The Résumé Test & Checklist: Does Yours Pass?

June 21, 2010 at 12:01 am 19 comments

If you ask ten “experts” what an effective résumé should look like, you’ll get ten very different answers. There is no one-size-fits-all template for a perfect résumé – it’s very subjective, and opinions vary widely. Certainly, if you show your résumé to any professional “Career Consultant” – i.e. someone who gets paid to offer career advice and re-write résumés – they will likely tell you that yours is flawed, and that they can “fix” it (for a fee, of course!)

Naturally, I have my own opinions on what constitutes an “effective” résumé. Recently, I posted a blog describing the process that most recruiters and HR people go through when screening résumés against a job opportunity. [“The Brutal Truth on How Résumés Get Eliminated.”] The sad fact is that the average résumé-reader will give your résumé less than 15 seconds of eyeball time on the first pass. They’ll scan the first page of your résumé, rarely progressing on to the second or third pages. If they don’t quickly see exactly what they think they want or need right up front … bye bye – delete key for you! Most job-seekers never find out the true reasons why their résumés are eliminated, and my “peek behind the curtain” proved to be quite revealing for many readers.

The Purpose of a Résumé

The purpose of a résumé is NOT to sell yourself. Rather – the purpose of a résumé is quite simple and straightforward: it’s to get you an interview! An effective résumé (similar to an effective Elevator Pitch) should pique the interest of the person who is reading it, show that you are a close match to the criteria they are looking for, and make them want them to find out more about you. Unlike a job application, it is not a legal document and there is no requirement that it must contain a complete history of everything you’ve ever done. It should be truthful … but it’s up to you to decide what to include or not include.

The 15-Second Eyeball Test:

Keeping in mind the typical 15-second viewing window most résumés get, here’s a test that you should perform to gauge the effectiveness of your own résumé. Choose an impartial friend or networking acquaintance, and ask them to look at your résumé. Ideally, it should be someone who doesn’t already know all about your professional work history or your career background. Hand them your résumé and ask them to take 15 seconds to review it. Now look at your watch … and time exactly 15 seconds. (If you want to be generous, you can extend this to 20 or 30 seconds … but certainly no more than that.) Then, immediately take it away! Now ask them the following questions:

1)  “What do I do for a living?”
3)  “What industry do I work in?”
3)  “What are my most significant skills?”
4)  “What is my current career objective?”

If they can’t answer those basic questions after looking at your résumé for 15 seconds, you need to work on it! It occurred to me that a résumé checklist might be an extremely useful tool. My intent here is to provide job-seekers with a guide to evaluate their own résumés based on elements that I think are pretty basic, and essential for any effective résumé. This checklist should help as you go through the process of revising and rewriting. Once you’ve done a re-write, try the 15-second eyeball test again – either on that same person, or someone else. See if your score on those basic questions improves.


The Résumé Checklist:

  Two pages or less.

  Formatting is standard and easily readable.  Uses only standard fonts (Times New Roman, Ariel, etc.)  No colored text, graphics or other non-professional flourishes.  Is saved in the standard Microsoft Word format – .doc (not .docx or .pdf.)

  Contact information is up front and easy to spot.  Email address sounds professional.

  Clearly says in top third of first page what industry you are in, and what profession and job function you’ve had, and what you want to do next.

  Chronological format (as opposed to “Functional.”)  Lists the most recent and relevant companies you’ve worked for, what positions you held and the dates you worked at each place.  Has brief one-line descriptions of the companies.  Has bullets that show what skills were used and what you accomplished at each place.

  Showcases critical background, experience, education, and skills directly tied to your work objectives.

  Highlights your most marketable skills.

  Contains all the various keywords and buzzwords common in your industry, and typically found on job descriptions for positions you match.  (Create separate modified versions for specific jobs you are applying to, using the language found in the job descriptions.)

  Contains quantifiable results, accomplishments and achievements using numbers, dollars, percentages, names of any awards you’ve won, etc.  Provides concrete, measurable data whenever possible.

  Makes liberal use of “action” words (e.g. “created,” “completed,” “built,” “developed,” etc.) to trumpet your accomplishments.

  Avoids using the “I” word.

  Answers the question:  “Why should someone hire you?”

  Does NOT include a list of your professional references.  (Save them for when they are requested.)

  Avoids personal details that have no connection to your professional profile (e.g. hobbies, family information, non-work related activities, etc.)

  Contains no typos, spelling or grammatical errors.


Now, I should mention that some of these checklist items are open to interpretation and modification, depending on your own circumstances and personal preferences. For example, if you are a graphic artist or web designer … it’s probably OK to have the résumé look less business-like, and more “artsy” – using colors, non-standard fonts, graphics, etc. And if you feel strongly that your non-business activities are likely to help you impress a potential hiring authority (for example, charity involvement, volunteer work in your community, etc.) then by all means include them. The bottom line is that you should do what you think is best, and seems to work for you.

It should also be pointed out that satisfying all of these checklist items will not “fix” certain issues that often raise red flags and get people eliminated by screeners. Re-writing your résumé will not overcome a lack of the required skills, experience, education or other qualifications listed for a particular position. Likewise, unexplained gaps in your employment chronology or having too many unexplained short job stints over a limited time period are two potentially troublesome issues that are difficult overcome no matter how you write your résumé. [Read “Explaining Short Job Stints and Employment Gaps” for strategies on how to deal with those issues.] All you can do is present your history in as positive a light as possible, using the most effective format you can.

Again, as I said at the top, there are multiple and sometimes contradictory opinions out there on what an effective résumé should look like. Based on my own experiences as a recruiter who has reviewed literally thousands of résumés … these checklist items represent general guidelines that I feel will apply to most résumés and most job-seekers.

Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers. Tags: , .

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19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Resume Format  |  June 21, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Thanks for your kind advice on Resumes.

  • 2. Wolfgang Koch  |  June 21, 2010 at 10:00 am

    This all makes a lot of sense. A résumé is not to *sell* yourself, it is to *market* yourself—to market the brand that is you. What is very interesting about Michael Spiro’s posting is that it doesn’t talk about how dates worked in previous jobs should be presented, and how far back. I wonder if this is because there definitely “is no one-size-fits-all template” for this aspect, or if this is because career transition has come to be such a normal feature within the (American) workforce that people now look less at how long you “lasted” in each job and more at the common thread that runs through your work biography.

    If you are applying for a job in an industry other than the one where you gained your most recent work experience, it can even be helpful if your résumé shows that you have mastered the challenge of career transition before: Identify strong “common denominators” that have been useful in attaining goals in each job you worked. These are core competencies that you know how to use effectively to assimilate changing horizons and contribute your insights as a fresh take on the new career prospect at hand. Employers like it when they see you strategize the marketing of your brand that way. After all, the way you job-hunt is the way you work!

    • 3. Michael Spiro  |  June 21, 2010 at 10:25 am

      Well said. However, just for the record – I did mention needing to list “the dates you worked at each place” in the Chronological checklist point. And I also pointed out that “having too many unexplained short job stints over a limited time period” is a potential red flag that often gets people eliminated from consideration.
      – Michael

  • 4. cobi  |  June 21, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thank you for sharing this information! I am currently updating my resume, with a goal to relocate, and I will certainly use this checklist as I go through the process.

  • 5. William Berens  |  June 21, 2010 at 2:38 pm

    Since when is .docx (Word 2007) not a standard format for saving a resume? Why not save it in rich text format for really old technology? I do not understand why just doc.


    • 6. Michael Spiro  |  June 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm

      Many people have trouble opening documents saved in the newer default .docx format of Microsoft Word 2007 and later. There are still many older versions of Word in use … and those older versions need a special “converter” program to translate a newer .docx document. It’s much safer to use the pull-down list in the “Save As” box and choose the more universal .doc format. For standard résumés, there will be absolutely no difference in the way things look in either format … so I say it’s better to avoid potential problems.
      – Michael

  • 7. Maureen Paulett, CRC, Career counselor, evaluator  |  June 22, 2010 at 10:54 am

    You’ve broken this information down beautifully in a common sense and logical way. You have provided a great guideline for how to think about what should go into a resume.

  • 8. Christopher Smith  |  June 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    What if the reason that you’re out of work is that you’ve been a victim of layoffs? It seems to me that it wouldn’t be professional to communicate that to a “recruiter” in a resume, but if someone is rejecting my resume because I’m out of work or have a short work history, then they may be losing out on a great worker! I have found it amazingly difficult in my area to even get an interview because of all the candidates looking for position. It would be very frustrating if it’s because my resume says that I’m out of work.

    • 9. Michael Spiro  |  June 22, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      Putting the simple explanation “Laid Off Due to Economic Circumstances” next to a short stint on your résumé would not be looked at as unprofessional. Quite the opposite – it would avoid having a recruiter or HR person who reads it from imagining a much worse reason for you being out of work.

      • 10. Christopher Smith  |  June 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm

        Thanks for the suggestion! I just wish I had put that on there a long time ago. I’ve always felt that I had a strong resume and couldn’t figure out what was holding me back.

  • 11. Charles Li  |  June 24, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Very well written!! I have to see quite a few resumes every day, but some look really awful. I surely should recommend this article to them.

  • 12. Axel Schultze  |  June 24, 2010 at 10:59 am

    We are anything but a new standard – however I though I share with you how we hire new top notch people:

    We ask candidates to send no more resumes – let alone any cover letter. All we want to know is their social presence. If well maintained we see:

    – Job history
    – References and recommendations
    – Communication skills
    – Networking skills
    – Subject matter expertise (blogs and comments)
    – Level of authority (connections, comments from others…)
    – Authenticity
    – Customer, market, technology, topic… engagement
    – Personal environment, family, likes and dislikes, hobbies…

    So yes it’s more brutal because if somebody doesn’t have all that we won’t hire but more relaxing because if you do – no more writing resumes, tweaking it and hoping it fits.

    If it is a perfect match we’ll find out and that means success for both – and less try and error and another ditch in the career or team composition.

    (my social connections)

    • 13. Michael Spiro  |  June 24, 2010 at 3:51 pm

      Your approach to hiring is certainly interesting and unique! I applaud your embracing of the “new social media” in your practice. However … I must point out that this approach will not work at all for a job-seeker applying to a traditional business in the mainstream corporate world. Social media presence is a great way to expand your sphere of influence, but it does not replace the need for a resume and cover letter for the vast majority of recruiters and HR people who screen candidates.
      – Michael

  • 14. Ines Lebel  |  June 24, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Thanks Mr Spiro for sharing this very informative and important information with is really very clear and very helpful



  • 15. Jacob  |  June 25, 2010 at 11:28 am

    I think you are completely right. A resume is a way to communicate these basic things with your potential employer. You can not take the chance that the first person that sees your resume and screens you in or out has any idea about your particular profession. Your resume needs to be clear not only to your peers but to a complete stranger in a different industry. If it takes one page then great, but if your job is complicated and it taked two or three then that is ok too. I have seen one page resumes that were so jumbled that you could not make out what was going on, and I have seen four page resumes that have been so clear that within 10 seconds I knew what that person was about.

  • 16. Jacqueline  |  July 6, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I just wanted to say thank you for your time in writing this to share.
    Me, trying to back into the work field from many years being a stay at home mom, it greatly helped …
    I am satisfied with my resume and you confirmed it. I have limited job history but have life experience.
    To the point is the way I had to go.
    Thank you.

  • 17. saurabh jain  |  July 7, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Very useful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I will look forward to hearing more from your side.

  • 18. Corby  |  January 22, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Very well written article. Full of great information. What tweaks to this advice would you offer someone who is looking for a position outside of their current field? Or, more accurately as in my case, wanting to return to High Tech Sales after 5 years as a Financial Advisor (also a sales position). It seems that recruiters look at my current and most recent jobs and pigeon-hole me as a “Financial Guy” and miss the previous 10+ years of High Tech Sales positions.

    • 19. Michael Spiro  |  January 27, 2014 at 12:01 pm

      I actually wrote another blog article that touches on this topic. I suggest you read: Advice for Recent Grads and Career Changers. The quick answer is to present yourself – in both your résumé and online profiles – in such a way that you feature any and all experiences you have had in your target career … in your case, IT Sales. Bring that information to the top of your resume, and feature it in your title and in your summary. At the same time, try to downplay your Financial Advisory experiences as much as possible. You are, indeed, changing careers — but unlike many career-changers who lack experience, at least in your case you’ve actually done that type of work before. You need to emphasize that fact as much as you can.


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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for over 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Jefferson Wells, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Video Interview Tips
         in the Pandemic World

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Unemployment Statistics

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn

 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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