Adjust your resume for the digital world

Adjust your resume for the digital world

Many things have changed in recruiting. We don’t go to newspapers for job listings, we visit job boards. Instead of in person job fairs, we look to be found through social media sites like LinkedIn. Yet many people don’t think that their resumes need to be any different that what drove success 10 or even 5 years ago. Is that really true?

I argue that it’s not. The modern reader of resumes is much more likely to read that resume on a screen than from a piece of paper. While at first this might seem a trivial change – after all, books don’t read any different on an eReader than in paperback – these small changes should trigger you to approach your resume differently.

1. Your real estate for grabbing attention just got smaller

Many studies have shown that the first review of a resume consumes less than 10 seconds of time. With so little time allocated to the resume, you better make the best first impression possible. With paper you at least had some extra time as the paper was shuffled into and out of view bringing the whole of the first page into view for at least a split second. In the digital there are no such guarantees. You must grab the reader’s attention at the top of the page.

Few screens naturally facilitate viewing an entire resume immediately upon opening it. Consequently, if you want somebody to see more than the first half of the first page of your resume, you MUST grab their attention with the part of the resume that displays upon opening. This means your resume is only as good as its first half of the first page.

2. You have more room than you used to

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one” is especially true with resumes. If you can get your message across in a single page, the percentage read and the percentage retained are both likely to increase. Once you expand beyond two pages, the value of content diminishes very quickly. This has been true for a long time and remains true for human readers…

…However, my perspective on length is changing because humans are no longer the only relevant readers of resumes.

Even small companies have access to complex Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which not only store resumes, but also read and screen resumes. ATS get programmed with key words and attributes relevant to positions allowing these systems to be the initial gatekeeper for continuation in the recruiting process. They make judgments based on the presence and frequency of words. They are even smart enough to make it a bad strategy to just fill the bottom of your resume with skill buzz words in 1-point white font (yes, this was an effective strategy in some situations years ago… but not now).

While a human might get bored by a 3 page or longer resume and stop after a page or two, an ATS will consume all of the content. If you have quality content to fill that space, why not include it? Even if you lose the interest of the humans later in the process, at least you made it to the human step without getting kicked out by the ATS.

3. You need to stand out from the pile without being distracting

Back when resumes were regularly collected and shared in physical form, the quality, weight and color of paper helped keep resumes from all looking the same at first glance. The same is not true of PDFs which can easily start to all look the same. If you can stand out, you are more likely to reanimate a resume reviewer fatigued by too many similar resumes.

Using color, bolding, italics, and varying fonts and font sizes can all help a resume to stand out or they can make it appear juvenile. A little well design formatting goes a long way, but it is easy to go overboard if you are not careful. Use formatting to stand out in a positive way by making it easier to locate the most valuable content, not become a memorable failure by being an overload of stimuli.

  • Having both black and some text in a different color will emphasize important text and cause the resume to stand out as different, but use more than two colors (black and one other) can be distracting
  • Many readers will scan a resume first looking for specific words or phrases to indicate the most relevant content. Bolding or italicizing key words make it easier for them to be successful in that effort
  • Instead of using headings like “Experience” or “Skills” to separate content, use changes in text formatting to separate types of content or signal changes in role or employer so you have more space to add content that sells you, you can recapture real estate for more impactful use

4. Try it out yourself

I’m shocked by the number of people who submit a resume without testing its quality. At a minimum, make sure that you email your resume to yourself and open it both on your computer and your phone. Does it read well on both screens. Do the things you want to pop out actually pop out?

If it works for you, does it work for your friends or family? Send your resume to a few people you trust and ask them specific questions. What was most memorable about the resume? How did they read it (did they skim first, read first half, etc.)? Ask them how they would describe you based on their memory of your resume. If you like their response, then your resume is working. If you don’t like their response, then you should have some ideas for how to update it further.