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The First 10 Seconds Will Make or Break Your Resume

Last Tuesday I spent the day in Boston critiquing resumes at the Women for Hire job fair. I met dozens of smart, talented, eminently qualified job seekers — and saw a lot of resumes that were NOT passing the "10-second test." Like it or not, hiring authorities typically decide within 10 seconds whether they'll bother to read your resume. Does your resume have an impressive opening that will hook your reader in 10 seconds or less? If not, that may be why it's not getting you as many interviews as you'd like.

It's not easy to advertise and market ourselves, and it seems especially difficult for women, as a post ("Why Women Need to 'Toot Their Own Horn' On Their Resumes") on the WorkingGirl blog recently pointed out. But it's got to be done.

Not sure how to begin? Look at a few magazine ads for inspiration. Like resume writers, ad copywriters have to make their case in a few seconds, otherwise the reader will flip to the next page.

A resume that launches right into a dry listing of your work history and job duties is like a shampoo ad with a headline that says, "Pyrithione Zinc! Water! Ammonium Laureth Sulfate!" All shampoos have pretty much the same ingredients.  And everyone who is applying for a particular job will have pretty much the same qualifications.

The secret is to differentiate yourself and target your reader's emotions in those first 10 seconds. You need to tell the reader whether you're the shampoo that relieves an itchy scalp and gets rid of embarrassing flakes, or the kind that repairs damaged hair and leaves it silky-smooth. In other words, tell the reader how you will fulfill their (business) needs and solve their (business) problems.

To do that, you have to think like the hiring manager. Scrutinize the job posting, the employer's web site, and any news you can find about the organization to help identify which business needs to address. Then ask yourself what you're especially good at, and what special skills or accomplishments you've achieved that align with those business needs. Some ideas might be:

  • Streamlining inefficient processes,
  • Saving money or time,
  • Improving morale,
  • Making customers happy,
  • Identifying safety hazards,
  • Analyzing cryptic data,
  • Increasing sales,
  • Decreasing errors,
  • Staying under budget, or
  • Beating deadlines.

Next, take it one step further by using numbers or percentages wherever possible, or describing any special circumstances surrounding the accomplishments. For example:

  • Developed and implemented safety program that decreased injury rates 12% and lowered annual Workers' Compensation premiums by $5,000
  • Maintained aggressive distribution schedule and met 97% of shipping deadlines despite significant damage to facilities and equipment after Hurricane Katrina

Those are the kinds of things that can jump off the page in the first 10 seconds and make you stand out among others with similar backgrounds.

Put these highlights at the top of the resume, under a heading such as Summary of Qualifications, Professional Summary, Major Accomplishments, Achievements and Qualifications, or whatever makes sense for your situation.

Once you hook them with your 10-second summary, then they can read your work history, see your experience, and realize how smart, talented, and eminently qualified you are!

Got any good "10-second" tips of your own?

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