Monday, 19 April 2010

Guidelines 3: Two second rule

Imagine yourself as the man (or woman!) behind the desk. Crisp white shirt, smart tie, picture of your family smiling on your desk. On the desk is a messy pile of stapled sheets of white paper. Which one holds the key to your next employee of the month?

I think I read in a jobhunting book once that it is useful to imagine the process of hiring from the perspective of the employer. When you look at it, it can be just as gruelling for the employer as for the jobhunter.

To get an idea, WSJ have a good description of the hiring process here, and here's a checklist that any jobhunter could bear in mind when applying for work. Oh, and here is a useful blog that I'd bookmark, if I were you.

The employer might be spending a lot of money and time on the hiring process, because they want to make sure that they get the right person first time round. The more you can do to help your prospective employer read your application, the more they will like you. The more they like you...well, you catch my drift. So, after having made a good intial impression, you'll definitely want to make a good impression on your application.

And you've got just two seconds to make that good impression.

Is it really true that employers don't read CVs? Is the two-second scan a real thing?

I'm not going to pretend to be an HR expert or anything here, but I've sat on both sides of the jobhunting fence. This is purely anecdotal and there are lots of other resources available online that can say more about this phenomenon, so I'll give you just two key hints here.

But yeah, I'd say about two seconds is all I need to read your CV.

I can tell if you've read the advertisement/job description. I can tell if you have relevant experience. I can tell if you have the motivation. I can tell if you're underqualified or overqualified. And if I can, your employer can too.

Here are my hints to help you shine in those two seconds of fame:

1. Make your CV scan-friendly.

You need a clear and concise layout for your CV. Make use of whitespace and bullet points, only include directly relevant information and make sure that the points you want the employer to notice are the most obvious. Don't include rambling paragraphs with no clear indication of what information you want the employer to infer from reading it. You need to sign point everything (and you'll see that this relates really closely to hint number two).

For example, you might be really proud of your degree, or your knitting group, but if the job description calls for project management experience or analysis skills, then your degree and knitting group are less important.

Unless of course, you outline it something like this:

  • analysis skills: gained through 'data analysis' module as part of degree, and through thorough research for degree thesis.

  • project management experience: initiated and developed successful knitting group and coordinated several events to promote knitting as well as managing a charity knitting campaign that raised £X.

And I should add that it's okay not to have relevant experience, or if you don't have the right qualifications. If you can use language to apply the experience you do have to the specifics of the role, or can demonstrate that you understand exactly what the job requires and can prove that you have transferable experience, you might be okay.

2. Put some imitation in your application.

Keywords, keywords, keywords!

They can be the key to accessing the next stage of the process (groan).

The best trick I learned was to use the exact language of the job description in an application. If the application calls for "superior communication skills" don't write that you are "an excellent communicator" or that you "have demonstrable experience in communications"... you write that your experience/achievements demonstrate... what? You've guessed it, "superior communication skills."

Pick out the keywords from a job description and make a point of including them in your CV/cover letter.

This works on two levels. If your application is read by a computer, there are certain keywords the computer is searching for that will determine if you get through to the next round. If your application is read by a human being, it can subliminally encourage them to put your application into the 'interview' pile. Whether or not that's true, or whether that works, it can demonstrate that you have carefully scrutinised the description and submitted a well crafted, specific and relevant application, rather than a standard, generic CV copy.

I suppose, put simply, you are trying to rewrite the job description while putting your name on it. I'd add two extra hints here: First, do not add anything extra that the job description doesn't mention unless you really think it's relevant and relates to what they are looking for (e.g. don't tell your life story, don't try to explain why speaking four languages might be relevant unless they mention languages, don't say you can play an instrument). Second: don't apologise if you don't have the exact skills mentioned on the job description. Doing that just highlights your weak points.

This is a really basic introduction, but there is plenty of information about this kind of thing. Try these links for more:

10 resume mistakes. These mistakes unpack some of the points I've made here, and mistake number 8 relates to keywords. Ignore at your peril!

Passing the 3 second test.
Hey, it's more generous than me, that's a whole second longer!

Is your resume ready for the 20-second scan?
20 seconds is even lengthier! I'll point out that in section one, about ensuring your application is spelling mistake free, they misname the font 'Arial' as 'Ariel'... Ha. But if nothing else, these sites prove that what I say is right on the money.

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