What Recruiters Look for in Your Résumé

Résumé advice is confusing.

One “top ten tips” list will tell you that the key to hiring success via résumé is making your résumé stand out – so use fancier fonts and brighter paper; the list one site over will prescribe that you use nothing but Times New Roman font, standard margins, and plain white computer paper.

The confusion doesn’t end there. No party line seems to exist in the areas of formatting (“Chronological only!”, “Always use functional!”, “A combination is your best option!”), length (“One page MAX!”, “As many pages as you need to prove you’re the right candidate!”), or wording (“Include as many keywords as possible!”, “Avoid all buzzwords!”).

The problem is that no industry, no employer, is exactly the same. Across-the-board advice is difficult because “the board” is so diverse. Without looking at a specific résumé for a specific position, it’s difficult to make rules that will serve every applicant well.

That being said, we’ve seen a lot of résumés, and there are certain qualities that we, as recruiters, look for in every résumé that comes our way, regardless of industry. We look for relevance, readability, and potency.

Relevance

Quite simply, do not submit a generic résumé – tailor your résumé to the specific job for which you are applying. Your résumé needs to be relevant. This applies to both content and appearance.

First, let’s tackle content.

Nancy Collamer, writing for Forbes, states, “Your current career goals should always determine which parts of your story to highlight and which to minimize.”

Maybe you are changing fields, and your focus needs to be on transferable skills. Make sure these skills are easily accessible on your résumé, not hidden in the fine print. Achievements from your current position should be shown to be relatable to the skills you’ll need for the new position. Don’t use acronyms and jargon from your past work that are too specific and will mean little to new employers. Make your résumé relevant.

Or maybe you are moving up in a field in which you’ve worked for years, and the focus needs to be on specific successes you’ve had throughout your time in that industry. Instead of spending time and space going over detailed accounts of your earliest jobs years ago, use your limited real estate to illustrate the most important accomplishments from your time in your current field.

Appearance, though seemingly less important than content, can determine whether or not your résumé gets read at all. Instead of making sweeping statements about what fonts are or are not suitable, we advise that you think again about which stylistic qualities would be most suitable to the specific job for which you are applying.

Continues Collamer, “Make sure your design matches industry norms for your field — a graphic designer can comfortably display more creativity than an accountant.”

In certain fields, an added page or more of charts, graphs, or studies may be appropriate. Other fields want no more than a single, well-ordered page, which leads into our next point.

Readability

résumés are their own genre. Though their brevity can be frustrating, it will do you no good to fight against the limitations of the résumé by trying to turn them into essays. Depending on the size of the stack of résumés sitting in the employer’s desk or inbox, your résumé may or may not get much more than a skim.  Clear, concise remarks have the best chance of sticking with whomever is doing the hiring.

Readability is about more than merely helping your résumé survive the skimming process, it is an opportunity to put your communication abilities on display. Since little space necessitates fewer words, your résumé writing demands both thoughtful wording and organizational skills.

Potency

Finally, we arrive at the meat and potatoes of the résumé. When it comes time to state your academic and career-related accomplishments, make sure they come across as powerfully as possible.  To do this, you need to state them actively and accurately.

Résumés can feel like lies. It’s difficult to give a full and accurate portrayal of your experience with such limited space, leading you to feel like you are telling half-truths. Added to this is the résumé-typical lingo that seems either braggadocious or meaningless in its perpetual overuse. So when we tell you to be genuine, we know that you are fighting an uphill battle.

The simplest way to follow this advice is to be sure that your résumé is accurate, containing no errors of which you are aware or statements that are intended to deceive. Attempts to strengthen your résumé that include misleading or fraudulent claims are really doing just the opposite. Seasoned recruiters and employers are good at spotting these deceptions, and those that are passed over in a cursory résumé read-through will assuredly be brought to light in the subsequent background checking and reference calling.

Being genuine extends beyond merely leaving out deception. Your résumé will be most powerful when it gives the best, most fitting, genuine description of your work and educational accomplishments. Underselling is common and often inadvertent.

It is common, for example, to list achievements passively, describing your presence or participation rather than your active role. When possible, use the listing of achievements to highlight more of your strengths or show the depth of your engagement. If you worked hard to organize an event or training for your company, it would be weak and ingenuous to say that you “attended,” “were involved with,” or “helped with” the event. These statements suggest that you were merely along for the ride. If you were more than that, if you were key to the success of the event and the vision that brought it about, let your language reflect that.

Specifics can also strengthen a résumé. Rather than stating that you have “leadership skills” or “good communication,” include specific awards or projects that demonstrate the genuineness of these points. Again, your résumé is limited. Make the most of the space you have.

A relevant, readable, potent résumé will give you your best chance of success in a résumé-driven hiring process.

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