The lost art of paying attention

People want their information the fastest way they can get it. Should we learn to reshape the way we communicate?

Here's a good (but unfortunate) reason you should use bullets in your resumes: The world's collective attention span is at an all-time low. People are being conditioned to get their information in short snippets, whether it be in a 30-second commercial or 140-character update from the celebrity du jour. That's an important factor to keep in mind when you're designing your resume.

As this piece in the satirical online publication The Onion, points out, large blocks of text can be very intimidating. A passage from the piece:

"Why won't it just tell me what it's about?" said Boston resident Charlyne Thomson, who was bombarded with the overwhelming mass of black text late Monday afternoon. "There are no bullet points, no highlighted parts. I've looked everywhere-there's nothing here but words."

While the point is made in a funny way, it has as its basis, as all satire does, a kernel of truth. I can't count the number of times someone has jumped right into a bulleted list on a blog of mine and completely passed over the descriptive text before it. It's usually when I explain that the following list contains some but not all reasons or types or situations, whatever the list contains. Then I get a nasty email saying that I omitted some items.

Recently I received a comment from a reader who took issue with the piece called Job snapshot: Project Manager because it was a "limited view of what a project manager does." Yes, it is; thus, the word "snapshot."

And how many of you have sent an email to a colleague that you've painstakingly written asking a specific answer to a question you've posed, only to get an answer like, "Sounds good." When I used to do copy editing years ago for a technical pub, I would ask an author to clarify a sentence by saying, "Did you mean x, y, or z?" More often than not, the answer would be "Yes."

So when you do your resumes, or when you communicate via email with your colleagues, put your information in short text spurts, clearly delineated by bullets, or maybe even big flashing arrows. Text blocks are not your friends.