So the story went: when selection boards in the Army review your evaluation report for promotion, they spend little more than 15 seconds on it. They check for a top-blocks, perhaps whip through the senior rater’s comments, and throw it a pile, that’s your future. Hopefully, your evaluation was distinctive for all the right reasons.

Your Resume – A QUICK READ

Now you’re in the private sector. So the story goes: don’t expect much more. Recruiters and hiring managers have hundreds, perhaps thousands of resumes to review. According to one recruiting firm, hiring managers spend about 7 seconds on resumes these days. “That is an awfully short amount of time to fully explain to someone the breadth of your experience,” writes Adam Karpiak of Karpiak Consulting. I don’t necessarily doubt that. Maybe it’s seven. Perhaps 10. Even give recruiters 30 seconds. There’s not much time. Hopefully, your resume is distinctive, for all the right reasons.

resumes above THE FOLD

Fast Company contributor Andrew Fennell writes, “If you want to land job interviews, your entire resume needs to be great, but only one part of it has to be really great.” Fennell directs attention to the space in your resume “above the fold.” It’s the same principle great newspapers apply when trying to sell papers: people first see and read the top half of the paper. That’s what gets them to buy the New York Times over The Washington Post, or vice versa, at the news stand. Whichever has the most interesting stories “above the fold” wins.

The same is true for web pages today: fill the site with a million details that aren’t distinctive, people surf right through, no matter what sorts of golden nuggets are hidden there. Open a website with clear, understandable, attractive information, people stick with the page. The same is true, argues Fennell, with your resume: “Your resume should be written purely to sell your talents and get your foot in the door.”


We don’t buy The WaPo because of the fine print in the corners. We pick it up because of the headlines, and they we buy it because the first blasts of information are captivating. So while certain information is simply necessary to have up front (for instance, your contact information), that’s not getting you anything. “That means you want to use this space to introduce yourself in the most compelling–though not necessarily the most comprehensive–terms possible, bullet out your core skills, and still have some space left to show off your most recent role,” advises Fennell.


Of course, I think most of us work to get what we believe is most important up front. But I like Fennell’s guidance. Get three parts above the fold: compelling introduction, core skills easy to read, and your most recent role. For Fennell, a compelling introduction means “around five to eight lines that gives a high-level summary of your abilities in a well-written, persuasive manner.” To Fennell, the persuasion is about context, facts, and metrics. You’re trying to establish quickly and clearly that you’re a “results-driven hard worker.”

Next, Fennell advises, get core skills out there. He advises bullets, and I think he’s right. Boom, boom, boom. They’re tight, quick, easy to read, and should be impressive or memorable. But it’s not about just any three bullets. The bullets have to resonate. And what resonates for one position may not resonate for another. So be ready to tailor your resume to a particular job description. “Make sure,” Fennell writes, “you do your research to determine which skills to promote here. This section should be reserved for essential talents only, and each point should be kept short and punchy–at three words or less.” Three words. Wow.

Part three is your most recent role, and you might spend this brief opportunity to highlight some “impressive achievements with quantifiable results to prove the impact you’ve made.” Again, money talks. If you can quantify your achievements with dollar figures, that’s great. If not, think about effects in customer service, think about volume of work that’s advanced company goals in measureable ways. Understandably, you want the hiring manager thinking, “Here’s one who can make us some money.”

In short, I’ve got some work to do on my resume. And, remember, we’ll always have work to do on our resumes. As Fennell reiterates, resumes change depending on the position. And any piece of writing—resume or dissertation—benefits from revision after revision after revision (revision does not mean complete rewrite . . . sometimes, it’s just an adjustment here and there to make the writing more powerful, easier to read and understand).

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Ed Ledford enjoys the most challenging, complex, and high stakes communications requirements. His portfolio includes everything from policy and strategy to poetry. A native of Asheville, N.C., and retired Army Aviator, Ed’s currently writing speeches in D.C. and working other writing projects from his office in Rockville, MD. He loves baseball and enjoys hiking, camping, and exploring anything. Follow Ed on Twitter @ECLedford.