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Recruiters Speak: What Recruiters are Actually Looking for in a Resume



You’ve spent hours crafting the perfect resume. You’ve listed your key achievements, picked out the high points of your career history and put down the ideal references. But how do you make sure that it’s your resume that passes the paper sift? Companies review literally thousands of resumes, so it can be tough to stand out from the crowd.


When recruiters only spend a few seconds glancing at each resume to decide if they should read further, you want a resume that shines. You need to have a good idea of what recruiters are looking for in a resume, and to do that, who better to ask than the recruiters themselves? Here’s what some of the top management and recruitment professionals had to say about what they expect to see on a great resume.


1. A Resume Personalized to the Position You’re Applying For

Rebecca Barnes-Hogg is a top recruiting strategist, and she recommends avoiding sending an identical resume to every employer. Review the details of the job description and adjust your resume accordingly. Title it with your name and the job title you’ve held that’s closest to the one you’re applying for now, or identical if possible. Leave out career highlights that have nothing to do with the position you’re applying for as they won’t add anything to the recruitment process and may actually hamper your chances. Barnes-Hogg says, “Highlight the skills and experience I asked for in my job posting. I have about 20 seconds to scan your resume and find the information I need. Don’t make it hard.”


2. Use Great Keywords

Although the resume is a vital part of the recruitment process, Richard Branson, entrepreneur and founder of the Virgin Group says, “…if you were going to hire by what they say about themselves on paper, you wouldn’t need to waste time on an interview.” This is why it’s so crucial to include the right keywords. Employers absolutely know you can’t fit your whole career story onto two sheets of paper. So, they look for keywords that shout out to them. For sales roles, keywords will be sales, selling, targets, negotiation and so forth. Your resume should clearly state, “This person cares about the role they are applying for.” Also, if a digital paper-sift or online resume search is used, relevant keywords will help your resume rise to the top fast.


3. Use Positive Language

The words we use say a great deal about our motivation and our work ethic. Tailor your language to make your reader feel how positive you are specifically about the role you’re applying for. Rachel Bitte, chief people officer at a prominent software company says, “Everyone can be enthusiastic, but will they be as motivated when they’ve processed a new hire’s paperwork for the hundredth time? A common mistake job seekers make is not explaining their motivation behind the job at hand.”


4. Sell Yourself Fast

Recruitment staff often only have seconds to glance over your resume, so you need to grab their attention fast. Include a short summary at the start of your resume that gives the key points of your professional experience, keeping it relevant to the position you’re applying for. It’s often this first section of the resume that decides if the recruitment manager is going to progress your application or not. Ellen Grealish is the co-founder of a recruitment company. She says, “This is your opportunity to quickly sell yourself by calling out what you can bring to the role and why a hiring manager should read further.”


5. Be Specific

Your achievements are your key selling points, so make sure you shout them not just loud, but clear as well. Recruiters want facts, figures, dates and numbers. Matt Verbin, hiring manager at Tanga states, “Someone tells me they doubled the traffic to their website through marketing. I want to know, was it from 100 users to 200 users or from 1 million to 2 million?” A few specific bits of data can tell a far greater story than half a page of vague self-promotion.


6. But Keep it Simple

While details will get you noticed, too much information will either overload or bore your reader. If there’s too much to digest, the time-starved recruiter will give up and quickly move onto the next resume. The journalist and famous novelist George Orwell said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do,” and “Never use a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday equivalent.” Sure, he wasn’t a recruiter, but the same rules definitely apply. Convoluted writing turns readers away.


7. Final Check: Is it Clear Why You Want this Job?

Lily Zhang, Career Development Specialist at MIT writes, “…see if someone else—like a friend or mentor—can explain why you’re interested in the position just based on reading your resume.” This is a great sense check to make sure your reader, the recruiter or manager, is going to think, “This person wants the job and I can tell why straight away. So remember, keep it relevant, keep it simple, and let your enthusiasm for the role shine through.

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