Education Career Services

August 4, 2009

First Impressions on Paper

First impressions can make or break your interview; it can also make or break your resume.

A first impression is so powerful and therefore difficult to overcome because it is irrational.   You allow your gut free rein upon first sight; it’s often an unconscious evaluation of sight cues and we do it fast.  We may not know why we aren’t impressed with someone, or why we instantly have a negative reaction, yet it shapes our decisions nonetheless.

Obviously, in an interview we want to be just-so about what we wear, how we smell, and how we sound.  We should even be aware of our body language.  On paper, though, how do we control the first impression of our resume?

The key is in knowing how people read a document, especially a document being read under stress or in a hurry (which elevates the power of the irrational first impression).

People read – or more accurately, skim – resumes in layers.  Some layers are a second or less and most depend on whether the reader has a problem they need to resolveThe problem may be a personnel requirement or it could be a strategic/operational problem that a person may be able to solve – either a gap in current coverage or a new skills set to resolve an issue.  If they have a need, they are hunter-readers, looking for something specific.  If they do not have a need, they are a passive reader.

The first thing a reader unconsciously does is glance over the document in soft focus; they aren’t reading the words, they’re quickly judging the balance and layout of the document and, believe it or not, determining their reading strategy or even if they want to read it.  Big blocky paragraphs or long unbroken lists are a turn-off.  Concise sentences, short lists of quick bullets,  consistently used headers, bolding, and alignment formatting suggest an engaging, quick read.

Next, their eyes drift upward to almost the top.  For now they will likely ignore your name and contact information because it isn’t yet relevant.  They don’t care who you are, they want to know what you can do for them.  A passive reader will most often start reading the objective or branding statement.  The hunter will first slide down the left margin looking for something interesting, usually bold text, the first word(s) of sentences, and whatever is on the left side of the page in your career history.  If you lead with the company you worked for rather than your title, your story isn’t told when a hiring manager reads “down.”  Place your job title first, in bold, and hunter-reader has a thumbnail of your job history and a context to see if you can solve his/her problem.

AT THIS POINT, YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION IS COMPLETE.  If you nail it, they will read on; if you don’t they may read but you’ll have a lot of ground to recover.

As the hunter-reader’s eyes drift back to the top, her attention can be “grabbed” by bolded statements with active verbs, or by big dollar numbers or percentages.  If something does snag her, she won’t be reading the document as a whole, she’ll bounce around and read what grabs her fancy.  Do you solve her problem?  If yes, she’ll look over your job history with a bit more attention to confirm her assessment and you get a call; if no, she’s on to the next resume.

The passive reader has a short attention span.  Long sentences won’t be finished, so put your results at the start of the sentence or bullet.  Make everything compelling and brief.  Fluffy language or flabby verbs will be passed over.  He will read just enough to get your story and nothing more.  Passive readers are hard to win an interview from since they don’t have any real need.  BUT, if your resume is successful, they are likely to talk to you if you follow up.  They may or may not have a job for you, but they become a contact in the company.  Curious how to handle that follow up call?  Check back here for the next post.

No matter the kind of reader, first impression is made in the soft scan and the drift down the left side of the page.  Your resume must read powerfully and compellingly “across” and “down.”  How does yours measure up?

Rob Swanson – Managing Writer, Career Services Internation – and Education Career Services,


June 30, 2009

Resumes – it’s time to update but why?

Are there any trends going on without my knowledge?

As companies innovate and evolve, representing oneself via marketing materials (resume, cover letter, etc) must fuse company “needs” with candidate “skills.”  In a nutshell, employers want those capable and willing to grow AND not afraid of resolving challenges with “blue-sky” resolutions.

Estimates are clear; one has 12 seconds to 15 seconds to grab the reader’s interest, no more.  After this initial (and ever so brief) encounter of the first kind, decisions are made to discard or retain for closer inspection.  No doubt about it, the concept of instant gratification has seeped into the hiring process and now refuses to depart without a fight.  Corporate evolution via labor acquisition is now in time warp and the candidate must, as a natural reaction to this paradigm, hit quick and hard with the facts and only the facts.

In the end, individuals maximizing the marketing “hot zone” lands the interview.  For today’s resume/marketing trend tip, show your value/contributions as quickly as possible…that is, in the beginning.  So where is the beginning and how do I maximize it?  The “hot zone” resides in the top third of the resume.  In this pivotal region, employers are seeking value and take the approach: “What can you do for my company—now?”  So it seems that without a meaty worm on the hook, the big fish never bites (or calls to arrange an interview)! 

Elements attracting interview invitations are qualifiers defining what you will do for the bottom-line.  Unfortunately, too many resumes use the “tell me” approach as opposed to the “show me” approach.  The “tell me” approach uses fluffy soft words without a true declaration of action…this passive rhetorical road leads to burger flipping (I am speaking as one who flipped many burgers way back when.  As a result, I do respect the trade).  “Show me,” takes the reader to the context, the challenge, the action initiated or coordinated, and allows the reader to experience the results of your knowledge.

In the next submission, resume format will be examined. When you may ask?  Soon…very soon.

Danny Huffman, MA, CPRW, CEIP, CPCC
Career Services International
Education Career Services

June 22, 2009

Reader Investment

Filed under: Uncategorized — EducationCS @ 8:06 pm
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boaredThe best resumes and cover letters are written with the reader in mind.  We talk a lot about telling the reader only what they need to know; now we’re going to look at making sure it’s read.  To do that, we have to understand the concept of “reader investment.”

Each resume requires an investment of time from the hiring manager.  They have just so much time and patience to spend on each page that they must be choosy in their selection.  Their initial skim of the document determines whether they’ll make that time investment. 

Wading through big, clunky paragraphs is annoying so it’s easier to skip over readerthem.  You do it all the time, probably on this blog.  If this post was one big block of text, you might opt to scroll down the page looking for a more accessible entry.  Bullets jump out and grab you, so do bolded sections or headings  How many of you read that bolded paragraph before you read the entry?

Ask yourself, “how much reader investment does my resume require?”

  • Do you have paragraphs more than three lines long in the top portion (the sales zone of a resume)? 
  • Are there strings of more than four bullets? 
  • Do your grouped bullets relate to each other? 
  • Are the results at the end of the sentence rather than the front?
  • Were you more likely or less to read these bullets if they were clumped in a paragraph?

A clear presentation of low investment bullets, headlines, and short paragraphs wisely using bold, italic, and/or small caps does two things:  1) It will more likely be read, and 2) will require less white space.  Keeping things concise does not mean you present less.  In fact, you can present a lot more steak if you cut out the fat.

Rob Swanson

Managing Writer – Career Services International – – Education Career Services –

May 22, 2009

Diagnosing Job Search Problems: Part 2a – Professional Documents

Filed under: Career Development — EducationCS @ 8:19 pm
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red-crossOn Wednesday, we posted a three-question quiz to identify your job search problem areas.  If you missed it, see below.

 In today’s commentary, we’ll address the dreaded résumé, helping to move you up the scale from bad to good.  If you answered “1” or “2” to the first question in our quiz, you’ll want to review this post from the beginning.  For the “3s” and “4s” in our midst, the basics we highlight in the first section may be old news, but we cover some finer points further down.

From Bad to Good

Your cover letter and résumé embody the first impression you will make on a potential employer, so pay close attention to what they say about you.  If your documents haven’t changed since your school days, or they take the form of a dumping ground for miscellaneous detail about each position, you are showing an employer that you don’t care enough to do the job right.

A résumé book, readily available in the public library, can give you the basics of putting together professional-looking documents.  In general terms, here’s what you should do:

  • Pick a font with no gimmicks and use it at a readable but not over-large size.  This will vary from font to font, but 11 point is a good starting place from which to adjust.
  • Organize your positions in reverse chronological order.  Unless you are an entry-level employee, your education should not take the lead—even if it’s from Harvard.
  • Feature your title for each job in bold and follow with the company name and your dates of employment.  You need only list the year.
  • Under each position, highlight the most important details about your role and impact.  A helpful strategy is to briefly list your responsibilities in left-justified text, then follow with bullet points that call out your key achievements.
  • Include as many numbers as possible.  State how many employees you managed, how big the budget you oversaw, the percentage of productivity improvement you drove, and so on.  Generalities are boring; well-chosen specifics bring life to a document.
  • Don’t weigh the document down with too much detail about the company.  You’re not selling them, you’re selling YOU.
  •  Address the formatting.  Your resulting document should be one page or two…not more and certainly not something in between.  Work with font size, margins, and spaces between sections and bullets to get a pleasing final result.
  • Make sure your name and contact information is easy to locate at the top of the document.  And please, we beg of you, have someone proofread it!

We’re part of the way there, from Bad to Good, but don’t settle for just Good!  Check back Monday for the next installment, from Fine to Fabulous.

Amy Lorenzo

Sr. Writer

Career Services International

Education Career Services

February 25, 2009

Post-Racial Résumés?

Amy Lorenzo, Sr. Writer and keenly insightful career development professional is guest-writing today.  She brings up an excellent topic.  Enjoy and comment!


Since the election of Barrack Obama, the U.S. has been debating the role of race.  Does it matter anymore, or have we become a post-racial society?  Nearing the end of Black History Month—a celebration whose very purpose is being debated this year—tough questions arose for me when working on a career campaign for a highly talented African-American woman in science. 


The dilemma was this: Should I include a professional affiliation that would cue the reader to the candidate’s race? 


Consider my role as a résumé writer for a moment.  Much like a defense attorney, I operate in the best interests of my clients.  Using every tool in my writerly toolbox, I underscore their accomplishments more forcefully, format their documents to draw the eye away from flaws, such as employment gaps, and so on.  I routinely omit information that might betray age, political affiliation, or religious leanings, aiming to avoid the trappings of stereotype and get my clients a fair shake in a sometimes unfair market. 


Race, however, gave me pause, especially when related to the sciences.  In its 2008 report on science and engineering, the National Science Foundation [] summarized the current situation:


“The proportions of women, blacks, and Hispanics in science and engineering occupations have continued to grow over time, but are still less than their proportions of the population.” 


The statistics show women holding 26% of non-academic science and engineering positions (not 50%), and African-Americans holding 5% (not 13.5%). 


To combat this systemic underrepresentation, some organizations have adopted proactive stance toward inclusion.  To these companies, my client’s minority status might be considered an asset, a chance to boost diversity while gaining the talent of an outstanding individual.  If race made her stand out in this tight job market, when each opening is greeted with hundreds of great candidates, so be it.  On the other hand, if race sparked a negative reaction—even an unconscious one—then a passing mention would be a disservice. 


I had to ask myself, where do we stand as a country?  Certainly, we’ve moved beyond the clumsy application of quotas, but isn’t diversity still a “value-add” in an increasingly cross-cultural, global economy?  We are for equal opportunity all the way to the Presidency, but to what extent is this ideal reflected in our day-to-day hiring practices?  From the evidence, we’re getting better, but we’re not there yet.


Having no success with my internal debate, I dealt with this issue as I do most: I confronted it on paper.  In putting together a one-page “marketing” résumé, I weighed each piece of information carefully.  After detailing the impressive accomplishments my client had amassed, I found there simply wasn’t room for anything else.  As usual, I passed over lists of memberships and community activities that weren’t central to the client’s “professional branding statement” in favor of hard-hitting, quantifiable achievements that were.


In the end, I wrote a post-racial résumé…without believing we live in a post-racial world. 


So what do you think?  How do you deal with race or other identity issues within your career development process?  Or is this discussion even relevant anymore?


Amy Lorenzo

Sr. Writer

Education Career Services

Career Services International

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