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Discussing Diaz’s “Updating Best Practices: Applying On-Screen Reading Strategies to Resume Writing”

by Steve Krause on October 28th, 2014

This is where we’ll talk about “Updating Best Practices: Applying On-Screen Reading Strategies to Résumé Writing” by Charlsye Smith Diaz. I think it’s a pretty straight-forward piece, but I want to mention two other things that might put this essay in some context:

  • There are a lot of “stunts” and other kind of “out there” examples of alternative resumes nowadays. Just do a search for “unusual resumes” and you’ll see what I mean; here’s a link to a whole bunch of examples from Smashing Magazine, which is a magazine and web site about graphic and web design. While these might be kind of fun and interesting, Diaz’s research suggests these aren’t a good way to get a job.
  • “F Pattern” reading is something that is kind of a big deal in web design and has been for a long time. Again, that’s something you can look up with a search, but I think the illustrations in Diaz’s essay show what she means by all that pretty clearly.

For me, Diaz earns a lot of credibility because this essay is based on her studying of the advice of lots of other textbooks and resources, which means she’s summing up some different points of view and also showing how this advice has changed or remained the same over the years. My sense is that what she’s saying about scannable resumes is spot on: that is, while most resumes will be read on the screen and should be formatted that way (her advice on this is really good), most employers don’t use machines to read resumes. The one exception to that is sites like monster.com, where employers tend to do searchers based on key word terms. Of course, those sites also ask you to note key terms when you sign up looking for a position.

I also think the “F Pattern” advice is interesting to think about, especially as it either compliments or conflicts with the historic advice on active nouns and verbs and also on the placement of objective statements. Some of what she’s saying here is probably a bit debatable, but still worth thinking about.

All of which is to say that when it comes to resume writing, the little things really matter– the layout, the font, the exact wording, etc., etc.

What do you all think?

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38 Comments
  1. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    Diaz’s article presented a lot of useful information. I really enjoyed her discussion about the F format for a resume. Although I never thought about it before, my current resume uses this general structure. However, because she drew attention to the format’s benefits, there are a few changes I want to make to my resume to ensure that less-important information like dates of employment do not draw an employer’s eyes to the right of the page.

    I also really appreciated her advice on how to format resumes that must be copied and pasted into a text box. This is a huge pet peeve of online applications, because it messes up the format I spent hours constructing. Hover Diaz gives great advice on how to make these resumes look professional and easy to scan.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      Interesting idea you have about changing up your resume. I also have time periods listed on the right hand side of work experience, a bit isolated from everything. I have to wonder if I should change it around to prevent employers from looking at that instead of the relevance of experience. On the positive side, this only applies to my work experience which isn’t as important anyway as my listed skills (since I was advised to use a functional resume).

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      Natasha, I agree that online applications can be such a pain when you have to copy and paste your resume. I had the same issue in an online application this past summer. I spent a bunch of time perfecting the line-up and format of my resume only to get to the page in which I needed to submit it and found I had to copy and paste it into a text box.

    • Carly permalink

      I too found that the format for my resume was set up in an F like Diaz suggests. With it being a chronological resume, I feel like the structure for them is kind of set up to be an F, with my longer, more impressive details up top. But I agree that this reading makes me want to re-organize some of my information, especially to add a spot where my objective can go when I apply somewhere more worthy than a customer service job.

      In relation to online applications, maybe this is a little off topic, but it might really help you both to make a LinkedIn if you haven’t already. The way it’s formatted is a lot like online applications, so as long as you keep everything updated in it, it will probably make your life a lot easier when it comes down to applying for an online position.

    • Leah permalink

      This is what grabbed my attention also. I never knew anything about the fast reading procedure and now that I think about, I can see the importance of it. Throughout your resume important “reverent” points are what captures the readers attention, so why not make every fact an important (needed) fact, rather than the blah blah blah information included.

      This procedure continues to force me think about how will I set myself different from others that are applying for the same position?

  2. Brian Gardner permalink

    At first, I was a bit skeptical of what the article talked about. Going into detail about eye movements and “scannability” made it seem like it was accelerating a little too quickly. Mostly because it talked about putting keywords in the left and top to follow the F structure, even though I’m worried about what keywords stick out to employers the most anyway.

    The discussion, regardless, had very good points. I realize now that, even if I don’t quite know what keywords are important, putting them in front so they’re noticed when recruiters are scanning could help me stand out and get picked for an interview.

    As far as the other points go, it was slightly surprising that businesses still prefer the same style that’s been used for years. When I thought about it a bit, however, I realized when they’re scanning resumes, they don’t care much for trends. It seems a bit obvious now that scannabillity is an important factor in documents like resumes which are piled high in employer’s offices.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      As progressive as businesses need to be these days, I don’t think staying on top of employment trends is necessarily what constitutes as changing with the times (unless you’re a recruiter or a trade school or something like that). Most businesses are about the bottom line, which means catering to the consumer (the one with the money to spend), not the employee. As much as I think the Smashing Magazine resume examples were…creative, they also made my head hurt. If I were an employer, I would want to KNOW where to look on a resume to get the pertinent information. It can’t be a guessing game with finding the right person to fill a critical position in a business; it has to be efficient and as correct as can be.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I agree. There might be something that is eye-catching to the recruiter (hopefully the skills/keywords incorporated into the resume itself) but too much is…overwhelming. If it takes more than a few seconds to find something a prospective employee can do to improve business other than tweak document formats, you might just be showing the employer that you’re compensating for something.

        • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

          So true. I feel like creative resumes are actually making recruiters work harder because they differ from what an employer is expecting to see. The few extra seconds it takes to figure out where information is could make-or-break whether an applicant is granted an interview.

          • Carly permalink

            I’m on the same pages with you guys. There were some creative resumes that I thought were on point- they were decently organized, even if not in the usual resume fashion, but the key was they displayed the talents for the job they were applying for in creation of the resume, like the one made to look like a magazine. I thought it was clever, and worth spending the few extra seconds to look at.

            However, any resume that makes me crank my head sideways to read is not going to pass in my book. It would be annoying enough having to turn a piece of paper around and around, but that really isn’t well suited if you were emailing your resume. I’m thinking particularly of the spiraling resume. It was just a glob of information- no format. Just goes to show how important format really is. Playing it safe is really the better route, since most of the creative resumes seem to be exactly what not to do.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      Brian, I also was thinking about why it would be that employers would prefer traditional formats over more creative formats for resumes. One thing I thought of was that many people probably go so overboard with trying to make their resume eye-catching and creative that it takes away from the actual content in the resume. I think that there is an area of balance where the creativity of a resume is still simple enough not to distract from the content, however, this balance is probably hard to accomplish (and rarely achieved), leaving employers to prefer traditional formats.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        I’ve seen some of my friends resumes and they definitely try to be way to creative. They add a bunch of unnecessary words and try to hype up their skills way to much. It is definitely hard to try to find a good balance between trying to make yourself stand out from everyone else but still being able to stay professional/traditional.

        • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

          I agree that this balance can be exceptionally difficult to find. However, one thing that tends to be overlooked is the power of a well-written cover letter. I think cover letters can be a great place for a candidate to “stand out” from everyone else, which allows his or her resume to use more traditional structures to provide relevant business information.

          • Steve Krause permalink

            That’s a good point, and really, I don’t have a lot of good readings/advice on cover letters here either. Some of the stuff we discussed the first part of the week is helpful of course, but I don’t know of any articles like this one that examine cover letters as thoroughly.

  3. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    In general, I agree with Diaz’s conclusions and advice about resume writing. One thing I did not like was that I felt that she overestimated how much employers like traditional, formal resumes. While I do think that the majority of employers prefer a more traditional format, I know that there are employers who will only accept creative resumes. Like I mentioned in Monday’s discussion, in the PR world you have to go above and beyond with your resume. One woman who graduated from EMU’s PR program even went so far as to make an entire website resume that was specific to one job position she was seeking. In the PR world, stunts like these are welcomed and encouraged. I felt that Diaz should have mentioned that some employers do require creative resumes, kind of an important part she ignored.

    I was glad she addressed a few topics that I usually get stuck on when writing a resume–such as using an objective statement and using phrases as opposed to full sentences in job descriptions. I like the advice to only use an objective statement if it can be used persuasively to show why an applicant would fit with a company. Including a statement that does not accomplish this would be irrelevant and like Diaz says, “a waste of value ‘F-zone’ space.” Speaking of “f-zones,” the information about the “F-pattern reading” was really interesting. I had never heard of that before but it seems to be something that really matters when it comes to the viewing of resumes.

    • Sabrina Gissendaner permalink

      Chelsea, I agree with you! I think that the work world is changing, and that “new-age” resumes are and will continue to become more welcome as the years go on. I do believe that having a creative resume is more acceptable in some fields than it would be in others. For example, I have a friend who has a degree in graphic design, therefore her resume and business cards are both creatively designed to reflect a sort of new-age Alice in Wonderland. This type of resume is encouraged in her field, whereas a business person would likely not be encouraged to create something like that. An old school style resume is solid and probably will never truly go out of style, but innovation and creativity are in! So Diaz had hit a lot of things on the head in this article, but maybe not this particular part of resume writing.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        I also have a friend who studies graphic design. I remember her expressing frustration because all of her business/professional writing classes only taught information about more traditional resume design. For her, this information–while it is not entirely useless–is less practical than it is for students pursuing anything in the business field.

        • Justin Trudell permalink

          Graphic design seems like the only time to ever consider making a creative resume. For the obvious reasons of showing off some of the skills you have directly in the resume present. I have no knowledge of the field so this is just a general observation. I imagine they probably get all kinds of super creative resumes too, so a traditional resume make actually stand out ironically.

    • Kourtney Lovett permalink

      I also agree with you, Chelsea! With creative companies like Google around, I think it’s fair to say that creativity is welcomed in many different fields. I realize that Diaz based this assumption on research that she gathered but it doesn’t seem to add up to me. While tradition is respected and appreciated, I do know that there are instances where creativity takes the cake.

      • Nijea Wilson permalink

        I’m going to join in and say I agree as well. The times are definitely changing and people want creative individuals that can show they’re different and will bring something to their company.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I can agree that there are places where creative resumes are encouraged and, if the Google-like culture becomes more the norm, many more companies will look for this originality. However, in some cases, I think the cover letter can show an employer your personality and creativity without the risk of your resume being too “showy”. Again, like you all had said, there are fields where a boring old-school format resume will end up in the garbage. Others, because it is the expected format, and your skills are what is important, the old school is preferred. It would be a quick and easy read, and they would know what to expect and where to find it, but they may have decided to read your resume because of the great intro you provided in your cover letter.

      • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

        Jessica, I’m glad you brought up the importance of cover letters. I know I’ve mentioned it in a few of these discussions already, but cover letters are a great opportunity to showcase an applicant’s personality and qualifications.

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      Do you guys know of any companies that ONLY look for creative resumes? It seems like you all know they exist, but are there any examples? I’m just curious.

      Besides Google, of course. Because I see that one was mentioned. Any others?

  4. Sabrina Gissendaner permalink

    One thing that Diaz touches on that I personally have been curious about is the “objective” statement. As Diaz says, in some cases including an objective may just seem redundant. It’s difficult to say whether I feel this way as well or not. Having read and reviewed resumes at my previous employer, it seemed liked an objective was unnecessary. If a person left an application and resume with us, we knew that they were trying to obtain a job at our store and a statement explaining that almost seemed silly. However, an objective statement, in some cases, could very well be a necessity. I can certainly imagine that some businesses would see a resume without an objective as directionless or careless. Perhaps even if the objective statement were redundant, a company might expect it simply because it has been a norm in terms of writing a resume for so long. Another intriguing concept that Diaz discusses is that of “F Pattern” reading. Without really realizing, I think I have engaged in this style of reading myself. It is disappointing to imagine that an employer would not take the time to read through all information on a resume, but I’m sure it is an extremely common occurrence. That being said, the idea that your most important information should be somewhere within that “F Pattern” is a smart one as far as I’m concerned.

    • Kourtney Lovett permalink

      I agree with you on your observations in regards to objective statements. Like you, I can see how they are a bit redundant but I also agree that they’re likely so prominent because they’ve always been included. While some companies understand that your objective is to get the job because you’re filling out the application, they may want to know specifics. That’s the only reason I can see an objective statement being necessary.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I think an objective can really help if you have an idea for improvement or innovation. Being able to hint toward this goal might be intriguing enough for an employer to call you in for an interview to explain how you would accomplish your objective. However, I agree that a generic objective, such as the ones the readings suggested to stay away from, would probably hinder more than help.

  5. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    I found the section regarding the use of active verbs and parallel construction to be particularly interesting. I find it to be interesting that back in the 1980s and 1990s the use of active words was strongly encouraged because it made work experience “forceful and persuasive.” Now, instead of using action verbs we can simple change the font, italicize, underline or even make the word bold. I just think it’s interesting that the style of resumes, like many other aspects of life, shifted with the advancement of technology.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I agree. We do have so much more at our disposal than those who only had a typewriter. I do like the advice from the previous readings regarding using a serif font where you want the recruiter to keep reading and sans serif in headings, where you want them to stop for a minute. Too much in the way of bold, underline, or the like, might make the resume seem too “busy” and difficult for the eyes to follow.

  6. Kristen Smith permalink

    One of the things that stood out to me the most in this article was the idea of an objective statement. I have taken a few different classes that have concentrated on resume building and advice for entering the working world, but I’ve never been given advice on an objective statement. I have heard of them in passing, but have never considered adding one to my own resume nor have a considered how having an objective statement could enhance or hurt my resume. I find it surprising that I’ve never been taught how to write an effective objective statement during my education.

    Also, I liked the information on the F format. Reading about the different organizational options for my resume is interesting to me. I feel that the format of resumes depends heavily on the job being applied for. I feel that there are some places where employers would appreciate a non-traditional resume while others would rather see a formal set up. Overall, I feel that I’m gaining a lot of knowledge on resume writing and feel that the set up of resumes needs to coincide with the target career.

  7. Nijea Wilson permalink

    Resumes are such an important part of everyone’s lives. They can either get you the job you want or you can get completely looked over because it doesn’t stand out from the rest. It was good to read about the organization of a resume and the F format. I actually need to re-look at my resume and make a lot of changes. It’s hard to determine what should and shouldn’t be on resumes. I want to always make sure I stand out but I don’t want to sound unprofessional either.

    I think that one aspect I will always remember is the scanning test. I think a lot of people would benefit from doing this to their resumes.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree that it can be very difficult to draw the line between information that should and should not be included. It’s incredibly difficult to consolidate all of your qualifications onto a single page of paper. However, I also think that we learn a lot about ourselves by going through this process. By choosing which qualifications or skills to include, we are taking a step closer to owning those characteristics, which can make-or-break an interview.

      • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

        Natasha, your view on ownership is spot on! The more weeding out of your resume that you participate in, the more familiar you become with your qualifications. It’s like learning by immersion. You’re surrounded by it, and you start to BELIEVE in yourself (which, of course, you should be doing anyway, but some don’t).

  8. Leah permalink

    Charlsye article was very in debt. She included a lot of beneficial resume information, which short of overwhelmed me. There were a couple of significant points throughout her discussions. The one thing that stood out to me was the “F pattern”. The “F pattern” was described to mean “fast”. There are a few procedures that one has to manage in order for this task to be completed. Charlsye states that the reader is likely to read the top information throughly, rather than the middle and ending. The “F pattern” applies only to text-based web pages.
    I found this true being that managers, CEO, supervisors, and assistant managers are looking through many resumes per week. The “F pattern” has to take place in order to make quick decisions. Basically, your resume should start and end with strong information so that you set yourself apart from many other applicants.

    This has helped my perspective on preparing a future resume.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      The “F” format is interesting. I would think that this advice applies mostly to the first time “once over” and could make the difference on whether your resume is put in the “contact” stack or “denied” pile, even if in a hard copy. As Diaz states, this is where you would want to use “information carrying words” that summarize skills more than duties performed.

  9. latasha permalink

    Diaz Updating best Practice was interesting. I too like it because she used from a variety of valuable resources. I like when she talked about chronological and functional resume. I agree with the reading and how she states that most employers prefer the basic format that is straight forward and to the point. Employers want to be able to look right at your resume and look at you history and I think that these too style of resume format do exactly that. Again I think that the objective statement was important and very helpful. She gave great ideas and ways to write a formal objective that is geared for the specific employer.

  10. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    Similar to what some said above, I also have a resume that is set up in close resemblance to an F-zone resume. For the past four years this resume has landed me quite a few jobs. I like the way my resume is set up currently, but if need be, I can always make changes that will only further assist me down the road rather than hinder.

  11. Melanie Waller permalink

    I too have a resume set up that I can go to when needed. But it has been awhile since I have used it. Might need a good tweeking if I do say so myself

  12. Justin Trudell permalink

    Have a creative resume seems like a waste of time to me. We are trained to read in certain patterns and to change that up is just going to make someone miss information that may be important.

    One of the things I remember hearing in a previous class is writing in all caps is bad for getting attention because we read in shapes. As many of us have seen those internet posts about removing nearly every vowel from a paragraph and still being able to understand what is being written, we have developed tendencies when it comes to reading. For the most part, companies looking to hire someone don’t have the time to decipher an experimental layout from a resume. It only hurts the candidate.

    As for the objective section of a resume I think it is unnecessary because your entire resume is sort of tailored to the objective you are trying to achieve anyways. If there is any reason to explain yourself or your experiences, a cover letter is always an option.

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