7 Tips for Attention-Grabbing Resumes

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: January 23, 2013

Think Like a Journalist

Think of how many news articles you read daily. Now think about recruiters who review hundreds of resumes day in and day out. What makes the difference between an article -- or a resume -- that may be eagerly devoured in its entirety, and another that merely receives a passing glance? What has to happen in that 3- to 10-second span to garner attention and keep the reader engaged?

While the newspaper industry has fallen on hard times during the last few years, it behooves you to think like a journalist when crafting your resume. This mindset may enhance your chances of cracking the barrier between you and your next job, so here are some things you need to include to quickly capture the attention of employers.

7. A Clear & Concise Masthead

One of the main things many people look for in a newspaper (or online news site) is the masthead or header. A lot of thought goes into the design and layout of a header. I like to call this thought process the "friend factor." What colors and information will hook you as a reader? A lot of thought has gone into this design.

Mastheads come in two styles -- those aimed at a specific demographic and those trying to gain traction with the public at large. Who is your demo?

Think of the "Contact Information" on your resume as your masthead. Within this single inch of space you have the opportunity to grab the reader’s attention much more than you might think. Tell them your name, omit your physical address (what value does it really have??), provide your email address and phone number, state whether you are able to travel/relocate, tell them any special qualifications you might have such as being bi-lingual or having a security clearance.

One last thing I always recommend for the header is to tell the reader that you don’t smoke. (Yes, I always get grief for this but the reality is that this is a big deal in hiring circles. I’m just the messenger.) My goal in getting you to think your resume header is to get the recruiter to like you -- the friend factor I mentioned earlier.

6. An Eye-Catching Headline

There are some things I am a proponent of on your resume that, quite frankly, recruiters would rather I not tell you (omitting your physical address for one). But when it comes to the headline component of your journalistic resume, recruiters love me.

I insist that you create a "Seeking Statement." A single line centered and bold just below your Masthead -- um, contact information -- that tells the reader exactly what you are seeking. This "headline" grabs their attention and warrants further reading.

State the title of the position you are seeking, insert the name of the company and a reference number. Make it easy for HR or a staffing professional to route your resume to the correct hiring manager at the outset.

5. A Strong Lead

When you get past the headline that initially nabbed your attention, what follows better be a rich and compelling first paragraph. Without a lead that captures the reader, attention wanes and you are off to the next article or website. 

The same is true of the recruiter. Come on people, think about this! Recruiters are real, human people too! They deserve concise, well written information. Otherwise why should they continue with your submission when they may have 1,000 or more resumes screaming for attention in their inbox? 

It is my contention that your first paragraph should state how you will bring value to the organization. That will grab your reader’s attention. Why? Because those other screaming resumes will be uniformly expressing a desire to acquire a "rewarding and challenging career." In these economically trying times, a company cannot afford to hire the wrong person. Recruiters are tasked with bringing in only those people who can provide value from the get go.

Don't just tell them you want to succeed, tell them how you will achieve that success.

4. Compelling Content

What follows the lead in my resume format is a short list (4 points or so) of some of your finest professional accomplishments. Why? I want you to present previous achievements in such a manner as to create a need from the recruiter’s point of view to contact you. Remember that the sole purpose of a resume is not to land a job, but to create a dialogue, or a meet-and-greet if you will.

I want you to tell your potential future employer how you "enhanced business processes increasing revenue by 3% while reducing overall turnover 16%." Or how you "created a filing system that reduced the time staff spent seeking files by 50%, thereby creating a more efficient workplace."

Besides tooting your own horn, you create a question in the hiring manager’s mind: How did she do that? The question behind the question however is: Can she do that for me?!

3. Factual Content

The next section in your resume will be purely factual and will consist of your current and previous employment history. This should be nothing more than a short listing with company names, your title or position, the dates you were employed, and company location (address or city if you have relocated during your career). Despite the temptation, do not fudge things here. It will come back to bite you.

Notice I did not mention a list of accomplishments achieved during your employment in each listing. For the purpose of my short-form/one-page resume (designed to successfully navigate resume-filtering software) I like to keep it short. I’m fond of white-space, because my goal is to receive a call from the recruiter. I WANT them to call me asking for more information at which point I will send along my traditional resume.

2. Accentuate the Highlights

A lot of people make the mistake of posting their education and other such information at the beginning of their resume. This may be useful as a technique for new grads, but as Jack Canfield said in The Success Principles, "The world doesn’t pay you for what you know; it pays you for what you do." 

The section I’m calling "Highlights" will include educational achievements and any other relevant and/or significant honors or awards you think will make you that much more desirable to the company. Things such as specific industry-related notice and certifications certainly fit the bill. Coaching your son’s soccer team has no place here.

1. Keep It Simple

Over the years I have found resumes to be either too thin (think a new college grad with little job experience) or too heavy.

Thinking about the too-heavy resume, some job seekers believe they need to throw everything they have ever done into the mix. Nothing could be further from the truth. A resume needs to be on point and present only that information necessary to get you the phone call. Remember, the hiring manager is likely making a decision in that 3- to 10-second window, so keep it short and highlight your best attributes to maximize your chances.

And the Winner Is...

You, provided you think like a journalist.

Remember to keep your audience in mind. You are NOT your audience, so if you have only managed to impress yourself with your completed resume, chances are you missed the mark. Pass your resume by someone not related to you. Spouses/significant others are the worst people to whom you can show your resume. After all, what are they really going to say? Get someone impartial to review your resume, ideally a person in business who will review with the mindset of "would I want to talk with this person?"

And who knows, they might even offer you a job!

Let Salary.com Help You

Once you've created a killer resume and gotten a call back, you still have some work to do before the interview. Luckily, Salary.com can help.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.