Thursday, 27 February 2014

Resume Content vs Presentation - which is more important

Content vs. Presentation

I've mentioned before that I became a resume writer as a result of offering typing work to the local area and then after a few years of doing this, when ready to return to full time paid employment then discovered the employment service industry.

But back in the early days of becoming a resume writer, when I was still relatively new and not possessing much more than an ability to write and create documents, and wondering if I should be putting more effort into developing the content or ensuring that the presentation was 'spot on', an in-person opportunity presented itself to me where I was able to ask a hiring manager in a recruitment office what they thought was more important in a resume - the content or the presentation. What I didn't realise as I asked that seemingly innocent question was to inadvertently trigger a heated debate between that recruiter and his colleagues over what they believed was 'the right answer', and I left without getting the answer to that question, and feeling terribly guilty that I had caused such a 'lively'  and prolonged discussion.

As the reason I had asked was because I was fast becoming more of a professional resume writer than typist, I wanted (and needed) to get things right for my clients, to ensure that the resumes I created for them gave them a competitive edge against other job applicants who created their resume for their own self or even chose a different resume writer to create it for them. I was already getting quick results for my clients, but I became keen to learn as much as I could so that I could put that new knowledge into practice so my clients always benefited and their job prospects were raised.

The recruiters all instantly agreed – without argument – that having both good content and good presentation in the same application was 'ideal' and thus guaranteed to make them consider that applicant, but when forced to have to decide which was more important – the content or the presentation side of things – instantly divided the team that came 'out of nowhere' to join in and triggered the resultant ‘lively’ debate. The conversations got loud, then went soft a number of times, and eventually set the argument going around in circles as they would settle on, say, content and then someone would throw in a ‘but’ and gave reasons that then either swung opinions over to presentation (or re-triggered a flare up), until someone would throw in a ‘but’ again, which had them back at content, then back at presentation. Content, presentation, content, presentation: it was like a tennis match audience, you know, where you see the spectators turning their heads as they watched the ball go back and forth.

And, I (eventually) came away without a final answer. 

So, if recruiters didn’t know the answer - or agree upon why this was so – then in order to work out which was the more influential aspect in the hiring decision, I needed to turn to a different means of gaining this insight. I don't recall why, but it was important to me that I learn which aspect had the stronger persuasive power.

Now, I was happy in running my business and so was not genuinely seeking to gain paid employment, but at some point I had the ‘brilliant idea’ to carry out a small experiment as the best way to gain the answer to that question (because I didn't have anyone else I could approach to try answering the question for me), and so came up with applying for a job twice, using two different names and two different resumes to see what impact – if any – each aspect would have towards the final outcome.

And the more I thought about the idea, the more I thought that proceeding with carrying out this little experiment would a) not harm anyone, and b) would ‘work’, and I concluded that I would need to apply for a handful of jobs and one resume needed to have great content while the other needed great presentation.

So, to ensure my experiment success, which I had now decided I would definitely carry out, I put a lot of my free time and effort into crafting two vastly different resumes.   

The first, I concentrated all my efforts on producing good quality resume content and then created the electronic document so that it had terribly poor design and element placement – I replicated the design and layout from a previous client’s original self-created resume (while they had no computer skills) that I had recently overhauled and of which I felt was adequately riddled with sufficient presentation errors that would turn a recruiter off the candidate, and which now perfectly suited my purpose. Therefore this first resume creation’s strength would lie purely in its quality wording.

The second resume, I used so-so content but pulled out every document presentation stops I could, carefully creating the resume ensuring that its strength lay solely in its strong visual appeal.

I handled the ‘problem’ of needing to appear as though I was two separate applicants by using two different names: my real first and surname, as well as an invented one that consisted of my middle name and one of my grandmothers’ maiden surnames. I personally held the belief (at that time) that if you had to be stronger in presentation or content then I was on the side of presentation over content, so I decided to use my real name and surname on the presentation resume and the invented name on the content one.

Fully understanding the importance of ‘always submit your resume with a cover letter’, I planned my intended application experiment a small step further, by matching my cover letter to the resume. So for my good content poor presentation resume, I wrote quality, tailored cover letter content that aligned well towards the position being applied for and then presented it as woefully as how my resume was poorly presented; but for my good presentation poor content resume, I used proper business letter formatting and layout, used all my best word processing skills, but only wrote content that was ‘nothing outstanding’ so that the cover letter didn’t get this application culled without my resume being read if I could avoid it.

I also resolved the ‘problem’ of not using the same contact details on both resumes by using my mobile number for the good presentation resume, and my land line number for the good content resume.

Now ready to start, I commenced Jobsearching.

Over a one week period, I applied for fifteen Admin positions, each of which I found using

When applying using my good presentation bad content, I simply copied and pasted my cover letter text into the ‘write cover letter now’; but for the good content poor presentation, I spent time carefully crafting the cover letter so that its wording would generate employer interest, and then deliberately ruin things by not using consistent spacing between paragraphs etc to ‘ugly it up’ and keep it matched to its correlating resume.

Which applications – the good content or the good presentation - do you think caused me to receive eight (8) telephone calls, and which caused me to get one only (1) – in other words, was it my mobile phone number or my land line that I had to answer the most?

I want to give you the opportunity to tell me which one you think it was, and possibly share your reasons why, so I am not going to provide the answer in this post. Instead, I will give you about a week to use the comments section below, and next week, I will follow up this post and reveal the answer, and what I think is the reason behind it in a new post, to give future readers an opportunity to have a crack at answering it first too.

So, which aspect do you think got the better results, and why?

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