detail, consistent, professional (you know, all those things we say we are on our resumes) and serious you are about getting the job.
Make it Easy on Your Reader
When a potential employer has spent hours looking at similar documents, the last thing you want to do is make it difficult to decipher your resume and cover letter or access additional resources like your portfolio and references. Keep it brief by using strong sentences with action verbs that detail your previous experience. This will get you much further than the paragraphs copied and pasted from your job description.
Being able to write concisely is also an important and valued skill and even indicates your respect for the employer’s time. Just make sure not to get carried away, giving yourself more credit than you should.
Additionally, if you have a website, create a separate portfolio document that hyperlinks to all your best work and perhaps gives a short summary — I’m talking one sentence here — about that work. If you don’t have a website, make sure to compile your best work into one PDF file rather than separate ones. This simple step on your end can be a deciding factor between moving forward or getting tossed aside.
Overall, when crafting your application documents, it’s important you keep your audience, the purpose of each document and your message in mind. Think about what you want a potential employer to take away from how your resume looks, your cover letter reads and what your experience showcases about you. Most importantly, know how to explain those choices should you get an interview — after all, that’s the goal right?
As for making yourself look good in person? That’s a blog for another day.