5 Things Recruiters Notice First On Your Resume
Recruiters skim resumes in seconds and still glean enough information to decide on a candidate. I have found this to be true across industries, positions and levels. I have recruited for a variety of industries (financial services, management consulting, tech, media, non-profit), positions (client-facing, administrative, strategy, creative) and levels (unpaid interns thru multiple six-figure hires), and my recruiting colleagues and I always skim. With multiple jobs open at any one time and hundreds of resumes to review, it’s simple math that each resume gets seconds of attention. Here are five items on your resume that recruiters notice first:
The names that get attention are top schools, Fortune 500 companies, household brands, and hot start-ups. Your employers and schools screened you and selected you over others. Recruiters weigh the competitiveness of that filter. Recruiters’ preferences will depend on the search. For an executive-level position, top schools still carry weight but not as much at this stage of the career as recent companies. For a recent graduate with less information, the school brand matters more. If the role is for a fast-growth newer company, a history with successful start-ups may be preferred over even Fortune 500 companies. However, if the search is specifically to find a large-company executive then the Fortune 500 names will carry the day.
Make sure you put as many brand names as possible. If your employer is not a household name but is a leader in its field, put a one-line sentence to indicate this (e.g., largest textile manufacturer in Japan). If your employer is not itself a brand name but serves brand names, make sure you mention this. If your start-up is gaining traction but is not widely known, include something that indicates success—for example growth figures or media mentions.
Many recruiters don’t just look at every resume that comes in. They do a search for specific keywords. It might be a brand name – in the above example of the fast-growth company, the recruiter may search for competitor names experiencing a similar growth trajectory. Other popular keyword searches are technical skills like software or programming languages, certifications like the CPA or PMP, and functional skills like direct response for a specialized marketing search or regression analysis for a data analyst position. Just because you apply for a role does not mean you will be considered for that role. The recruiter may pull up resumes based on keyword, rather than who applied.
Make sure your resume includes detailed keywords even if you think your title makes it obvious. If you are a direct mail marketer by title, you should still elaborate on the direct response, segmentation, and other specific campaigns and analyses you did, even if you think it’s redundant with your title. First of all, recruiters may not ever see your title because they won’t see your resume if you don’t get pulled up in their search. Secondly, recruiters are often generalists who search across a variety of positions, and the one working on the direct mail/ direct response/ email marketing search may not know what your role entails just by its title. Finally, titles vary across companies – do not assume that what you do is obvious.
Recruiters zero in on gaps, short tenures, and lack of progression. Depending on how recent the issues are and other competing factors, the chronology in a resume may be a deal breaker. A gap in the middle of an otherwise solid career is less of an issue than a recent gap. A shorter gap (less than six months) is a non-issue. Multiple jobs with a year or less of tenure raise suspicions that the candidate has no staying power – either they can’t commit or the employer doesn’t want them. If this occurs earlier in the career and recent positions show longevity, it probably doesn’t matter. If there is longevity but no increase in responsibilities, title or results, then this shows a lack of progression.
Review your own resume just by dates and tenure. You may need to include shorter stints that you planned to omit but they fill in gaps. You might unnecessarily have short stints listed because one of your employers got acquired so it’s really a name change, not a short tenure, or maybe you moved from one subsidiary to another, each with different names, so it’s internal movement, not separate short stints. Make sure you group these experiences together, so you show continuity. Write your position descriptions to reflect progression especially for roles you have held for a number of years.
Spelling and grammar mistakes jump out. The candidate looks sloppy, unprofessional, uncaring. If proper names are misspelled (a company listed as a client, a software listed as a skill) it raises doubt as to whether or not the candidate really worked at the company or knows that program.
Spell check is the first line of defense, but homonyms and names won’t get caught there, so you still need to copy edit line-by-line. Led versus lead is the most common mistake I see – the candidate means to write in the past tense (“led a team”) but instead spells it as it sounds (“lead a team”).
This is not one specific item on a resume but the feel across the entire resume. Brand names, relevant keywords, longevity and progression, and no mistakes all contribute to the message that, yes, this candidate has potential. In addition, the body of work – skills plus experience plus specific industry or functional expertise – also point to whether there is a potential fit to the opening on hand. The aesthetics of the resume – layout, readability, conciseness of descriptions – signal professionalism and attention to detail. The emphasis in the resume – the summary on top, the first bullet of each job, the results that are quantified – point to what this candidate feels is their value proposition. Does it match what the recruiter needs for the role?
Give your resume to someone else, anyone else to read. Someone who doesn’t look at resumes all the time will not be able to skim it in a few seconds, but it shouldn’t take that much longer to form an opinion. What jumps out at them? What do they think you do? What job do they think you’re applying for? Once you have all the facts down on your resume, edit it for potential – make sure it’s easy one the eyes and that you’re highlighting your value.
Remember that a resume is the start of a discussion, not the close. You are trying to get a meeting or interview, not a job outright. Don’t feel like you have to put every detail of every project. Put enough information – brand names, relevant keywords, longevity and progression, error-free presentation, potential value — so that you are clearly in the ballpark for the roles you want, but it will never be all the information you have. Your resume as an invitation to get to know you further.