The key to writing a good resume is to understand how people read them, and by and large, they don’t. People glance at resumes quickly for format and general appearance; this takes from less than a second to a very few seconds. Then they start a “quick scan” for keywords and keyword history info (where you worked, what your title was, how long you worked there, and what level of education you have).

If the resume passes that “quick scan” (studies have shown it takes about 10 seconds or less) then they consider putting it in the “yes” pile (if it’s in a pile of resumes they’re evaluating) or giving it what we call “the long read” where they actually read much and perhaps all of the copy in the document.

An exception is if you or your resume has been referred to them by a trusted third source (e.g. your “distant relative” and your “colleague in Shanghai”) in which case 1) it’s usually not in a pile of resumes they are sorting through, and 2) they already have a favorable initial opinion of you from the “recommendation” of the trusted person they know who has referred you.

When people recommend you and your resume to others, those others will likely read your resume no matter how you format and write it. But after that, if/when you start applying for positions that many others are applying for – and your resume becomes just one more in a long list or big pile of them – the “quick scan” tends to become operative.

That said, it’s essential to format your resume so as many keywords and concepts as practical appear right away up top. Once you have your keywords and concepts, be sure to read them carefully and make sure they offer the best of what you do and want to do. They should also represent similar keywords and concepts most likely to be the focus of ads you might respond to.

In addition to keywords, use numbers that stand out by quantifying scope and results. Remember: numbers with a dollar sign ($) or a percent sign (%) stand out and attract the reader’s eye. For example:

  • Managed 18 staff and $2.5 million budget.
  • Led 7-person team that implemented new marketing strategies.
  • Saved $25,000 by consolidating 10% of standard operating procedures.
  • Designed and installed IT system for 450 people in 12 locations.

As always, proofread your resume and ask others to proofread it for you, watching especially for typos and inconsistency.


Read and analyze six or so ads of interest for positions you would apply for to see what keywords or phrases they feature. If those words or phrases apply to you, consider adding them to your resume.

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