Ceceilia By Ceceilia "Ceil" O'Callaghan • April 27, 2022

The 15-Second Rule of Resume Writing Explained

You may have learned a few “second” rules over the years.

Like the 5-second rule for picking up dropped food from the floor, the 2-second rule for traveling at a safe distance behind another moving vehicle and the 8-second rule in basketball to avoid an inbound or backcourt violation.

But did you know there is also a 15-second rule when it comes to resumes?

This rule dictates that if an employer can’t identify you as qualified for their position within 15 seconds, they don’t look any further.

Now, like the English language, there are exceptions to every rule. But the safest thing for job hunters is to operate under the 15-second rule – you only have 15 seconds to grab an employer’s attention. With that in mind, how do you make sure you make it through those 15 seconds and encourage the employer to continue reading?

Focus On Three Goals

There are three goals to keep in mind as you polish your resume. Addressing these qualities can make all the difference.

1. Be informative. Make sure you include the relevant information the employer needs to make decision about you.
2. Be concise. If you can say something in five words or say it in 10 words, go with the five words. For resumes, the shorter, the better. Especially if you can say it clearly in as few words as possible.
3. Target the employer’s needs. Employers won’t typically take the time to figure out if your background relates to them. You need to do that for them.

Grab the Employer’s Attention

One way to grab their attention is with a strong Profile Statement. A Profile Statement is the modern-day version of an Objective and Summary section. Though you can start with a section heading titled “Profile,” it can be more effective to start with a headline, as LinkedIn does. That line should focus on how you see yourself as a professional and how you want the employer to see you.

Support Your Professional Title With General Skills and Experience

Your Profile should be followed by two to five statements that support that headline or answer the question, “Why should I hire you?”

These points should not be attributed to any one experience but should give an overview of what you can do, from all your experiences, for the type of work you seek. Profiles can be presented in paragraph form, but bullets are always easier for individuals skimming your resume.

For example: Results-Oriented Technical Support Provider

    1. Excellent customer service and problem-solving skills as well as extensive hardware, software/application background.
    2. Strong background in setting up and maintaining Macintosh and PC platforms as well as establishing mobile applications.
    3. Skilled in network troubleshooting and cybersecurity; Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CCISSP) and Cisco Certified Network Administrator (CAN).
      The rest of the resume should prove that you have the skills and experiences you portray while providing context for how you have used them.

7 Tips to Follow in Resume Writing

In addition, follow these seven guidelines for a strong resume foundation.

1. Do not use tables, text boxes or columns. Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are online systems that cannot read text in these formats. So, you get skipped.
2. Target your resume. Use position-specific keywords - the same language the employer used in the job posting.
3. Submit your resume in a .doc format. It is the most universally compatible format.
4. Use bullet points. Readers skim rather than read resumes; bullets are easier to skim.
5. Start sentences with action verbs. Action verbs describe skills; skills transfer between settings.
6. Quantify and qualify your efforts for context and evidence.
7. Proofread. Nothing negates your candidacy faster than typos or grammatical errors.

For additional resume writing assistance, find an upcoming webinar or workshop on the Office of Career Development website. Or, if you are a student at Thomas Edison State University, once your resume or CV is composed, email it to careerdevelopment@tesu.edu in a Word or PDF format (Word format is preferred) for a resume critique. A career coach from the Office of Career Development can perform a thorough review of your content and format and make suggestions to strengthen your resume within three business days.


Written by Ceceilia "Ceil" O'Callaghan

Ceceilia "Ceil" O'Callaghan is director of the Office of Career Development. She has more than 30 years’ experience in helping students and new graduates identify and realize their career goals. She has worked extensively with employers to identify their needs and create a better-prepared workforce. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in guidance and counseling psychology from Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Connect with her via email at careerdevelopment@tesu.edu.

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