The Conflict Between Form and Fashion: Making Your Resume Work For You

The average hiring manager spends 6 seconds looking at a resume before deciding whether to keep it for further review or move it to the reject pile. That means your resume really needs to stand out from the crowd and make an impact.

Your experience counts when it comes to landing a job, but before you have the chance to talk about it in an interview, you must get past the screening process.

Your resume is more than a summary of your work history and professional accomplishments. Your resume is a personal branding statement, a way of differentiating yourself from your peers and marking yourself as someone memorable, different, and worthy of note. Your resume is your first impression. It tells the hiring manager who you are, what you represent, and whether you will be a fit for one of what might be many open positions they must fill.

As you consider the style, color, and design of your resume, take some time to think about the following questions:

1. Will the Employer Be Using an Applicant Tracking System?

If you are submitting your resume online, chances are the employer is using an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates. While ATS technology has improved somewhat over the years, not all systems are created equal.

In the past, these systems were thrown off by things such as graphs, charts, intense graphics, images, and heavy usage of symbols. While many of the newer systems are able to digest more of these complex design features, you may not be able to tell who can and who cannot. When you are considering a resume redesign, choosing an ATS-optimized template may be your best bet. Doing so will help you make sure that when your resume goes through the ATS filter, the information that comes out on the other side is still accurate. This does not mean that your resume has to be boring or outdated, but you should look for designs that will be easily read and digested by electronic systems.

2. What Is the Industry Standard in Your Field?

You may have the best product in the world, but if you don't present yourself like you do, nobody will take the time to find out. The available resource pool is simply too full of people who know how to market themselves for employers to work that hard.

If you are looking for work in a creative industry, putting forward a resume that looks like one from 1980 hardly shows the creativity that you are promising to bring to the employer. Your resume is not only a place to house your background, but it is also a showcase for your talent and skill. Let that show in ways that are appropriate for your industry and desired position.

In some cases, going over the top is absolutely appropriate; in others, a more conservative approach may be the way to go. In either case, showcase what you do well in the way you present your information. Give the employer a taste of how you think and how you would present their information to others given the chance to do so.

3. Should You Use a Template?

Ask five different people this question and you will get five different answers.

Professional recruiters and HR managers are typically able to tell when you have used a template. Does this make using a template a poor choice? Not necessarily if the use of a template allows you to more professionally present your information. The best thing about templates is that most are customizable, so you can take a standard one and tailor the design to create something uniquely your own. Even if you choose not to use a template, taking the time to research different ways to package your information may inspire you to take a fresh look at how you are presenting yourself.

However you proceed, take the time to present yourself in a way that shows potential employers that you are current in your field. Find ways to maximize your impact – both on those hiring managers who will visually review your resume and on those electronic systems that might filter your information. Take time to regularly review your resume and keep your information fresh, informative, and up to date.

Erica McCurdy is a member of Forbes Coaches Council, Certified Master Coach, and member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). You can learn more about her practice on her website: