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September 17, 2012

The Five Second Rule

In parenting, you hear that the five-second rule applies to certain foods, perhaps not pudding or jello, but food. In the tired stupor of taking care of your children at all times of the day you hustle to feed them properly or improperly. It really doesn’t much matter if it’s handing them a greasy french fry from a McDonald’s bag or some organic turnip you just cut, if it falls on the floor you have, say, according to the parenting Gods, about five seconds to pick it up, dust it off or simply place it in your mouth and chew. Unless you get dog hair on the food it should be good to go. Most parents apply the five second rule to their kids too. Good enough for you then good enough for them, right? Who agrees with me? Put your hands down. I do hope you read this right before lunch at your A health rated restaurant. Now let’s apply the five-second rule to the job search. Many recruiters report to me that they “don’t have time to spend more than five seconds” on the first pass of your resume.

What does this five second rule do to your tactics as a job seeker, executive or non-executive? How will this rule if it is true apply to you? Do you even believe a human reads these things with the sheer amount of resumes being sent? Maybe. Maybe not. But what you must do in earnest, to get noticed, is to make that delightful document shine. If you believe that recruiters and human resources personnel can get hundreds of resumes per open lead or requisition then let’s plan from this assumption that you must get noticed. Bottom line? Don’t tempt the reader of your documents to pitch your credentials because they seem like a dirty old french fry attracting dog haired document.

Repeat that twice. So what should you do to pass the five second rule and give yourself a chance to be noticed?

Load Power Up Front – We tell clients all the time that the first half or potentially first one third of their Microsoft Word based resume should contain keywords, phrases and even highlighted data that gets them noticed by the specific audience they want to impress. You can’t front load your resume so much that you leave out key problems, actions and results below but you better catch the readers attention. You cannot cut and paste nearly word for word from the company advertisement. Catch their attention and clearly make your case early.

Continue the Argument – Just because you front load your resume make sure you detail and back up your case. So many people who think they can game the resume and recruiter winnowing process figure out how to front load the resume some but you cannot stop there. You must have a highly focused, tight, well-written document to follow. Ease up on detailing experience going back 10 or more years. Realize that it may be important for some jobs but most first interview decisions will have nothing to do with bringing you in for that first interview. One recruiter told me two weeks ago: “I simply don’t read that far back and I won’t even pay attention to experience that far back.”

People Aren’t Bots – Is it true that many resumes must be submitted via electronic systems like Taleo and many others? Yes, this allows you to cut and paste content from your resume but this should not bring you to let your guard down about customizing each section. You must revise and rewrite your documents as you tailor them into these sections. Without the smart refinements and slickness of a Word resume you must win the day with keywords, key phrases and powerful, specific arguments for your candidacy. Think that eventually the bots will turn over the documents for the recruiters so build your case don’t just cut and paste even in an electronic load.

Cover Your Bases – Does a cover letter matter? Some recruiters tell me yes, absolutely. Others call it a net neutral and still others have called it a “tie-breaker” for the resume. We think the latter idea for those in career transition may be the most helpful, the most productive way to think of a cover letter. So what do we think with 20+ years in career services? We think that both resume and cover letter better be good. Think tie-breaker. Think that your personal narrative in the cover letter better clearly state the case and bring some passion as to why this specific position is something you want and are qualified to interview for rather immediately.

A few other ideas to consider. Please study the company, their mission and your trickle down potential purpose in the role you apply for next. Don’t just rely on the advertisement. Find a way if you can to study the company online. If you have the company’s name and it is not a blind ad find out about the company on sites such as Glassdoor or Linked In. Find people who have worked there and work there now. Try to connect with them. Try to find a connected advocate within and perhaps you can have that person endorse you or help you network. Should you do this kind of thing before you apply? If you can the answer is an absolute yes. In today’s ultra competitive marketplace you must not miss a chance to feed your candidacy what it deserves. Feed yourself by winning the five-second rule and you wont’ have to eat dirty french fries off the floor. Well, you might but it will only be temporary!

Image Credit: Instantshift.com

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