Ten Questions Your Resume Must Answer In Ten Seconds

Ten Questions Your Resume Must Answer In Ten Seconds


There are only so many ways a hiring manager can come face-to-face with your resume. Here are the possibilities:

• They can view your resume on a screen, the way you’re reading this column right now. Imagine reading your resume on a phone.

• They can print your resume and read it on paper.

• They can receive a physical copy of your resume when someone hands it to them, or receive it in an envelope in the mail.

However your reader gets your resume, it’s only going to get a quick glance. The first phrase or sentence that grabs the reader will pull them in its direction, like a magnet.

Something in your resume will grab them, or nothing will grab them and they’ll put your resume down or turn the page on the screen.

That will be it. How many seconds elapsed while the manager scanned your resume? Maybe ten seconds!

Grab is the key verb. You have to grab their attention. You have to give them a reason to keep reading. Your resume has ten seconds to answer these critical questions that will be in a hiring manager’s mind.

You can answer all of them in your Human-Voiced Resume but you have to have the answers in your mind, first.

What kind of work do you do?

We have to know what kind of work you plan to do. You have to go to the costume party with some kind of costume. The hiring manager has specific pain if s/he has pain at all. “I can do all kinds of things” is not a brand. The Summary at the top of your Human-Voiced Resume will tell us exactly what you do professionally.

Keep in mind that you can have as many versions of your resume as you want, branding yourself for as many career directions or ‘prongs’ as you can manage.

Here is Petra’s Not-for-Profit Marketing Summary. (She has four resumes, thus four slightly differently Summaries. Each one emphasizes a different aspect of Petra’s background.)

Not-For-Profit Marketer

I’m a Not-for-Profit Marketing person who loves to grow awareness and participation in sustainability and environmental efforts. I conceived and grew the Frog and Toad Society’s “Adopt a Tadpole” program to include 75 elementary schools, tremendous corporate sponsors and hundreds of individual donors.

I thrive in a fast-paced, make-it-work environment and love to design marketing programs from the ground up. I’m comfortable in traditional and social marketing, PR and trade show planning. I’m a budding public speaker who has spoken at two Not-for-Profit Marketing conferences so far and I’m looking for a new challenge.

How are you qualified to do this kind of work?

Petra did not wait to get into the body of her resume to give the reader (possibly her next manager) a sense of what she’s done. She knows that the manager doesn’t have any extra time. Petra is going to get into more detail about the Frog and Toad Society and her other jobs down in the body of her resume, but she gives the reader a taste of her awesomeness with a quick Dragon-Slaying Story in the Summary at the top.

Now the reader has gotten hooked by Petra’s story-magnet. The reader is intrigued. What’s the story with this Frog and Toad Adopt-a-Tadpole thing, anyway? The reader keeps reading and gets to the Frog and Toad section of Petra’s resume a little farther down the page. Now s/he can read all about what Petra did at the Society.

Do you have a sense of yourself professionally beyond “Here are the jobs I’ve held?”

Petra says in Summary that she knows who she is. There’s no hiding behind robot boilerplate language like “Results-oriented professional” for Petra—no way! She wants you to know who she is. She has no desire to cower behind her degree (which shows up on Page Two of her resume) or her certifications.

You can get your personality across on the page in your resume if you try. If you don’t try to do that, your personality will not get through the sludgy corporate zombie language. Once you’ve met 10 million “results-oriented professionals,” you don’t meet to meet any more.

Are you proficient in English?

For better or worse, your resume conveys your language skills. That’s a question many managers will have in their minds: “How’s your written English?”

Your resume will answer that question fast (or quickly, since “quickly” is an adverb and should be used to modify a verb like “answer” versus the adjective “fast” which should be used to modify a noun). I am not a fan of the language I call “taught English” with its fussiness.

I think it takes away from the human voice that will make your resume powerful and allow it to cut through the information overload in the reader’s brain. Still, you have to show the reader in your resume that you can write in the language you intend to do business in.

Do you know what kind of business I’m in (or we’re in)?

Petra customizes her resume before she sends it out. The Summary we saw above comes from Petra’s Not-for-Profit Marketing resume. She has four or five different versions that emphasize different aspects of her background.

You have to customize your resume to make it clear that you understand the organization you’re reaching out to. Don’t send a resume that says “I am an Administrative Professional in the legal industry” to a soft-drink bottling company! You’re telling them you’re in the legal industry but that’s not their industry. That’s not a good strategy.

Make sure that in your resume there is a connection to the organization you’re approaching, and to the job you are interested in—whether that job is posted anywhere, or not.

Does your career history make sense?

Your career history has to make sense on the page. That’s why I don’t like ‘functional’-type resumes. Mother Nature is in charge. Any hiring manager with any interest in you is going to wonder “What is this person’s story?” A story is chronological. It has a beginning, a middle and an end. Give us the story in your resume!

If there are gaps, fill them in “Sabbatical” or “Private Projects” or “Independent Consulting.” If you helped your brother build his new house, that’s a consulting project.

Do you have the educational background I’m looking for?

Some managers care more about educational credentials than other ones do, but either way, you’ve got to tell your educational story in your resume. Most people include their school credentials at the end of the resume, at the bottom of page two.

Are the stories or accomplishments you highlight in your resume significant to me?

Tell stories in your resume, the way Petra did. You can tell Dragon-Slaying Stories in the Summary at the top of your resume or down in the body of it in your descriptions of each job you’ve held.

Are you smart?

Let’s be honest—the quality of your thinking is going to come through in your resume the same way your personality and your sense of direction are going to come through. Take the time to think about the words on your resume. They represent you, just like a song you would sing in a concert or any other expression of who you are.

You have no one to impress, but why not let your resume sing your song as faithfully as possible?

The world is changing. Your resume doesn’t have to be stiff and formal any more. I don’t want you to write a jaunty, bro-type resume either (I have seen a few of those!) but simply a thoughtful, human story about where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Are you running your career?

The reader can tell whether or not you believe you’re in charge of your career—just by reading your resume! You can have gaps and skips and changes in altitude in your history—lots of brilliant and creative people do. You only have to feel like the master and commander of the ship, not a galley slave tossed about by the high waves, powerless.

You have to convey in your resume that you’re on an amazing roller coaster ride and learning new things every day. Get that across in your resume. You are not a leaf blown about by the wind. You’re an eagle!

(Article originally appeared on Forbes)