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Can Your Resume Pass the 10-Second Test?

An image of Michelle Shaw.
By Michelle Shaw, Associate Director/Pre-Law Advisor and Advisor for Careers with Social Impact at Williams College Career Center
July 18, 2017
An image of a timer with 10 seconds.

I read a survey recently that concluded that employers can decide in under ten seconds whether to put a resume in the dismiss or save pile. Admirable! Clearly ten seconds isn’t sufficient time to adequately assess whether a candidate can actually perform the job advertised. However, employers are looking for specific ticket items, and if your resume does not address these items, your resume just may land in the dismiss pile. Here are five resume tips to help you succeed.


1. Keep it Short; Keep it Sweet

In more than five years as a career counselor, I have seen hundreds of resumes. Most college student resumes I’ve seen are multiple pages. That is because students tend to treat the resume like it is another college application in which they must tell their entire life story. Far from it, the resume is simply an opportunity to make the case for your hiring in a succinct manner that highlights relevant skills, not everything you have ever done. An employer is simply not going to spend the time reading more than one page from a college student.


2. Relevancy is Key

The traditional resume is written in reverse chronological order. Tradition is good, but in the case of a college resume, it is important that you make the job of the recruiter easy by putting the most relevant experiences where recruiters can quickly find them: at the top of the resume. After education, include thematized or functional headings that demonstrate your key skills such as employment, leadership and mentoring. Relevancy also includes a discussion of your experience that specifically highlights key accomplishments. That is, avoid a laundry list of things you have done and really hone in on your ability to meet project deadlines and deliver results consistently.


3. Make it Pretty

Spending time on how your resume looks will pay off in large dividends in the end. Employers have a mix of subjective and objective requirements. Therefore, in addition to the objective relevant skills, the resume needs to be pleasing to the eye. Typically, this means one-inch margins all around, a nice balance of white space, a 12-inch type (depending on font) and consistent bullets or markers throughout.


4. Do You Speak Resume?

Stick with short, bursts of action verbs that strongly, and succinctly describe your key accomplishments. Avoid using pronouns and avoid verbs that refer to you in the third person. For example, don’t say “conducts research” or “organizes bake sales.” It sounds weird to the reader’s ear and should to yours as well!


5. Objective or Summary Statements

There are two schools of thoughts about whether the objective or summary statement should be included. I’m from the school of thought that college students can reclaim space on their resume by omitting this statement. Besides, it’s apparent that the objective of any job is to get the job to which you are applying. Until you have gained substantive experience after graduation, you can continue to omit this statement.

So, while ten seconds isn’t a long time, it’s certainly long enough for an employer to decide whether you have ticked off these five (5) things on your resume. Pull out your resume and give it to a friend. See how quickly he or she can spot what you are really good at!


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Michelle Shaw, Esq., LEED AP is an alum of Williams College and former attorney. She currently serves as an Associate Director and the Pre-Law Advisor for the Career Center where she counsels both current students and alumni.

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