You may have heard it said that experienced recruiters and HR people spend 15 seconds on average reading a resume.

Before I got into search work nine years ago, my reaction was, “That’s preposterous…and unjust. How could anyone, even the fastest reader, fully appreciate the majesty of my accomplishments in 15 seconds? My resume should be savored – pour a fresh cup of coffee and settle in – not rushed through.”

Of course, now I realize I was wrong. I’m not the fastest reader in the building but, when viewing a resume for the first time, I give it a quick scan. I do this to get an impression.

As with meeting someone in person or on the phone, a first impression strongly influences the ultimate assessment of the person. From glancing at a resume, I can usually tell the trajectory of the person’s career. It quickly becomes clear whether the person is on the rise, back-sliding, or drifting. For example, has the candidate done well for a substantial length of time with one employer, but failed to replicate that at several “short-stays?” Has there been a trend of promotions, success, and increasing responsibility? Is the candidate at the level desired by my client?

If I like what I see, I’ll spend more time with the resume and read it more closely. But only if I’m motivated by that first impression. This may seem unfair, but it’s the practical reality.

Knowing that most search professionals work this way, you can (and should) write your resume to play to this reality. An effective resume should be an attempt to get you to the next step in the hiring process, not to get you the job. Too often resumes are developed as written appeals for the job, with paragraphs and paragraphs, sometimes pages, outlining chapter and verse of one’s career. That stuff is for the interviews, not for the resume. And the resume is what gets you to the interview stage.

A good resume should be a tease without being too cryptic. It should be factual, pointed, and accomplishment-oriented, but limited in length and depth, making good use of white space. It should simply accomplish one thing: motivate the reader to action. The reader should feel, “Now THIS is someone I want to speak with.” But it all starts with creating the right first impression…quickly. It may take several drafts and feedback from friends and trusted advisors, but it’s worth the effort. As you know, you rarely get a second chance.

Jim Gibson has been in health care for over 25 years. In 2002 he founded Gibson Consultants after several years in healthcare IT and group health insurance. Gibson Consultants is a national search firm specializing in healthcare IT companies.


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