Monday, 10 March 2014

The Verdict: Presentation vs Content

Hi Everyone,

Last week I wrote a post (which you can find here) asking whether a resumes presentation or content is the more important aspect when sending off job applications.

Today, I want to give you the result of my small experiment.

*Drum roll please*

The resume that caused me to receive the most amount of employer was my Presentation resume (it was my mobile phone number that I had to answer most).

I think the reason for this is that as humans we like and appreciate things that look good.  It is why the most attractive actors get the best roles, it is why as readers book covers grab our attention and can lead us to buy without looking inside, it is why beautiful, scenic places attract more visitors.

Perhaps we can be more 'forgiving' of mistakes when something looks good then when it doesn't - so an attractive looking resume and cover letter will help the majority of employers to overlook a couple of small errors like typos and minor spelling mistakes**, whereas an ugly, inconsistently formatted document, even when 'word perfect' is so unappealing visually, as humans we are less forgiving about the mistakes we see in it and are more likely to judge it harshly.

**Note. In response to one reader feedback, I would like to clarify: by 'a couple' I mean one or two per application at most, and by 'small spelling mistakes' I am meaning more where words are spelt one way in one country but spelt in a different way in another country and you use the correct spelling of a different country's instead of your own. 

In Australia, most Employment Service provider's word processing software automatically defaults to American English, when the Australian English is the convention with its different spellings that should be used. Also, as a computer trainer I have found a lot of home users also don't know how to change their default settings across to Australian English, so when they spell-check they end up with the wrong spelling for many other those different spelt words. The majority of employers will overlook mistakes like this - but there are always nitpicking exceptions, and to give yourself the best chance of success, try to ensure your resume and cover letter is as error-free as possible.

Of course, this is just my opinion about possible reasons behind why presentation is so important.

Now, I know my small experiment didn't produce definitive results like a proper scientific study would get, but it is worth taking a look at your resume and cover letter and assessing its visual attractiveness.

* Is there lots of white space?
* Do you have consistent alignment?
* Do you use the features like Tabs, Indentation, text alignment to showcase your information, or do you mimic the old days of creating documents using a typewriter and use the space bar to move the cursor thus manually creating space?
* Do you over emphasise text?  Do you have a balanced blend of bold text for crucial information, and italic as subtle highlight for important but not critical information?
* Do you balance your details vertically and horizontally on the page, and keep that style consistent?
* Do you ensure you don't have widowed and orphaned text?
* Do you box your information in unnecessary borders, or open up your resumes readability by skilfully avoiding using features that make your documents look 'amateurish'?

Prime Resume Real Estate
When I was culling applications, I hated resumes that  jumped straight from the person's name and contact details into lengthy sentences because it forced me to have to read instead of scan the page. I naturally gravitated to resumes that treated the top two-thirds of the first page as the prime resume real estate it is, i.e. resumes that provided short sentenced bullet listed information that contained details matching the position on offer that guided my eyes downwards. Most recruiters will turn the page and skim the second page if they skim-read beyond the two-third mark of the top page - so instead of throwing lots of long sentences that stop them skim reading that far down, aim to cause readers to read on and use that prime resume real estate - treat it as 'gold and diamonds' - for the details that matter most to the employer.

The print outs all came out in black ink on white paper, but I could always tell when people had colour resumes - they usually had chosen a bright colour which perhaps stood out on the computer screen but which when printed was faint and hard to read, causing their 'highlight' to be diminished instead of standing out and the text of which was thus now easy to overlook. So, consider how recruiters might read your application and what affect your text emphasis can have both electronic and in print form.

Hidden information about applicants
The way a applicant presented their resume content provided me - provides all recruiters - with a lot of information about the person, without me (or them) having to read even one word from an applicants resume and cover letter.

Confidence, or lack thereof
For example, I often found women attempting to return to the workforce 'buried' or 'diminished' their name as text the same size as the rest of the document (body text), while younger, 'pushier' fresh-out-of-school candidates often (over)enlarged their name so that nobody in the office could mistake who the resume belonged to even from fifty metres away, suggesting immediate, noticeable, lack of confidence from the returning to workforce mums and an arrogant boldness and attention-seeking quality from the school leavers. Your name should be a bit larger than body text, but not take up half a page either!

Lack of Skills
Resumes that had alignment and consistency problems immediately demonstrated that the applicant didn't possess sufficient computer skills - this was an easy decision-maker for me when those particular applications were for our Administration vacancies: the person clearly doesn't have the basic skills to do the job being applied for and is therefore unsuitable. Thank you, next application!

The point I want to make here in this post today is that your presentation can either assist or hinder the employer determine your suitability for the role, so even if you don't have perfect wording, do put more effort into making sure you present your information in a clean and professional looking way, so that it encourages the recruiter to want to skim read your resume and cover letter not turns them off from the onset.

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