The Top Third of Your Resume

If your resume is a first impression, the first glance—and the top section of the resume in particular—is very important in those crucial first few seconds. Hiring managers spend less than half a minute when first looking at the resume. After an initial first impression, readers will generally skim from the top down.

The eye is naturally drawn to the top third of the page. For a resume, this means that the top third of the page is a great place to highlight pertinent and impressive information. Use the space to give the reader a sense of who you are, your personal “brand,” and to list impressive accomplishments, achievements, and/or areas of expertise.

Contact Information

Your name and contact information is still typically included on the top of the first page. Some creative formats may present the name and contact information along the side, but typically, place your name in a prominent position on the first page. Avoid making your name too big; aim for balance with the overall presentation (and it can be adjusted after all the information has been added). Choose a font that can be read by most computer systems, as you will likely e-mail or upload your resume at some point. Common (and professional) fonts include: Arial, Courier New, Georgia, Lucida, Palatino, Tahoma, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Verdana, and MS Sans Serif. This list includes both serif and sans serif fonts. Serif fonts have some curls to the letters (such as Times New Roman). Sans serif fonts are straight fonts (Arial). While it can work to use two types of font in the resume, such as one style for your name and for the headers, and another for the rest of the information, avoid mixing serif and sans serif fonts. The goal is to present the information clearly, and this applies to the visual aspects of the resume as well as the words on the page.

The type of contact information you include varies. In today’s global marketplace, full addresses are not used as often as they once were. If it is important to show your location (such as for a local position or to show a local address if you are in the process of relocating), including your full address may be helpful. If you are applying for a position outside your area, you may want to limit your contact information to a phone number and e-mail address only. Generally, include your name, phone number, email address (with a hyperlink), and a link to your LinkedIn profile (if it is complete; if not, leave that off until your profile is fully updated). Your name should be slightly larger than other headers used in the resume. The rest of your contact information can be the same size as the majority of the information in the resume, or slightly larger. It does not need to be as large as your name.

Since many people now read on mobile devices, consider placing your name at the top of your resume, and your contact information in a footer at the bottom of the page (or split your contact information between the two). Some mobile devices have difficulty showing header information, but will display footer information. If your resume ends up on two or more pages, include your name and phone number (and possibly e-mail) on each page, along with the page number. Some readers still print hard copies (and you will need some hard copies for your own use as well), so make it easy for your reader to reach you.

Your Brand

As you write your resume, remember that you are writing for the position you are moving toward. Yes, you will include information from your educational and career history, but that information will be presented in a way to show how that experience has positioned you for where you want to go. Your resume points you in the direction you want to go. It is moving you forward, not simply showing your history. Therefore, consider who you are, what makes you unique, and how you can best position yourself for where you want to go. That is the information that makes brand “you.”

Think about famous brands and branding statements, and how those statements convey ideas about the brand. How might you present your brand? Think back to your elevator pitch and the type of information you would convey about yourself in thirty seconds. That type of information can be included in the first section of your resume to quickly inform readers of who you are and what you have to offer. Keep the focus on what you bring to the employer that is unique to you, rather than what your personal objectives are and what you are looking for. The traditional objective statement is used in very few instances (such as for new graduates or those who are changing careers). The branding statement, in contrast, allows you an opportunity to present your best features succinctly, and in a location on the resume where it will be one of the first things hiring managers see.

What might you include in your branding statement? Just as branding statements for companies and products are used to show how that particular brand is different from others, so, too, is your personal branding statement designed to show how you stand out. Are you a top-selling sales manager? Do you have a knack for identifying new clients or business opportunities? Do you provide an exceptional level of patient care? Do you have a talent for streamlining administrative procedures? Let readers know what makes you, “you.”

This section of the resume can also be used to highlight particularly noteworthy accomplishments. If you landed a big client or account, had a particularly large sale, or led your team to a new level of performance, that information can be highlighted here. Similarly, if you have been out of a particular type of position, and are now getting back in that market, you can use this section to draw attention to impressive accomplishments further back in your career history.

If your education and training is one of your best selling points, elements from your education can be included here as well, including special projects, study abroad, specialized training, certifications, and more. In other words, use this section of the resume to highlight your best-selling attribute and accomplishments to make a strong first impression. Think of this as an opportunity to “front load” your resume so the most impressive information is listed first. This does not mean that visually, however, the resume will be cluttered. It will likely take some revising to get the phrasing tight and concise. The overall appearance and flow of information is important as well. However, it is possible to use this space to your advantage.

Journalists use an inverted pyramid technique, where the most important information of a news story is presented first—the classic “who, what, when, where, and how” information. If it helps, think of your resume as an inverted pyramid. Then, once your reader is “hooked,” you can move into the rest of the resume. Visually, it may help to think of how realtors use “curb appeal” to draw potential buyers. The combination of impressive information and a visually appealing resume can grab your reader and keep him or her reading beyond those initial first few seconds. Your first impression will be a lasting one.

Techniques

When developing your brand, start by listing those qualities that you want to convey to a potential reader. Do not worry about the phrasing or length at this point—just get the information out on paper or screen. Then, start whittling, cutting words and phrases, and see if what is left still gets the ideas across. If so, continue honing. If not, add in those words and phrases that are more essential and work on cutting other portions of the statement.

Here again, your statement will be unique to you. It may be a few words or a short sentence. It may be a few sentences or a brief paragraph. Use what works for your situation. Reviewing sample resumes will also help give you ideas—just be sure that you avoid using information from the samples word-for-word. Your branding statement should be unique to you, and also in your unique voice. When it comes time to interviewing, you will likely draw from your statement and other information on your resume. When your information is presented in your own words, you will be comfortable repeating it and using those words. Otherwise, you may create some disconnect between who you say you are on paper, and who you are in person. Yes, there will be some “resume speak” that is not used in conversation, but the overall ideas and many of the descriptive words can be used when interviewing. So begin by using those words in your resume to get comfortable with how you describe yourself.

Keywords

Keywords are those words that hiring managers and computer programs “look” for to help determine if a candidate has the required and desired experience and expertise. Several resources exist for finding keywords related to various types of positions. As with all information included on a resume, the keywords used need to be accurate. Also aim to use specific keywords. How many resumes include information about the candidate having “strong communication skills”? The answer is a lot. This vague phrase does not set a candidate apart. However, if a sales representative has a strong record of generating repeat sales, “customer retention” is more specific, and gives the reader more to go on. Even better, supporting this with specific information, such as generating a “20% increase in repeat business year over year” helps to show how the candidate is skilled in customer retention.

The top section of the resume can provide opportunities for including keywords. A profile section often encompasses a combination of a branding statement and a list of keywords. When listing keywords in this fashion, the information needs to be supported by other evidence throughout the resume. Also include a variety of keywords throughout the resume as a general “rule.”

How do you find keywords? One option is to scour ads for positions in your career field. They will often incorporate skills and qualities that they are looking for. This does not mean you should repeat, verbatim, the list of words from a job posting when you are applying. However, you can use these postings to get a sense of the types of words to include. Also look through job descriptions for positions in your field. Again, these often include descriptors that are necessary for the position. A Google search for your target position and “keywords” can also help, and several books are available that specifically list keywords for various job targets. However, browsing postings and descriptions can lead you to a number of helpful keyword options.

If you use a list of keywords in the top portion of the resume, choose the words wisely, and include those that are your strongest selling points. Then, incorporate additional keywords throughout the remainder of the resume.