38. Your Resume Needs to Start Strong or Risk Being Passed Over

During a job search, your resume and LinkedIn profile are your marketing material. For marketing material to be effective, it must make a proposition to the reader, not just cliché words, product bragging, or “artistic advertising.” An effective brochure will say to the reader: “Buy this product for these specific benefits.”

The hiring manager’s primary goal is to gauge whether you meet the qualifications for an open position and whether you’ll be able to hit the ground running or require a ramp-up period. (Being a good fit for the company’s culture is determined during the phone and face-to-face interview(s).) The immediate information on your resume determines whether the reader will read your entire resume and, fingers crossed, have you participate in the interview process.

A resume should be easy to read (bullet points) and loaded with quantified achievements (e.g., Since 2011, I’ve led 9 inside sales representatives to consistently exceed a department annual sales target of $15 million). Bullet-pointed resumes are more likely to pass the ATS (Application Tracking System-software that scans resume content and searches for keywords.) and a recruiter’s screening process. 

Compare how Robert Axelrod starts his resume versus Don Draper.

Robert Axelrod


A passionate results-oriented financial business leader with a unique blend of business savvy and hedge fund expertise. An intelligent investor with keen analytical skills and business foresight, constantly researching and keeping abreast of market trends. Analyzing different investment options and selecting the best ones for my clients. Oversee large investment portfolios making investment decisions such as buying and selling assets to maximize financial gains.

How long did it take you to read Robert’s paragraph? What did you learn about Robert? Can you tell what he does? Do you know what to expect from Robert should you hire him?

Now let’s look at how Don Draper begins his resume.

Don Draper

555-555-5555 | don.draper@email.com

4556 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 1807, Toronto, ON M1Y 3H8

Creative Director

  • 24 years advertising industry experience. Started as a copywriter, moved up to account manager, overseeing over $8.5 million in annual billings with Drentell, Arthur, Ashby (aka. DAA), then creative director at McMann & Tate.
  • Co-founded Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce Advertising Agency in 2004. (2020 billings: +$64 million). Currently leading a team of 12 copywriters.
  • Landed several high-profile accounts, such as Chevron Oil, Gillette, Hilton, Dow Chemicals, Mountain Dew and Ocean Spray. 
  • Since 2015, advisory board member for Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada. (IAB Canada)

Do you see the difference? You know what Don does. You can envision Don’s potential value to an employer. Don doesn’t attempt to present his value using flowery words, unlike most job seekers. Instead, he lists his career accomplishments and uses numbers, the language of business, to quantify his results and establish himself as someone who can bring value to a company.  

I’m sure Robert is good at something, but I’m not sure what it is. Unfortunately for Robert, his resume opening doesn’t compel me to read his resume to figure out what he does well and whether he qualifies for the position he applied for. 

Don’t kid yourself; it’s raining resumes. Employers, especially those that are sought after, are inundated with resumes. To have any chance of being selected for an interview, you need a resume that’s ATS friendly and a showstopper when read by a human. Who wouldn’t want to read Don’s resume?

Since I brought up ATS, which over 90% of employers use, here are five things to remember when writing an ATS-friendly resume:


  1. Standard formatting. (Arial, Time Roman or Veranda font, size 11-12, 2.5 cm margins) 
  2. Keyword optimization. (Read the job posting carefully and identify role-specific keywords; use these along with industry keywords throughout your resume.)
  3. Send as a Word document. (A .doc or .docx file is easily processed by all ATS systems, however, even in 2021, some ATS have trouble processing a PDF document.)
  4. Spell out abbreviations. (An ATS may not understand all abbreviations. Use long-form and acronym versions of keywords.)
  5. Include pertinent information. (The ATS scans resumes for information relevant to the position you’re applying for.)

Once your resume passes the employer’s ATS, you’re still not entirely out of the woods yet—your resume will now be read by a human. Therefore, you want to make your value evident to the reader. Start your resume strong, so the reader will want to read your entire resume and hopefully say to themselves, “I’ve got to meet this person!”