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Why You Shouldn't Conform Your Resume

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

A recent study by the job-matching agency TheLadders used an "eye tracking" method to follow recruiters' eyes as they reviewed resumes. Among the study's many conclusions, three stood out:

1. Recruiters spend an average six seconds on a resume to make an initial "fit or no fit" decision on candidates.
2. To stand out, you'll want to conform your resume formatting.
3. You should save visual images for the hiring manager, when you can present your portfolio and showcase your design acumen.

Unfortunately, what may work well in a recruiter's eyes isn't necessarily what other hiring managers will be drawn to. In fact, there's little chance that a conversation with a recruiter will lead to your next job. So designing a resume for a recruiter's preferences may actually limit your results and lead to rejection from other hiring managers.

With this in mind, here are three ways your resume shouldn't conform to a standardized format for recruiters:

Your resume should not be written for a six-second attention span. Write as if the reader sees value in your story muscle instead of starving your size-10 resume to a size 4.

While a well-done resume should initially grab the reader's attention with easy-to-scan headlines and targeted, easily digestible messages, it should also be meaty and story-rich. This way, once the initial scan is complete, the resume offers substance for a deeper dive.

In fact, well-written and designed resumes can (in many cases) still attract recruiters by offering them the nuts and bolts they seek.

Your resume should not conform. Recruiters want a format that speedily gets your resume out of their inbox and into their trash can because they are being paid by a company (their client) to find a perfect candidate. They don't have time for imperfectly fitted resumes.

Not holding the right job title, having the required years of relevant experience, or perhaps not possessing the desired degree or training on your resume allows a recruiter to rule you out quickly. Ultimately, this is not in your best career-marketing interests.

Consider the other hiring decision-makers, who have filters and criteria for deciding to call you in for an interview that might differ from that of recruiters. Many other hiring folks are drawn into unique formatting and more marketing-focused language. They also prefer the hooks that show you have the transferable talent, cultural fit, and soft skills to overcome potential deficiencies.

Many times, an individual who may be hiring for a role that will fill a company's gaping hole or save a hurting sales team is looking for a compelling reason to hire you. If you conform too much to formatting, design rules, and content limitations, you will most likely bury or strip out your value. This strategy will not trigger an interview.

If you write to one recruiter's needs, you may unintentionally and unnecessarily find yourself eliminated from other hiring managers' lists.

You should not wait to include visual images for the interview. While content is king, interesting design is queen. Visuals enhance and extend written content. A well-placed chart, graph or even spots of color add curiosity, increase appeal, and draw the eyes' attention to value that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Ditch the idea that you can't distract the reader with "chart junk." It's OK to divert the reader a bit, upsetting their visual apple cart so their attention is drawn to what really matters versus what they instinctually think is most important.

Sometimes, we as humans don't know what we don't know. Use your resume as an opportunity to sell your value, overcome perceptions, and get a hiring manager to think outside their box.

Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter is a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, chief career writer and partner with CareerTrend, and is one of only 28 Master Resume Writers (MRW) globally.

Jacqui and her husband, "Sailor Rob," host a lively careers-focused blog at Jacqui is a power Twitter user (@ValueIntoWords), listed on several "Best People to Follow" lists for job seekers. Visit to vote for Glassdoor in the Webby Awards.

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