5 Simple Ways to Get Your Digital Marketing Resume Shortlisted

When you send a resume to a potential employer, you are joining 250 other hopefuls on average – and you have only 11 seconds to impress the person who is going through the applications.

That is, if your digital marketing resume ever reaches a pair of human eyes, joining the lucky 2% of applicants who survive the initial filtering by various screening software.

In digital marketing, a resume is not merely a list of your skills and past experiences – it is also a unique test of your ability to sell, in this particular case, your services.

However, it’s not all doom and brutal cuts in competition for digital marketing jobs – the good news is that things that work are, in fact, relatively simple. Start with the magic letter F, which stands for “fast” and make sure you glue readers’ eyes to the words that matter the most. What’s the trick?

1. Use the F Pattern

According to Jakob Nielsen’s 2006 research, the “F-pattern” is a specific phenomenon tied to text-rich web pages and pages with few images. Average readers’ dominant eye movement and reading pattern resemble a letter F and essentially draw out a map you are supposed to fill with the essential content – in this case, your best traits.

Nielsen’s study followed the behavior of 232 users who were given thousands of web pages to read. The famous Danish web usability consultant and his team came to the conclusion that people scan online content in the following manner

Heatmaps from user eyetracking studies of three websites. (Source: useit.com)
Heatmaps from user eyetracking studies of three websites. (Source: useit.com)

There are, of course, exceptions and variations to this rule. Some people’s gaze moved following E and L letter shapes – but the F pattern and similar form were notably dominant among surveyed users even in the subsequent studies.

You may wonder why we are talking about web pages’ rules of engagement. Most of us still insist on making our biography look good on paper. In 2018, especially in the digital marketing niche, your resume is highly unlikely to ever come out of a printer – so what matters most is how it looks on screen. Moreover, the screen, even though it mimics paper – has its own set of rules.

Over the years, the rule of F pattern has been challenged. This makes sense if we take into account the smartphone revolution and the way they changed how we “scan” content. In the image below, you can see how the gaze “stretched” vertically over the years.

The evolution of gaze pattern influenced by smartphones. (Source: Mediative, 2014)
The evolution of gaze pattern influenced by smartphones. (Source: Mediative, 2014)

The valid criticism also refers to the finesses that Nielsen’s research missed – mainly the reader’s intent and level of interest. It is true that F pattern doesn’t apply to smartphone screens, and shouldn’t be alpha and omega of each web page design.

Many web designers claim that in order to stand out from smorgasbord of websites that reside on the Internet, you need to focus on web usability. However, Nielsen’s testing methodology and experimental environment somewhat mimic your situation, in which the hiring manager is scanning dozens of pages slightly disinterested.

Now that we got the most significant paradigm shift out of the way and before we move on to ways to capitalize on it, let’s focus on things that have consistently guaranteed shortlisted resumes.

2. Keep the Format Conventional

Based on aggregated results of more than 20 studies, a resume should include the following:

  • basic personal information
  • job objective, career objective, and summary of qualifications
  • education
  • work experience
  • references
  • scholarships, awards, and honors
  • hobbies, interests, and extracurricular activities (focusing on skills and interests that relate to the job position in question).

As someone who’s in the world of digital marketing, you may feel tempted to make your resume flashy and experimental, and it may pay off. You may think that this resume is what hits the jackpot in the application lottery – but you’d be wrong.

Creative resume sample. (Source: webneel.com)
Creative resume sample. (Source: webneel.com)

Experts from Wilfrid Laurier University found that this move makes you twice less likely to be shortlisted compared to applicants with formal resume. This research concluded that employers prefer the traditional chronological resume without excessive design tweaks, photographs or graphics.

Traditional chronological resume which focuses on job experience and education.
Traditional chronological resume which focuses on the job experience and education.

Sticking to chronology sounds reasonably counterintuitive for people in the field such as digital marketing, where the applicant may feel inclined to point out the results and transferable skills. This is what functional resume does – trumps listing jobs in favor of pointing out a particular skill set or achievements.

If you google “functional resume” you are highly likely to run into dramatic headlines warning you that employers HATE THEM. One of the reasons for that is that it arouses suspicion that these resumes are, by their nature, designed to obscure gaps in job seeker’s experience.

However, even scientists who concluded that employers do prefer chronological formatting, point out that perfect format of your resume depends entirely on your qualifications, experience, and objectives.

Charlsye Smith Diaz, Associate Professor of Technical Communication at the University of Maine, goes on to assert that functional resumes can, in fact, be conventionally structured.

Functional resume points out your skills and achievements.
Functional resume points out your skills and achievements.

The chronological resume is a safe bet if you’ve spent years in the business, and have a lot of successful projects to show. If you feel that you lack needed experience, or that your potential employer insists on a particular skill set, feel free to use the functional resume.

However, don’t try to cover up weaknesses or skip listing your jobs. If you can see the gap, everyone can. HR managers advise you to go with a “hybrid” resume. List your achievements and skills first, and then follow up with the classic chronological list of jobs without attempts at embellishment.

No matter which of these formats you use, the conventionality we are talking about also stems from style – which should be clear and concise, without delving into storytelling, graphic illustrations, and lengthy descriptions. Leave that for the regular workday.

3. Tailor Keywords for Each Employer

For decades, the imperative of concise resume language were active verbs and using the same pattern of words to express multiple ideas and actions. They gave a resume more confident tone and made them easier to digest in times when possibilities to experiment with fonts, bolding, or italics were minimal.

In 2018, things got even shorter – now it’s all about the keywords that describe your skills and duties. For example, instead of describing your digital expertise with vague and broad term “programming,” you are advised to list specific programs and languages, such as “Python, Java, HTML, C Language, etc.”

Take a look at this job description – it’s written following old-school recommendations. Despite the applicant’s apparent success, none of these descriptions correspond with keywords tied to his showcased expertise.

Traditional resume language.

The slightly unpleasant truth is that keywords don’t serve the hiring managers as much as they serve the increasingly popular applicant tracking systems (ATS) which filter applications before they even reach a human being. 

This software scans the resumes in search of a sufficient number of keywords that match up to required skills and forward it to the HR department only if the application satisfies the standard set by the employer.

Keywords in resume.

Customizing the digital marketing resume with a palette of keywords for each job you apply to may seem like a daunting task, but failing to do so may cost you dozens of opportunities. Take the example of Business Insider longtime reporter Áine Cain.

She ran her own BI application through Jobscan, the online service that scans resumes and compares them with the keywords in the specific job description. Cain turned out to be only a 35% match for her own job position – showing that her uncustomized resume did not reflect the capabilities she showcased in the company. 

While this instance may be a lesson for employers, given that nixing people based on automatic filtering may cost them a valuable, capable employee, it is also a warning to job seekers. We had a similar result, despite adding a few buzz keywords – because the application we wrote did not match the specific job description.

Results of "John Smith's" digital marketing resume scan. (Source: Jobscan)
Results of “John Smith’s” resume scan. (Source: Jobscan)

Larger digital marketing companies that receive hundreds of resumes every time they open a job position have to use the ATS – and if you are applying, you don’t have much choice.

Keyword optimization tailored to the needs of an individual employer, as shown above, is the ticket to the job interview.

One of the ways to be sure that your application is a match for the job you’re applying for is running it through Jobscan and tailoring each resume to the specific requirements of each employer.

4. No Pitch is Better than a Bad Pitch

Once we’re down to keywords, the burning question is whether your digital marketing resume needs a pitch – which is essentially a keyword describing you, also known as job/career objective and qualifications summary.

Some experts feel that pitch is the opportunity for leaving a strong first impression, while some experts claim that it may “categorize you narrowly,” and rob you of the opportunity for exploring different paths within your field.

Charlsye Smith Diaz advises flexibility and including this element only if you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions:

  • Can you use a definitive, memorable descriptor?

Career objective in digital marketing resume.

This is a clear and precise descriptor that implies a particular set of skills, work experience and your objective with the company. While it does categorize you, it also leaves space for employment in other positions in the field, such as editor or manager.

  • Are you seasoned in a specific profession?

Career objective in digital marketing resume.

This objective showcases extensive knowledge, as well as the innovative spirit of a person who doesn’t seek only to fill the job position but to drive changes and develop marketing strategies.

  • Do you hold a required prerequisite or qualification for the position?

Career objective in digital marketing resume.

Being less seasoned doesn’t mean that you can’t offer a pitch. The example above gives potential employer assurance about a recent graduate’s knowledge.

If you cannot answer positively to any of these questions, putting an objective into your digital marketing resume would be akin to a fruit seller putting up a couple of rotten fruits right in the front row of the stand. The stand, just like your F screen area, is limited space – make sure that the best stuff is in the right place.

5. Use Limited F Space Wisely

Now that we laid out what should find its way into the F pattern, the last trick is strategically placing them where it counts the most.

The upper portion of the resume is the largest and most significant space. This is where you get to say the most, so use this opportunity wisely. Take a look at this example – this is a chronological resume of a fresh graduate with a few beginner projects under her belt.

She used the upper area to point out her strengths – degree in relevant field, transferable skills, and her last job experience. As she moves down, she is still keeping the keywords referring to her skills on the left side.

Sample of resume from Updating Best Practices: Applying On-Screen Reading Strategies to Résumé Writing by Charlsye Smith Diaz.
Sample of resume from Updating Best Practices: Applying On-Screen Reading Strategies to Résumé Writing by Charlsye Smith Diaz (Source: journals.sagepub.com)

If you go with a chronological resume, this area will contain your name, objective/qualifications summary and your last achievement – for inexperienced applicants, this will be education, for seasoned professionals, it’s employment history.

A functional resume gives you the opportunity to play around a little bit and move flattering, more relevant details, to the top. If you worked for an established, reputable employer five years ago, or completed a project with stellar (and trackable) results, you will probably want to point it out.

As you can see in the picture above, while the hiring manager scans your resume and moves to the bottom, you are moving to “11 characters rule,” meaning that you will count on the person to read 1-3 words at the beginning of each bullet point or line.

This is the point where you break away from old practices and place keywords at the beginning of each line – which is what this applicant did successfully. The key is safety and simplicity. Now let’s see how a creative resume compares to this one.

Creative resume sample.
Sample of creative resume. (Source: template.net)

This applicant used most of his upper F area for a personal presentation that could have been more effective in the cover letter. His marketable and transferable skills are placed somewhere in the “dead” zone of the resume. The interesting design could impress the employer, sure.

There is nothing bad about experimenting with a few colors or tweaks. But turning your resume into a 4th of July firework art may also leave a hiring manager with an impression that over-the-top visuals are an attempt at covering up applicant’s young age and lack of work experience. 

As you can see from these examples, once you start moving words around, you realize that sometimes, less is more. Conventional structuring of your digital marketing resume does not exclude creativity and flexibility with words and design (to a certain extent), nor does it imply that you should blindly follow every piece of advice you find.

Your resume is a reflection of your unique skill set and experiences – your strengths and goals are what determines its format, structure, and length.

You can fool the ATS, not the employer

It should go without saying that a good resume is merely a tool for survival of the initial cut. The greatest challenge is to reflect what’s written in it. Also, take into account that if you are applying for a job position in any smaller or mid-size company, you will probably be dealing with people from the get-go, which significantly changes the course of your application process.

Some employers prefer to rely on direct contact, first impressions and follow up interviews. You can find a valuable lesson about their expectations here. In these cases, it is not the lack of keywords or unconventional resume structure that will bury your chances for a job – it’s the shabby grammar, half-hearted cover letters, taking forever to reply or not meeting mini-deadlines in the interviewing/testing process.

A good resume is your hammock – but what’s genuinely important is knowing what your potential employer wants and being able to deliver it.

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