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How Your Resume Looks to a Recruiter

Updated on February 25, 2015

Do you Know What a Recruiter Sees when He Sees Your Resume?

Are you looking for a new job? Are you having trouble getting invited for an interview after you submit a resume for a position that "sounds perfect" for you?

Did you know the average recruiter or hiring manager spends 15 seconds looking at a resume for a position opening? That's right, believe it or not, recruiters often spend just 15 seconds reading a resume!

Did you know that if a hiring manager looks at your cover letter at all, he or she typically spends less than 8 seconds on it? Do you want to know what the recruiter sees & what he or she is really looking for in those little windows of time?

What Qualifies Me to Tell You These Hiring Secrets?

I was an HR professional and a recruiter for several years. I had to step away from the field due to job burn-out but (a big hazard of the recruiting profession) but, in reality, some things really never change. That's why I'm offering you this no holds barred insight into the secrets of recruiting.

My primary focuses as a recruiter were recruiting healthcare professionals and, later, IT professionals, but I've recruited all sorts of people for positions from entry level to Sr. executives for companies large and small. The candidates who got an interview from me and an opportunity to go on and interview with the hiring manager for the positions they coveted were the ones whose resumes passed my initial quality screening and who presented themselves well in their first phone conversation with me. Sounds simple right? It was for some candidates and not for others. Read on, for "why".

It's Hard to get Noticed!

A recruiter, whether a corporate one working at a specific company or an agency recruiter representing many clients, receives a lot of resumes. Tons!

It's not uncommon to get several hundred resumes - or more - for a single position opening.

Much of the time, a recruiter has only a basic job description at his or her disposal and no real working knowledge of the job. It's the job of the recruiter to quickly go through all of the resumes received and determine which candidates appear to be close fits for the position as it has been presented to him or her.

Because of the sheer volume of resumes received for every opening, a recruiter will often make a "fit" determination after reviewing a resume for 15 seconds or less. That's all the time that you have to get a recruiters attention and sell yourself as "THE" candidate for the job. So, how do you do that?

What Gets the Recruiter's Attention

The big key to getting a recruiter's attention is to actually fit the position description of the job you're interested in applying for. Sound obvious? Apparently, it's not to many candidates!

I know; we all have dream jobs and jobs we'd really like to do. You can stretch a little bit for an entry level position. You are, however, wasting your own time and resources and those of the employers and recruiters reviewing your resume when you apply for positions you are not at least a 50% fit for given the job description. I would submit to you that you need to be a 70% fit to really get any consideration.

Employers aren't looking for "quick learners". They're looking for people who appear to be immediate solutions to their very pressing needs.

If you're replying to an advertisement for a position, it's likely you're being asked to email your resume. The directions below are geared toward emailed resumes but, rest assured, they apply nearly equally to faxed and mailed resumes and to resumes uploaded to company websites.

Please Note: Some recruiters will acknowledge receipt of your resume. Most will not. Though some job seekers will argue this, it's is not bad manners on the part of the recruiter. It's career survival. The volume of submissions is so high that a recruiter working as few as 5 positions can receive 1,000 or more emailed resumes a day. It's just impossible to send even a canned response to everyone and hope to get any real screening or interviewing done.

One more thing before we get to the specifics of cover letters and resumes: Many employers and recruiting agencies use software that parses a resume for keywords and phrases. This applies to resumes that are submitted to them whether they're sent through a website or via email. Your actual resume may never be seen by human eyes. It's crucial that you meet the requirements of the job for which you're applying and that your fitness for it is reflected on your resume using keywords and phrases.

Top 8 Cover Letter Tips

Many recruiters don't even read cover letters. Those that do often spend 8 seconds or less glancing through them. Here are the things they like to see:

  1. Make your cover letter the body of your email. Do not attach it as a separate document. It won't get opened in the 15 seconds that you have to get a recruiter's attention.
  2. DO Attach your resume as Microsoft (MS) Word document to your email (or other .doc compatible document). Do not use Word Perfect as most offices cannot open a WP document. Do not use PDF. It does not parse well for older resume databasing software. Do not use Word Pad or Note Pad. It looks unprofessional. If you do not have MS Word, put your resume into the body of your email and make sure it's formatted as neatly as you can make it.
  3. Tailor your cover letter to the specific job you're applying for or don't do one at all. Use relevant points from the advertisement.
  4. Cite the advertisement you're responding to in your cover letter.
  5. If you're not sending a job advertisement specific cover letter, do not just send an email out with an MS Word attachment and no explanation. Recruiters will want to quickly scan your email before opening your resume to see what job you're applying for. A sentence or two about what position you're seeking/submitting your resume for and signed with your name and telephone number will be fine.
  6. Address your cover letter (whether email or paper) to the name of the person who placed the ad if it was in the ad or if you can figure it out based on the ad and your research. Often this will be a recruiter. If there was no name in the ad, do some internet research to determine who the human resources director is and what his or her actual title is. Address it to that person. If it's an identified small company, address your cover letter to the owner. If you're responding to a totally blind ad, address your cover letter or email to the "Human Resources Director".
  7. Your cover letter is the best place to address gaps in your work history. These always must be explained to a recruiter. Resumes with employment gaps of more than a month or two with no explanations almost never make it into the interview pile.
  8. 8. Do not put limitations in your cover letter! If you can't work evenings and weekends or every other Tuesday, the cover letter is not the place for that information. Though a job may not require any of those things, a recruiter or an employer is going to view you as not being flexible when you introduce limitations before they've even met you.

26 Resume Tips to Get You Noticed in a Good Way - Yes, Really, 26!

If a recruiter read your cover letter and it was compelling enough to get him to your resume, now you must be on your game. If the recruiter ignored the cover letter entirely, your resume is your only chance to shine. Here's what a recruiter sees on a quick scan - both technical and when viewing content:

  1. Only use MS Word for your resume or put it directly into the body of your email if you can't use MS Word. I know I said this in item 2 in the cover letter portion but it bears repeating.
  2. It's not necessary to stick to a one page resume. Two pages is fine. More than two pages however is necessary only in certain cases such as when presenting a CV for academic positions where a listing of publications would be necessary or for engineering and/or product development positions where you might be listing patents.
  3. Do not use a font size smaller than 10 on a resume. On a printed resume, one of the easiest fonts to read is Times New Roman. For "Times", a ten font in print is small. You may want to go to an 11 or 12 font. For emailed resumes, an Arial font is one of the easiest to read on a monitor screen. You can safely use a 10 font with Arial but 11 is better. Remember, you have 15 seconds. You want easy scanability!
  4. Put your contact information at the top of the first page of your resume not at the bottom of the 1st page or at the end of the resume, whatever page that might be.
  5. Make sure your name appears at the top of any pages after the first page in case your resume gets printed and separated.
  6. Have your email address in the header (top) portion of your resume. Make sure this is a professional sounding email address. If you don't have email, get it. Most people can still get a free email address containing their actual name such as Your.Name@ gmail, hotmail, live, or yahoo.
  7. Do not start your resume with an objective line unless a position opening posting or advertisement specifically asks for you to do so. Government and academic jobs sometimes require this. In the private sector almost any objective you put on your resume can be seen as self serving and it will be of little interest to the employer. Plus, it wastes valuable resume space.
  8. A skills summary at the top of a resume (after your header) is far more helpful in many fields than an objective line is. This is especially true in Information Technology (IT) and in most medical fields like nursing and allied health care. This summary helps a recruiter see what you can do at a glance. List all current certifications and specialties in your summary.
  9. The skills summary (if included) and the body of your resume are the areas where your key words absolutely must go. If it's in the ad, and if it's a skill you have, it must be in the resume. Recruiters and recruiting software are scanning for these key words and phrases.
  10. The best resumes are done in reverse chronological order with the most recent job first. The most recent job should have the most detail. Within a few seconds of opening or picking up your resume, this is where a recruiters eyes will be focused.
  11. Your resume should show the last 10 years of your work experience.Even if you have older experience that is relevant with regards to the type of position, it's likely the skills will be outdated.
  12. It's almost never advisable to exceed 15 years of work history unless you've shown steady progression within a career field. Ageism does exist. Don't get ruled out as a candidate because you show 40 years of work history.
  13. DO NOT LIE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE. Do not lie about your skills. No candidate is a 100% match for any job. Lying ALWAYS backfires.
  14. Use both qualitative and quantitative bullets. Examples of qualitative bullets:

    a. Received award for "xyz"

    b. Top rated salesperson for customer satisfaction

    Examples of quantitative bullets:

    a. Managed 10 direct reports

    b. Managed a budget of x,000,000 with no cost overruns for 20__.

  15. Recruiters - corporate or agency - HATE functional resumes. Most don't get looked at. These are popular among people with diverse skills and those that have been out of the work force for a long time but they do little to help your candidacy as most recruiters are required to present candidates with a full, easily discernable work history.
  16. Unless you've graduated from high school or college in the past two years and you're seeking an entry level position in your field, do not begin your resume, after the header, with your education. Put your education after your work experience. There are very few exceptions to this. One might be Ivy League education obtained within the past 5 years. Even that must be relevant to the job for which you are applying. Note: Advanced degrees should be noted by your name per usual customs (examples: John Smith, Ph. D., Jane Smith, MSN).
  17. Your education citations do not need to spell out subjects studied or skills learned unless you are seeking an entry level position where you have little work experience in the field.
  18. If you've been out of college more than 10-15 years, don't put your graduation year on your resume. Just list your school(s) and degree(s).
  19. Don't assume a recruiter automatically knows something. For example; in information technology there are many certifications a person can obtain from companies like Microsoft and Cisco. Often, you must have one certification or one level of certification before you can get another. List BOTH/ALL relevant certifications on your resume. The recruiter reviewing resumes is often a generalist who will be looking for ALL of the certifications and may not be aware that you need one to get the other.
  20. Do not list hobbies, interests or affiliations (religious, social, fraternal, political) on your resume unless they directly pertain to the job you're seeking. When in doubt, leave it out.
  21. Do not put your photograph on your resume. There are exceptions to this but those are few. The entertainment industry and modeling are the only ones that spring to mind and those often require a portfolio that is presented at a casting call.
  22. Do not put your marital status, your age, your family status (i.e. children) or your Social Security Number (yes, people do), on your resume for any reason.
  23. Do not put "References available upon request" on the bottom of your resume. References are a requirement and everyone has them. This wastes valuable resume space and, worst case, it can be seen as filler.
  24. Use spell check.
  25. Watch your capitalization. If a word should be capitalized, then capitalize it. Capitalize all acronyms. Your resume is not a work that you want to treat like a quick text message or an IM.
  26. Have someone else read your resume. It needs to make sense to someone other than you. While a resume does not have to be as grammatically correct as other written works, even an untrained eye can catch many errors.

Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters 3.0

The latest job-hunting strategies for the Information Age. You'll discover key techniques to reach hiring managers at the employers you want to work for most. New chapters integrate using social media and social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and ZoomInfo in your job search, along with case studies from successful guerrilla job hunters that detail what works in today's hyper competitive job market with commentary from America's top recruiters.

I've showed you what will get a recruiter's attention on your resume. This book will show you how to find the recruiters and hiring managers that you really want to talk to in the first place!


About Your Voice Mail and Your Phone Etiquette...

Nothing kills a job search faster than having an unprofessional sounding voicemail. NOTHING! As a recruiter, I've just scanned through your resume. It made it to my "potential candidate" pile. I scanned it a bit closer. I liked what I saw. I pick up the phone to call you but I don't typically expect to get you. I do expect to be able to leave you a voicemail. I do expect you to appear to be a professional job seeker.

  1. During a job search, if an unrecognized number rings through to your phone, answer professionally. Say, "Hello. This is John" or "Hello. This is John Smith." Remembering to look at the number before answering and to be professional when answering in case the call is about a job are the biggest keys to phone etiquette!
  2. Have voicemail set up on your cell phone or your home phone.
  3. Keep your mailbox empty so a voicemail can be left by a recruiter.
  4. If you must use a ring back tone, pay the one time charge to get a "professional" one with inoffensive, soft music. Classical music or other instrumental music - soft music - are best. DO NOT record your own music and DO NOT have that music play for 15 seconds to a minute or more before even telling the recruiter who they're calling or before saying anything at all. We understand that some carriers (especially Sprint and Verizon) have an option that tells a caller "Please enjoy the music while your party is reached". That's acceptable if the music you choose to follow that statement fits the guideline above.
  5. Record your greeting in your own voice. Do this privately. There should be no noise in the background.
  6. Have a brief professional message that says who has been reached. Example: "You have reached John Smith. Please leave a message." It's short and very acceptable.

Let 's all learn from each other. Please feel free to share your resume successes and misses. While constructive criticism is encouraged, please, do not make judgments against what others post.

Do You Have a Resume Story to Tell?

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    • MJsConsignments profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      @fullofshoes: Thanks! It's always great to hear from someone else that knows what I'm saying and who can validate it for people. I've spoken to people who argue that this can't possibly be true. If only they could see the volume of resumes recruiters see daily...

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Good job MJ. As a former HR professional (25+ years) now retired, thank goodness, I certainly understand and agree with what you wrote. I also agree with your follow up comment on 6/13 that most resumes are sent electronically now so the colored paper wouldn't apply. ~blessed~

    • MJsConsignments profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      @Teapixie LM: Now with most resumes emailed, that doesn't work so well but, back when they were paper, as a recruiter, my eyes were always drawn to the color ones in the stack first. I'd read through them. Sadly, a lot of people were using color for attention because their qualifications were lacking. I'm certainly not say that is the case with you but it was often my experience with candidates.

    • Teapixie LM profile image

      Tea Pixie 

      6 years ago

      Wow - what a great article. I'll be back. My best success was to use colour for my resume. It made it stand out. It was also created so that it would print beautifully in black and white.

    • CameronPoe profile image


      6 years ago

      These are great practical tips.


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