ACE THE FIRST IMPRESSION: Get Their Attention With Your Resume

Before I dive into my words of info-spiration, I have to put this warning: resumes are subjective.

You can get 10 career specialists, HR people, and recruiters together and you can get 10 different opinions on one resume. People get hired with hard to read, clunkily written, and obtuse resumes all the time. Maybe they had a connection in the company, maybe they got along well with the recruiter, maybe they sacrificed a goat to the god of fortune under a full moon… It happens.

Also, if you are experienced in a high demand niche skill set and you have recruiters and companies headhunting you with lucrative offers then you can turn in whatever. I have worked with machinists, welders, and the like who move from contract to contract with the grace of a noble chimp swinging in the trees. Usually these are careers are short and eventually, the candidate needs to retrain once their bodies can no longer do such work.

Most of us, especially if we are career changing, can’t just waltz into a job.

We have to put some elbow grease into our applications.

And for my lovely developers who are scoffing at my advice because they are constantly in demand now… many of my clients are talented professionals in their 40s-50s who now have to try harder to fight ageism in a youth-obsessed tech culture. The average web developer and fashion model have something in common- the calls dry up after 35.

I recently read a post about a position at Amazon which had 3,500 submissions, 50 recruiter screenings, 8 onsite interviews, and eventually had 3 offers handed out. To keep it in perspective, your average company, that isn’t a globally known powerhouse, isn’t going to get that many applications. However, you can expect to have a couple of dozen candidates as your competition in most cities for a role with a company in good standing. Add more if you are in a ‘cool’ city like Austin or Berlin. Add even more if there is some fun or glamour or creativity to your field.

So how do you stand out if you are just another brick in the wall… *ahem* resume in the applicant tracking system?


Let’s break it down even further.

1. Ditch the generalist resume.

Get some clarity around your career goal and make sure that you know what is important for your desired audience to know. This is more tricky if you have to reach deep into your transferable skills, but make sure you don’t fall into the trap of only listing routine duties if you are a career changer. You don’t have to have a fancy format to your resume (just make sure you keep it to easy to skim 1-2 pages), but you do need to toss the recruiter the red meat. What can you show that demonstrates that you can do the job?

This is very important for UX designers because your skill set is supposed to include boiling down complicated communication in a pleasing visual fashion. Your resume is the first design piece that the company will see.

2. Develop a system so you can combine efficiency and tailored applications.

If you have a few different types of roles that you are going for (example: UX Design, UX Research, UX Writer) then create three versions of your resume that focus on the skills/results/accomplishments that are most relevant to the position. Have realistic expectations: the industry average is 26 applications to 1 interview and 6 interviews to 1 offer. You might hit a hole in one, but I would still put a good system in place for your job search.

You can create templates for cover letters that are fast to put together yet seem custom made for the role. You want to at least make sure that you are listing the right company and job title in the cover letter… No one is impressed if you call them by the wrong name, it doesn’t make if its a company that is looking to hire or with a person on a romantic date. As Liz Lemon says, that’s a dealbreaker, ladies!

The resume that looks the most like the job lead is the one that gets called to the interview. Be smart and create a job seeker version of marketing funnels for the roles that you are going out for.

3. Apply at the company page and if they give you the opportunity to do a video, attach a portfolio, or share more information, take it!

Job boards are a crutch. They are great to scouting out who is hiring, but if you are only applying at the job boards then you are dropping your resume into an extra applicant tracking system. Who knows if your resume will end up filtered out immediately? I have done recruitment contracts where the applications that came in from Stackoverflow just didn’t look as good as the company page ones so you can end up inadvertently looking lackluster.

If the company gives you a chance to humanize your application, do it! Videos are a great way to stand out and show some of your personality/culture fit. People are hiring folks whom they will have to be trapped in an office with for 40+ hours a week. They prefer to hire someone that they can stand or better yet, enjoy to be around. Even for web developers, the age of keeping the techies down in the bowels of the building, only to emerge for the Christmas party, is over. Hard skills can be taught, being pleasant to be around cannot.

Keep in mind that your resume should evolve as your career does. I suggest switching up the format every six months, keeping only the last decade worth of experience, and making sure that it can be read easily on a phone, tablet, or laptop. Your resume is the first step in the hiring process, it’s the first impression so make it a good one!

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