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5 Ways To Ensure Your Resume Makes A Winning First Impression

Ensure that your resume will make a great first impression
Written by: Nina Mazurova

Everyone is impacted by first impressions.

Many people make decisions based on first impressions alone.

Sometimes those decisions are trivial, like deciding what brand of eggs to buy.

But other times, those decisions can be life-changing, like choosing a new job or a life partner.

In a hiring process that increasingly resembles speed dating, first impressions are very important.

This starts with the first thing a potential employer sees.

Your resume.

The quality of your resume makes a first impression and can determine whether or not a potential employer will consider you for an interview.

As a recruiter, I see the job search and hiring process from both sides of the fence.

It’s not ideal that we have to use only a resume to determine who might be the right candidate for the job.

But, the only way a hiring manager will know you have the skills they are looking for in a candidate is if they are clearly highlighted on your resume.

I have seen promising candidates send terrible resumes and get overlooked for a position.

I have also seen spectacular resumes not chosen because the candidates just aren’t the right fit for the job.

Even if you make a great impression with your resume, not all jobs will be right for you.

If you become depressed because every single application you send in does not receive an interview, you will not make it though the job search process.

Rejection is a part of the job search process, so use it as a learning tool.

When I look at a candidate’s resume, I hope it displays their best, authentic first impression so that I can see immediately whether or not they are the right candidate for the position.

Grammer and spelling are obviously important parts of a well written resume

Why Your First Impression Is Important

It only takes a few seconds to make your first impression, in writing or in person.

A study at Princeton University found that people judge your trustworthiness in a tenth of a second.

That’s only 100 milliseconds to make your future employer think that you are trustworthy.

Another study, from the University of Toronto, went further and demonstrated that first impressions are so powerful, even being presented with conflicting facts will not change them.

This means, if you give off the first impression that you are incompetent but later you prove otherwise, it will not matter and the person will continue to view you as incompetent.

Your first impression is the most important part of your interaction with a potential employer.

When a prospective employer glances at your resume, they are already forming their opinion of you.

According to an article in Harvard Business Review, all it takes is the first 15 to 20 words of your resume to make an impression.

If there is no clear point, or you have grammatical errors in the first words a hiring manager or recruiter reads, you can kiss your chance of getting the job goodbye.

We often think about how to make a good first impression in person, but neglect the first impression that a resume will make.

Even the smallest typo on your resume can ruin your first impression, to the same extent as having a huge stain on your shirt during an interview.

Put your best foot forward by crafting an excellent resume.

5 Key Elements Of A Resume That Will Make A Great First Impression

Writing a quality resume is not easy.

It can be overwhelming trying to meet all the requirements of the job, keep your writing concise, and appeal to the hiring manager or recruiter who is hopefully going to read your resume.

So, what parts of your resume are the most important?

How do you write a resume that will help you transition out of academia and into a great industry position?

As a PhD, you have many advantages over non-PhDs, and your resume should showcase these advantages.

Your resume is your first impression, and it has to be a good one in order for you to earn the opportunity to further impress your potential employer.

Here are 5 ways to build an excellent resume and use it to make a great first impression…

The main questions a hiring manager wants answered are Can you do what I need? and Will you fit into our company environment?

1. Include information hiring managers are looking for.

Every manager has questions that your resume must answer in order to make them interested in pursuing a phone or in-person conversation.

The main questions a hiring manager wants answered are, “Can you do what I need?” and “Will you fit into our company’s environment?”

If hiring managers have some resumes that present this information upfront, they are less likely to take additional time out from their day to address any unanswered questions on your resume.

Other important questions that a hiring manager wants answered within your resume include:

Are you local or would you need a relocation stipend?

When are you available to start?

If you have jumped around from job to job, why?

If there are large gaps in your employment history, why?

Why is this job more appealing than your current situation?

All of these questions can be easily answered in a concise, informative professional summary, which should be personalized for each job application.

Things like employment gaps and having many jobs within a short time are not deal-breakers, but being able to explain them is essential.

Use the information in the job posting to cater your resume to what the hiring manager is looking for.

If something is written in the job description, and you’ve done it, it should be on your resume.

Recruiters often pull terminology from job descriptions for their search strings and if those same terms are not on your resume, it will not be caught in the search and you will be overlooked.

Tailoring your resume will polish the presentation of what you have without over or under-selling your experience to make the cut.

It’s like speed dating: you get one chance to impress and it’s very short, so you have to make the most of it.

The hiring manager knows what is going to be the best fit for them, their current team, and their project needs, so if you don’t present this to them clearly in your resume, you will be overlooked.

2. Write professionally and flawlessly.

You either have the qualifications the hiring manager is looking for, or you do not.

But your skills are irrelevant if your resume is full of mistakes.

The same way you would wear your best suit to an interview, you should present your very best writing on your resume.

You can control the visual presentation of your resume, the quality of the content on your resume, and the alignment of the content to the job description.

The quality of your writing should be perfect.

To achieve a flawless resume and cover letter, you will need to get help.

Have other people read your resume and check for errors that you might have missed.

You can also download grammar checkers like Grammarly or hire a freelancer to edit your writing.

If your resume is written in something besides your first language, make sure you have a native speaker read and edit your resume.

You only get one first impression.

The quality of the writing on your resume reflects directly on the quality of job candidate the hiring manager or recruiter will think you are.

And, this first impression correlates with the caliber of the interviews you will be able to get, so your first impression starts off with a perfectly written resume.

The best time for submitting your application is typically within 1-3 business days of the job opening publication

3. Apply at the right time.

If you have created a personalized and flawless resume, but you are still encountering difficulties getting an interview, it may stem from either the strength of your experience or your timing in the hiring process.

You cannot change your past experience but you can control the timing of your applications.

The sweet spot for submitting your application is typically within 1 week of the job opening publication, ideally within 1-3 business days.

The best tool for capturing that window is the consistency of your applications and networking.

If you are reactionary, without a plan, or just casually searching job boards for positions, you will likely miss the sweet spot.

Instead, network with people at the company where you want to work, and with recruiters connected to your target company.

A big benefit of networking is that you can find out about job openings before they are advertised.

This gives you the chance to prepare a customized resume and submit your application at the right time, to the right person.

But don’t expect that hitting the right timing with your application will earn you an interview.

The reality is that the competition is fierce, so you need to be prepared to continue networking and applying for jobs continuously.

Your applications should be consistently flowing into the job market.

If you are consistent in the submission of your applications to various opportunities as they are released, your odds of getting an interview obviously increase.

Networking can alert you to unadvertised positions and help you get your resume directly into the hands of the hiring manager, but it’s your responsibility to monitor the job market and stay informed about what positions are currently available.

4. Include appropriate sections.

Your resume should include discrete sections that address the different requirements a hiring manager wants to see.

These sections make your resume scannable and anyone reading it should be able to pick out the important information quickly and easily.

The fundamental sections to include in your resume to create a strong first impression are: summary, skills, education, and experience.

Each of these sections should be written in a results-driven format using clear, concise language.

Include only skills and experiences that are relevant to the position.

To prevent your own bias in this situation, scan through each section of your resume and ask yourself, “Am I including this because it directly relates to this job, or is it just something I want to share?”

We’re all proud of our achievements, publications, scholarships, GPAs, SAT scores, winning goals, and touchdowns, but are these accomplishments related to the job?

Only include things on your resume if they relate to the job you are pursuing.

You want your resume to be concise, and every piece of information you provide should strengthen your chance of receiving an interview.

You want to find the industry position that is a perfect fit for you

5. Make adjustments based on results.

If you have created a results-driven, flawless resume and are consistently applying for industry positions but not getting interviews, your resume is lacking in either content or delivery.

For example, have you applied to several similar positions and been rejected by them all?

Your resume might fail to highlight an essential skill required for that position.

Putting lots of time and effort into your resume, only to have it met with silence and rejection, can be disheartening.

Instead of becoming downtrodden, act on what you can control by troubleshooting, adjusting where necessary, and maintaining consistency.

Prepare yourself for the long road by cultivating the right job search mindset.

The constant process of applying, learning, and adjusting your resume is just the beginning of developing your job search strategy.

Once you start getting a trickle of interviews, the same mentality applies: observe the outcome and adjust your approach until you get the results you want.

Do not judge yourself too harshly and be constructive with the criticism you give yourself.

Expecting a response from every submission is unreasonable and emotionally taxing.

Track your applications enough to avoid duplicates and move on to the next ones!

Do not get too caught up in the fear and reality of rejection, that you forget your end goal.

Ultimately, you want to find the industry position that is a perfect fit for you, not get a response from every job application you send in.

Your resume is the first thing a potential employer will see with your name on it. This document must make a good first impression or you will have zero chance of getting the job. Tailor your resume to the position you are applying for, remove any grammatical or formatting errors, apply at the right time, and learn from your past mistakes. As a PhD, you have a high level of value to offer a company, so don’t let a poor first impression keep you from getting the job you want.

To learn more about 5 Ways To Ensure Your Resume Makes A Winning First Impression, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

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Nina Mazurova

Nina Mazurova

Nina is a subject matter expert in candidate-centered career consulting with an academic background in Psychology and professional expertise in Life Sciences staffing and recruiting. She actively pursues her own personal and professional development, and provides resources for those searching for breakthroughs in their careers. Currently, Nina works as a pro-bono career consultant for academic organizations and as a recruiting and business development consultant, and is actively developing her own business and entrepreneurial ventures.
Nina Mazurova
  • Kathy Azalea

    Thanks, Nina. Great idea on getting someone else to read your resume for mistakes. I once submitted a resume that had a big gap in it because I had a typo on the dates. The other advice I’ll take to heart is to be looking for a good fit instead of stressing out because not every single company responds.

  • Julian Holst

    One time, I looked at a friend’s resume and couldn’t believe what I saw. He was being somewhat funny and goofy in his resume. I always saw resumes as exactly what you’re saying. They should tell the prospective employer that you can not only do the job, but that you’re going to fit in to the company’s environment, too. Do you have any thoughts about using humor in a resume? Do you think it could be a huge turn-off, or will it make him a better candidate?

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      Hi Julian. I would avoid humor in resumes. I would think employers would be turned off. Humor is more likely to read as immature or “juvenile.”

  • Harvey Delano

    I love what you’re saying about checking your resume for relevance. Sometimes the material you put in there is just something you want to share, and has no relation to what the employers are looking for. At first, I felt it was perhaps a little dishonest to customize a resume for different jobs, but now I’m used to it and see that I only have so much space, and that space needs to satisfy what the employer is asking for.

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      Exactly, Harvey! It takes time, but you want to emphasize certain skills for certain jobs.

  • Madeline Rosemary

    Networking is something that you constantly have to incorporate into your life. At first, I found it a little uncomfortable and intimidating. Once I got my first position, though, I continued to put myself in places where I could network (although it wasn’t quite as often). The good thing about it is that now I have friends from a number of growing corporations, and you never know when a perfect step up the ladder will open up.

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      That’s right, Madeline! Knowing people and remaining connected is the best way to keep doors open for other opportunities.

  • Carlie Stevenson, PhD

    You make a good point about making resumes scannable with appropriate headings. From everything I’ve heard about hiring managers, there are so many resumes to scan and sort that to be considered, applicants have to make an impression in seconds in order to avoid the trash bin. I know it’s hard writing resumes, and I think you’re absolutely right about getting help.

  • Theo

    Good point about the timing. It’s shrewd to strike while the iron’s hot.

  • Marvin D’Esprit

    For sure, part of being in the search is getting constant rejections (or no answer at all). I know it’s possible to get yourself up in a wad, but chilling out a little can help. Nobody wants to hire someone who’s so pent up that they can’t communicate, so learn to relax, everyone.

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      That’s great advice, Marvin. You don’t want to project anger or frustration when you finally get an interview or phone screen.

  • Sonja Luther

    I appreciate your attitude of just getting used to the process, monitoring results and learning more until you start getting the results you want. I’ve always been someone who enjoys looking for my next challenge, but sometimes the challenge is not the job, but the search for the job. Thanks, Nina. 🙂

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      You’re welcome! Happy to help.

  • Matthew Smithson PhD

    I find that it’s easier for me to continually update my resume even when I’m not really looking for a position. It helps if I put it on my calendar every few months, just in case I’ve learned a new skill or done something that should be included. If I don’t, I’m liable to forget to update it. The other advantage of doing this is to be ready in case a new opportunity suddenly arises (see #3 on the list). I’m then prepared to get that resume in during the sweet spot. 😉

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      Absolutely, Matthew! Updating as you go is not a bad idea at all. Saves you time in the long run.

  • Shawn Lyons, PhD

    Reading these articles makes me feel a lot easier about the process. I feel a lot more comfortable changing my approach or updating my resume to give the most accurate impression so I can find the best fit. I’m taking your advice and not beating myself up too much! LOL

    • https://cheekyscientist.com/ Cheeky Scientist

      Thanks good, Shawn! Great approach–take pieces and apply what works (and don’t beat yourself up too much).