Where are my paragraphs?

How long paragraphs can cause your resume to miss out on opportunities

Published by Marc Cenedella on Monday, November 8, 2021
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You don’t have a lot of time to make an impression with your resume. The typical resume reviewer is looking through a pile of a few dozen or a few hundred resumes to select the ones that she or he wants to reach out to for a phone or Zoom interview.

According to the famous research from Ladders, they spend only about 6 seconds screening each resume before moving on. https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/you-only-get-6-seconds-of-fame-make-it-count

With that small amount of time, the top section of your resume needs to be more like a billboard advertisement than a couple paragraphs of text that people won’t have time to read.

Short phrases that point out your skills, talents, past achievements and success, and your future desired work are best for advertising your work experience to future employers.

Just as the short text on billboards captures the attention of cars whizzing by, your top section / professional summary should attract the interest of a hiring professional who is quickly reading through a stack of resumes.

Avoid paragraphs, they are too long and too easy to fill with big, complex words that don’t do an effective job of representing your capabilities. When you write text such as “a seasoned 25-year executive with diverse experience across many different industries and roles, and an ability to add value in many different ways…” it may be true, but it’s true of everybody with twenty-five years of experience, and it doesn’t help you stand out. Worse, because it is not an interesting paragraph, it may cause your resume reader to skip over other, more relevant data youve included later in the paragraph.

Now perhaps it should be different, and perhaps people should take the time to read long paragraphs of text about you. After all, they’re going to be working with you for a few years, so they should be willing to invest the time upfront to get to know you before they invite you in for an interview?

Unfortunately, that is not the way recruiting really works. With the tremendous volume of applicants, resumes, and information coming at them these days, people who hire for a living have learned to screen candidates in a way that makes sense for them.

First, they’ll flip through the pile of resumes to see if there’s even a potential fit for the job based on the information they can quickly scan. 80% of resumes get screened out at this stage because the resume doesn’t clearly convey the capabilities and types of accomplishments that the screener is looking for.

After this first screen, a recruiter or hiring manager might spend more time deeply reading a resume, or talking to you on a phone screen, to determine whether you have what’s needed to potentially be hired for the role.

So a great resume must first be excellent at getting you past that initial screen. Short phrases are the right way to take on this challenge. Paragraphs are too long and don’t communicate quickly enough.

In a way, it’s similar to how all advertising works. You know, car advertisements used to have paragraphs of text as well. You may have seen this famous VW print ad from the 1960s before - it’s a classic and it has 12 sentences of text.

VW Lemon Ad

A modern car ad might have one sentence of just a few words.

And ads for consumer products might have none - Apple is rather famous for that. (Here’s a 2005 spoof video poking fun at Microsoft’s perceived wordiness compared to Apple.)

All of which is to say that you need to make your impression in as few words as possible, as powerfully as possible. And the best way to do that is to remove the paragraphs of text from your resume and use easily scannable phrases that are very fast to read and easy to digest.

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