It doesn’t matter what you think your resume should include; you need to be aware of what recruiters look for. Maybe you’ve shopped your resume around to your family and friends or campus career center for their opinions. But truthfully, the only opinions that really matter belong to the people reading your resume – your target audience – and that is the employer, or the employer’s surrogate, the recruiter.
In my former roles as head of global Human Resources, I read thousands of resumes, and you don’t want to know how many didn’t get past an initial scan because of two major flaws. If I had to hunt to uncover what this person did and could do for my company, I took a pass. And if the resume was difficult to read (narrow margins, tiny font, or confusing layout…well, there were plenty other resumes to look at.
So I reached out to recruiters in my own LinkedIn network to learn what recruiters look for in a resume.
Let’s talk about format. Sounds minor, but it’s not. Clients sometimes question why I don’t use a fancy template; some get quite worked up about it, not understanding why I use a simple Word document with just a pop of color in the headings. But recruiters don’t necessarily appreciate those pretty templates – and ATS software often can’t read them. Sandra Lewis of WorldWide101, recommends that candidates “create an effortless experience for the person reading it”… an easy to read font, bolded titles, and appropriately spaced paragraphs. That’s why I use Arial or Helvetica fonts, size 11 for the text and 13 for the bold title, and double-spaced paragraphs. Read more about how resume design affects your job search.
Achieving that “effortless experience” is easy, but creating compelling content can be challenging. But it’s critical.
What recruiters look for in your resume?
Kristina Finseth of PhenomPeople suggests that the resume focus on storytelling. “It’s a candidate’s opportunity to explain his or her story. Just as candidate expectations have morphed over the past few years, the resume is no exception. What used to be viewed as more of a “technical” roadmap of a person’s experience is now a creative story showing the candidate’s unique “why”, struggles, and successes.”
Most candidates fail to appreciate that when recruiters review hundreds of resumes each week, their brains can suffer from overload. Incorporating a brief section that tells your career story not only provides a human connection to the weary recruiter, but also differentiates you among candidates. Declan Daly of Thruvia Services notes that “many candidates just list their job duties and tenure on their resumes and hardly ever write anything that differentiates them, or include what makes them an asset.” Don’t make that mistake; a good way to differentiate yourself is to showcase specific accomplishments that demonstrate how sharp your skills are.
Kenny Rios, a recruiter at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, is also looking for resumes that “paint a picture of a well-qualified candidate who can deliver results.” His ideal resume focuses on your skills, achievements and qualifications, highlighting why you are the best candidate for the position, so how you describe yourself in the initial Summary of Qualifications is key.
Kenny’s interest is piqued by a candidate’s career trajectory, so he looks for candidates who have been promoted or accepted additional responsibilities. I recommend highlighting promotions as a parenthetical directly under your most recent title, rather than treating each position as if it were a separate job. Akevy Greenblatt (Talent Match) cites that a candidate’s ability for growth can be a predictor for future success, further validating Kenny’s point about demonstrating an upward career path.
Diana Logan of Simos Insourcing Solutions emphasizes that quantifying data makes a difference. She looks for statistics that relate to what’s expected for the position she’s looking to fill. She cited an interview with a candidate for a position as a recruiter who described her daily work load as “very busy,” saying that she hires two people a month, but Diana was looking someone accustomed to a higher volume. When you include accurate metrics to quantify your achievements, it helps qualify you in the recruiter’s mind.
From a non-U.S.-centric viewpoint, of what recruiters look for, Gerardo Macias of StaffBridge Executive Search in Mexico looks for “congruence and continuity in a candidate’s career, over specific functions in each position,” while Ravi Bhogaraju of Archroma in Singapore points out that a coherent synthesis of experience, focus on the candidate’s achievements and the impact of those achievements is critical. “It is important, he notes, “that candidates pay attention to this nuance, otherwise their profiles get put aside quickly.”
Finally, these recruiters remind candidates that, in Sandra Lewis’ words, “your resume is key to getting you in the door; it should represent who you are and project your professionalism.” Kenny Rios adds, “at the end of the day, what I make my decision on is this: is this candidate qualified for this position? Has she or he made clear why they are the best candidate? If I can answer yes to those questions, I’ll move forward. If I cannot, I will reach out and let them know why they did not make it.” Diana Logan finds that traits are “more important than credentials,” and cultural fit matters, too.
Do recruiters and hiring managers differ in what resonates with them? Yes, of course, they do; they’re humans with different responses to what they read. But there is consensus on these critical points. After that, some may like to learn about your hobbies or professional affiliations; others don’t find that relevant to whether or not you’re the right fit. The bottom line is that everyone wants your resume to be easy on the eyes with a clearly articulated value proposition, and some good examples of why you’re right for the job. And introducing yourself in the first person is never a bad idea.
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