Your Resume’s Visual Center: How to prevent your resume from ending up in trash

It has become so easy to passively apply to jobs online that the average job listing receives hundreds of applications. Therefore, to make the resume reading process easier for companies, every resume goes through three steps before getting accepted.

First and foremost, an Applicant Tracking Software is used to filter out resumes that don’t optimize their keyword use. There are ways to beat Applicant Tracking Software (discussed in this article).

If you pass the first step, a “gatekeeper,” or a non-technical screener, will screen your resume to ensure your experience matches the advertised position. This person will typically be a clerk in the Human Resources department and will have a large stack of resumes to go through. He/she will typically only dedicate a few seconds to each resume. The second page of your resume will probably not even be glanced at.

If you’ve made it this far, decision makers that are more familiar with your field will read your resume carefully and critically. They will roughly calculate their ROI (Return on Investment) for hiring you by weighing the accomplishments you list in your resume against the compensation you are aiming for.

In an ideal world, all resumes would be read by the decision makers alone. They are typically familiar with the technical knowledge necessary to succeed in your target position and have the ability to critically weigh information to make informed hiring decisions.

In this article, we will focus on the second step in the resume-reading process. The best way to make a good first impression is to load the visual center of your resume (the top one-third of the first page) with the value that you offer to potential employees. Write this section as if you are looking to establish a mutually beneficial partnership, not as an employee desperate for work. If this section of your resume engages readers, they will read the rest of your resume with more care and attention than they would if this area is uninteresting.

Before we begin, I want you to have a look at my two-page, annotated resume cheat sheet that I crafted from my experience with an extremely satisfied marketing manager client. In it, I break down the exact process of how we were able to help her get her dream job AND double the initial offer. Use it as inspiration to create the perfect visual center for your resume. Submit your information below to receive it:


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Consider including the following in the visual center of your resume:

    • Your biggest industry-specific accomplishments.

    • Your most valuable and relevant industry-specific skills. (Read the job listing carefully to get a feel for what the company is looking for.)

    • A summary of a highly successful project you led (if you are going to be conducting similar projects for your potential employers)

    • An impressive education (for recent graduates)

    • A clipping from a recommendation letter or news article about your work (only if these clippings contain information relevant to your target position. For example, I used this recommendation to showcase a recent graduate’s skills for a nursing position: “Agatha did an excellent job at prioritizing her time. She manages to chart efficiently and is very good at multi-tasking in a safe manner. She knows when to step in and intervene. I am impressed that she is able to do 12-hour shifts and still attend class and community clinical hours all in the same week. Agatha has the physical and mental stamina to handle the immense responsibilities that come with nursing. Never have I seen a student with such perseverance and determination to be the best nurse she can possibly be.”)

Let me show you what I mean. Last fall, I wanted to conduct workshops at a local university. I wanted to introduce myself to the university’s Career Services Office as an expert who can help students draft powerful resumes and personal statements. This is an example of a resume with a weak visual center. If I had sent a resume that looked like this to the Head of the Career Services Office, I probably would not have even gotten a call for an interview:

Click here for a high-quality image.

There are several things wrong with this resume’s visual center:

I can only see responsibilities. No effort is taken to differentiate myself from my peers. The visual center only shows what I do on a daily basis. It does not showcase my accomplishments.

At first glance, the reader has no idea what position I am aiming for. This visual center is not focused. Am I applying for an administrative position (answering emails and phone calls), a resume writing position, or a UI position (working with web developers to build an easy-to-navigate website)? No mention is made of the value I can offer the university.

This visual center is not aesthetically pleasing. While it does not overwhelm the reader with large, un-digestible chunks of text, the font is boring, as is the layout. The resume does not stand out at all.

This is an example of a resume with a much stronger visual center:

Click here for a high-quality image.

This resume’s visual center does a much better job at selling me:

By focusing on the results I have helped clients achieve (MIT, Google, and Stanford), I differentiated myself from my peers.

It is obvious how I want to be of service to the university.

This visual center is attractively laid out and uses interesting graphics, fonts, and colors to draw attention to my biggest assets as a job and college application coach. Notice how I bolded the most relevant keywords.

Print out your own resume and rip off the top one-third of the first page. Is it enough to sell you on its own? If not, rewrite your resume’s visual center with your target employer’s needs in mind. Talk about how you can help them with their problems (cost issues, efficiency, winning customers, maintaining a strong brand image) and back these “will do” statements up with “have done” accomplishments.

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