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PULLMAN, Wash.—Knowing recruiters spend as little as seven seconds eyeballing the top third of each resume in their inbox, Portland entrepreneur Lea McLeod saw an opportunity. She created a unique tool to help job seekers grab employers’ attention. The first week of November, Washington State University students and alumni became the first group to use it in an online version, thanks to an agreement between the creator and the Academic Success and Career Center (ASCC), part of the Washington State University Office of Undergraduate Education.

It’s called the “Resume Coloring Book,” but don’t let the name fool you. It’s a step-by-step, color-coded, template-filled workbook of sorts that will cause those who don’t know themselves very well to break a sweat.

Think you understand what your experiences add to your employment value? Think harder. Confident you write well? (When is the last time you used “instituted,” “validated,” or “extracted” to describe an accomplishment?) Curious how others’ resumes look compared to yours? Prepare to be surprised.

“More than 90 percent of those who use my coloring book program get more interviews, more quickly, than with what they were using before. You’ll take your resume from ‘I don’t know how’ to ‘I got the interview,’” promises the job-search coach who blogs career guidance for The Daily Muse.

Experience with job-seekers

“I coach young people how to get past the resume review to the interview stage,” says McLeod, CEO of Degrees of Transition, LLC. Her research—plus her own experiences from decades in corporate positions—told her that recruiters might linger longer over resumes that were “crisp, clean, and different looking and clearly tailored to that particular job and company.”

“People said I should write a book. I envisioned one that would get points across through graphics rather than lots of text. There were several self-help books like that on shelves already.”

Her niece, Cheryl McLeod, joined the project. They considered a comic book approach but switched to a coloring book instead. Something fun but not childish, brief but thought-provoking and action oriented, filled with topics to take users from unemployed to well employed. They include self-reflection exercises to identify skills and strengths; writing exercises; and examples of designs for resumes, cover letters, and reference lists.

“Yes, you can use color blocks and unique layouts,” says McLeod. “The job market is tough and you need to stand out in a good way, starting with your resume.”

“Cheryl designed the book’s pages herself using a Retro look that is popular and inviting,” says McLeod. “The look reminds me of The Jetsons,” referring to the Hanna-Barbera animated space-age sitcom that ran on TV from the early 1960s through the late 1980s.

WSU connection, beta testers, positive results

ASCC Internship Coordinator Judy Hopkins follows a number of professional organizations on LinkedIn. She noted a posting by McLeod on her resume and cover-letter resources, and they soon connected. That led to discussions about putting the Resume Coloring Book online, and the possibility of testing it with WSU users.

Hopkins approached Terese King, ASCC director, and Christie Motley, ASCC assistant director on the career side. They agreed it could be another valuable career tool in the center.

For three weeks in October the online course was made available to selected students and graduates for beta testing. Built-in assessments have already provided important feedback, says Hopkins.

Preliminary results are positive and encouraging. Testers report: a 31 percent increase in the belief that their new resume conveys the skills they possess; a 25 percent increase in their ability to write a resume that will get an interview; a 61 percent increase in their ability to effectively use numbers in their resume; a 39 percent increase in their ability to effectively use key words; and a 36 percent increase in their ability to design powerful sentences.

(SIDEBAR OR STORY PARAGRAPH): Hopkins has anecdotal evidence from one engineering alumnus that the course made a difference. He told her that visits to three past career fairs yielded no interview appointments though he’d left his resume with recruiters. This fall, Hopkins introduced him to the coloring book concepts and he rewrote his resume. At the October fair, he had foot-in-the-door results—he landed four interview offers.

November Rollout, No Crayons Necessary

WSU and Degrees of Transition have agreed to an exclusive one-year partnership to offer the course online to students and alumni. The McLeod’s visited campus following the beta test to train ASCC staff and interns to use the online tool and help others. The online tool launched the week of Nov. 3, which coincides with the start of the 42nd annual National Career Development Month.

Junior elementary education major from Kent Maddie Sharp is completing her first semester as an intern and teaching assistant in a UNIV 100 class. She and intern Steven Baldwin, a senior communication major from Auburn, meet students at ASCC’s career drop-in hours. Baldwin likes the details and formatting information presented in the online Resume Coloring Book and looks forward to introducing students to it.

Sharp’s experience using the tool taught her “there’s so much more you can do with a resume” than she imagined. “I also learned the online course will work for different kinds of majors and students can work on it on their own time or with us in the center. It’s set up so anyone can understand and get through the step-by-step exercises.”

Students and alumni using their student ID and password can access the Resume Coloring Book course on the ASCC website at http://ascc.wsu.edu/career-services/resumes-and-cover-letters/.

“Starting the course now will help them be well-prepared to meet recruiters at the next Career Expo on Feb. 3, 2015,” says Motley. No crayons needed.

For more information or to ask questions, phone 509-335-6000 or contact Hopkins at judy_hopkins@wsu.edu.