By Chris Corcoran, co-founder of memoryBlue

It’s been said that first impressions are lasting impressions.

Fair or unfair, people make instant judgments about you. In BlinkNew York Times bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell brilliantly describes the phenomenon of people making decisions after only a two-second glance.

Now ask yourself, what does a hiring manager think about me after looking at my resume for only a blink of an eye?

Too much hyperbole? Maybe.

But maybe not when you consider a recent survey done by theladders.com that used eye-tracking technology to decipher where recruiters focus when reading a resume and how much time they spend on an individual resume review. The results reveal that recruiters only spend six seconds per resume when searching for candidates.

Let that sink in. The totality of your professional and academic experience is judged in six seconds.

But this is great news and here’s why:  the bar for resume quality is L-O-W. There is far more mediocrity than there is outstanding quality out there, but realize, you will need to have the outstanding resume—not just a pretty good one—to get noticed.

For the last 11 years, I’ve held face-to-face interviews with more than 1,000 salespeople and have advised hundreds more on their resumes. I’ve noticed a major theme with today’s resume.

Contrary to what you might have heard, most resumes really aren’t the latest installment of great American fiction, full of puffed-up half-truths and tall tales. Instead, the problem that I see is that the information on the resume is incongruent with the talent of the sales professional. In other words, the resume is providing a disservice to the candidate because the salesperson is much better at selling than at resume writing. Ironically, the best salespeople are buried in excellence and usually choose to focus on closing deals rather than writing resumes, so they hurriedly cobble together some of the weakest versions.

Here’s a before and after example of a superstar sales professional who used to work at memory Blue.  Today this person is a top performing rep at the second largest software company in the world.

Before (suggests amateur sales rep) 

After (matches candidate’s selling ability): 

Refer back to the Before and After resume and see how each version portrays these two critically important features:  Content and Formatting.

 Substantive Content:  Include quantified accomplishments. This professional has a war chest. Omitting these achievements on the Before version is a miscarriage of justice. Hiring managers don’t read resumes, they scan for concrete numbers. The specificity of “Successfully closed a $200K deal with BB&T (replaced #1 competitor)” jumps out on a resume. Hiring managers think, “I want more sales reps on my team who can unseat our top competitor at a Fortune 500 company and sell six-figure solutions.”

Here are the most important things to keep in mind regarding the content of your resume:

Clarity of dates and locations:  Don’t leave the reader guessing about where and when you were employed.

Position title with a job description:  Not all job titles have the same meaning. Along with your company and title, include a concise explanation (one or two sentences max) of your duties and responsibilities.

Job accomplishments versus job details:  This is where you can shine as a salesperson. Focus on what you’ve achieved. Accomplishments are details such as revenue closed ($646K in 2008), deal size ($25K average deal size), quota attainment (103% of quota), rankings within your company (#1 of 3), names of new clients signed (BB&T), and awards received (2008 President Club Winner – only TeleSales Rep to qualify).

Relevance and tenure in proportion:  Include the most information and detail for recent jobs and those that are most relevant to your target position.

Readability:  Use short sentences and bulleted lists. Remember, the reader is scanning your resume so don’t bury your accomplishments. White space is your friend.

Professional Formatting:  Juxtapose the Before and After versions and you can see that formatting is where many people fall short. A visually appealing layout with professional spacing, fonts, indentations, bullets, appropriate length, etc., can make all the difference in readability and organization. It’s here that you have the biggest opportunity to differentiate yourself in an ocean of resume mediocrity.

Do it yourself or hire a professional?

This salesperson took my advice to work with a professional resume writer. Given the critical nature of this document, I suggest this route for most. The highest and best use of your time is selling. Tackle the whole thing on your own only if you’ve got the time AND you think writing and design are your strong suits.

If you’re not sure of your abilities in these disciplines, use this question as a barometer: How familiar are you with kerning? If you’re like me and had to look up the term, find a professional.

Packaging Matters

Think of both your online and hardcopy resumes as interviewing attire. Great candidates don’t show up for interviews dressed in weekend wear suitable for the golf course, nightclub, or gym. Rather, these professionals understand the importance of dress in the interview process; how it transmits the idea that you’re detail-oriented and go the extra mile.

Hold your resume to these same standards.

For the electronic version, consider using a PDF over a Word document because there is something about a PDF that looks more buttoned up. Whatever you do, don’t label your electronic copy “Sales Resume” or something similar. This is an obvious tell. It means you’re unclear on what direction you want to go and are actively applying for various types of jobs. Hiring managers have enough questions to answer when searching for the best candidate. Deciding if you’re committed to the profession shouldn’t be one of them.

For the hard copies you bring to interviews, don’t go with a flimsy version on standard copy paper.  Instead, swing by your local office store and have it printed on 20 or 24 lb. resume paper with a watermark. Make sure you print the resume so that the watermark is right side up.

If I were to guess, I’d say that less than 2% of the sales people I’ve interviewed go this extra mile. When you’re interviewing, hiring managers expect you are giving them your absolute best. Most hope you sell as well as you interview.

What do you think hiring managers think about candidates who don’t go the extra mile during the interview process?

What do you want hiring managers to think about you? You’ve got six seconds.

Chris Corcoran, co-founder of memoryBluewhich has helped provide inside sales resources to more than 150 high tech companies, and has hired, placed, or evaluated hundreds of high tech sales professionals. Chris spearheads the memoryBlue recruiting service, and is passionate about developing sales talent that generates results.