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A Recruiter Comes Clean: If Your Résumé Misses These Four Points, I May Not Even Look at It

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By Duncan Taylor, Senior Recruiter
With Tom Brennan, Master Writer

Your résumé is your agent, your professional avatar in the job market, but if it doesn’t follow these guidelines, it may not make it past a recruiter’s first review. Like everyone else, recruiters’ tactics and tools are geared for efficiency. If you know how things work, you can optimize your résumé to maximize your chances.

  1. The Ten-Second Rule

If you are lucky, that’s about how much time your résumé has to catch a recruiter’s attention; however, if I spot a few key things, I’ll spend more time with it and look deeper.

I do like to see a précis of what you offer, right at the top of the résumé. “Précis” is the perfect word. Think of it as a tweet and keep it under 500 characters. An added bonus is that this is a good place to list some key skills that may not be mentioned elsewhere in your résumé.

Here’s an example:

“Results-oriented professional with 10 years of experience leading successful cross-functional teams in critical IT operations. Track record of success developing and implementing innovative solutions and efficiencies. Senior level champion of change with the people skills to gain consensus and buy-in on new processes. Proven ability to build and lead high performance teams to achieve and exceed goals.”

  1. Help the Search Engines Help You

Recruiters use search engines extensively, and optimizing your résumé will help it climb to the top of the search results. Marketing uses search engine optimization (SEO) and you’re marketing yourself, right? Under your précis, put a list of terms that characterize your talents and experience. If your terms match those I’m using to find candidates, chances are good that I’ll be looking at your résumé. Repeating key terms is good, as long as it doesn’t become obviously repetitive. In this example, for a sales professional, “sales” appears four times.

Consultative Sales · Account Management · B2B Sales · Negotiations · Relationship Management · International Business · Enterprise Sales · Networking · Prospecting · Pipeline Management · Leading Sales Teams · 

  1. Leave the Fancy Stuff to Iggy Azalea

When I download your résumé into my applicant tracking system (ATS), a machine scans it in. If the formatting is too complex, it can work against you. For example, please do not capitalize your name, and it may look good to put spaces between each letter (such as “D U N C A N   T A Y L O R”), but the ATS is unlikely to scan it correctly. Columns and text boxes are not database-friendly, either. Your résumé can still be attractive without the window dressing.

  1. “Don’t Mistake Activity with Achievement”

That’s excellent advice from record-setting coach John Wooden. Titles, education and training are all great, but nothing out-classes accomplishments. For each company you list, provide a brief summary of the company’s mission and size to set the context. Follow that with a sentence or two about your key responsibilities. Now the meaty part: list three to six key accomplishments — goals you achieved or exceeded.

Include real numbers rather than percentages to help me assess the level of responsibility you’ve held. “Increased revenue by $50,000” is more insightful than, “increased revenue by 20%.” Other helpful numbers: the size of the team you led, the extent of the budget you managed, the revenue targets for which you were responsible.

  1. Free Bonus tips

  • Keep your résumé to two pages. No recruiter will read past that.
  • Put your education at the bottom, unless it’s directly relevant to the position you seek, such as a degree in Mechanical Engineering or an MBA.
  • Some recommend that you “tailor” your résumé to each application. However, be careful about over-customizing it if you want the company to consider you for other positions.
  • Make sure that you have a full LinkedIn profile with dates and information that matches your resume, we do cross reference.
  • This should go without saying, but you might be surprised at how many résumés have typos. Real example: “Attention to detale.” Proofread it yourself and then ask a friend to proofread it.

In short, to set your résumé up for success, simplify and streamline the formatting, and let your accomplishments speak for themselves . . . but make sure the language is clear and succinct.

Connect with Duncan on LinkedIn


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9 Responses to “A Recruiter Comes Clean: If Your Résumé Misses These Four Points, I May Not Even Look at It”

  1. June 07, 2016 at 8:41 am, James said:

    While unquestionably true, this article clearly demonstrates both incompetence and laziness on the part of many (though not all) recruiters.

    While I don’t expect a recruiter to have in-depth detailed knowledge of IT, I do expect them to know enough to evaluate a resume–and far too many fail even that simple test. Example: I have been in IT for more than 20 years. The last 10, I’ve been leading teams of hundreds of people. Yet twice last week, I was contacted by recruiters for “senior engineer” positions. It’s also reflected in the resumes I’m given that supposedly made it past an initial screen–but are of a drastically wrong level of experience or lack skills that were specified in the requisition.

    If a recruiter is too lazy or incompetent to spend more than 10 seconds on a resume and to rely on search engines to to his/her work, I don’t need to be dealing with them. I can work a little harder myself and find somebody who is capable of doing their job well.


    • June 10, 2016 at 10:30 am, Duncan Taylor said:

      Hi James,
      You make some good points, and in any occupation there is a spectrum of competencies. The recommendations I am making are not to because of laziness, but because good recruiters want to find the best possible candidates for their hiring managers. If someone has the skills for a particular position, it is important that they are able to present them in such a way that they can be found and assessed easily. On my part, I want to make sure that the role is a good fit for them, so I am not wasting their time when I reach out to them and discuss it. If they have not presented themselves well, I may miss the perfect candidate, and they the perfect opportunity. This in not because they did not have the skills, but because they were not able to present themselves well on a resume.


      • July 13, 2016 at 12:33 am, Christine Patino said:

        What is one supposed to say on a resume when he is a recent graduate with no experience, yet a fast learner and an excellent employee? Do recruitors take into consideration that they could be missing out on an outstanding trainable employee or do they not care?>


        • July 21, 2016 at 9:33 am, Duncan Taylor said:

          > Hi Christine,
          You make a great point, but even a recent graduate has done many things. I look for internships and positions of leadership, particularly those that are the result of peer approval. I look for work ethic through vacation or term time employment, particularly if there has been higher responsibility given, such as closing or opening responsibility etc. It is not difficult to ensure that a recent graduate resume is as interesting as one from a more experienced candidate. However, if I am looking for more than two years of relevant experience, I am probably not able to consider a recent graduate, but that is certainly not always the case, if something really catches my eye.


    • August 06, 2016 at 1:49 pm, Juliette said:

      > Exactly. This is an insensitive, disrespectful, and not to mention myopic way to treat inbound candidates – more for the rest of us who care enough about people and our companies to do this stuff right. I strongly recommend that you pursue education in talent acquisition.

      I understand that you may feel you’re in a position where you can’t spend time doing more than skimming a resume for a moment. If you’re a fast reader, I agree that you actually don’t need to spend multiple minutes on everyone. But if you feel you genuinely don’t have enough time to give candidates more consideration than you describe here and that candidates can be ruled out based on their resume-writing skills and not the content itself, you’re either not managing your time correctly or your company doesn’t care enough about quality talent management strategies to have a properly structured talent team. That is not an environment that is going to push your career in the right direction.


  2. July 21, 2016 at 7:38 am, Larisa Zhukova said:

    I am in Talent Acquisition and maybe it IS that different then recruiting.

    I have no use for your précis. Why? Because I plan to read your entire maybe longer then 2 page resume. I do not think it is very helpful unless to have this. While it may help recruiters that do not understand the key words and other detail in the resume, a good recruiter will not use that as a determination whenever to move forward.

    I actually prefer a longer resume. It gives me more details and when I speak with you in regards to that position, I can determine your strengths better. Therefore- I can determine if this position is the the correct fit both for the company and the candidate.

    Also, why does the candidate need to list the companies bio on the resume?? I need them to focus on what they did….I can google the company on my own. I don’t need them to sell the past company but I do need to see the skill set.


    • July 21, 2016 at 9:45 am, Duncan Taylor said:

      > Hi Larisa,
      First off, thank you for your response to my blog. I do envy you the time and workload you must have that allows you read every resume from start to finish: however, I have to scan a resume first to ensure that there is a good enough fit, before investing too heavily in it.
      As far as a brief company bio, I am suggesting that you make things easier for the recruiter by ensuring that they do not need to google what a company does, but can immediately see if it is relevant.


  3. August 11, 2016 at 8:40 am, Jacob Zumoff said:

    Je ne sais pas. Does anybody else see several layers or irony in asking for a precis of a resume?


  4. August 20, 2016 at 7:10 am, Jill said:

    There are some great pointers here. Just reviews my resume and my Education is at the top. I’ll be changing that! Would you be interested or willing to glance at my Resume and cover letter to see if you have any other advice? I’ve tweaked it a 100 times, but there’s always room for improvement.


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