Have you ever wondered why you didn’t hear back from a company about a job when you sent in your resume? You know you were fully qualified for the position, but maybe there was some sort of red flag on your resume that you missed, in which case, you can bet that the recruiter or headhunter for the company spotted it. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew what a headhunter was thinking when he or she looked at your resume? What are the things that make them pick your resume out of thousands? Well we went straight to the source and asked headhunters asked exactly what they think when they look at your resumes:
To get an idea of the system they used, let’s look at what Ed Blum, the director of professional search at Accounting Management Solutions, does with a resume. Ed sees more than seventy-five resumes each day as he searches for finance and accounting professionals for clients in the Boston area. He has to be able to quickly pick out the right people for each job. First he looks at the title—it is the easiest way to get a sense of what the person is and what they do. He spends fifteen seconds on a resume before he rules it out. It only takes sixty seconds for him to decide if it should go in the “yes” column. “Maybe’s” are back up and only referred to occasionally. He looks at dates of employment, what companies they worked for, and when. Did they “job hop”? He pays little attention to the objective or the summary. He is really focused on work experience and it being the best fit for the job and company. Depending on the need of the client, the type of degree an applicant got and the quality of the school he or she attended can be pluses, but are not as important as most recent experience.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO of FlexJobs, said, “Make sure the resume is tailored specific to the job opening and truly, honestly error-free. Spending that little extra effort will help get your resume seen. It’s a tough time for job-seekers, with unemployment at an all-time high and lots of competition for available jobs. Personally, I have received hundreds of applications for a single job within a day of posting! In terms of managing the process as best I can in a remotely reasonable amount of time, I have to focus on the candidates who have shown that they are (1) passionate about the job and my company, (2) show a high level of professionalism, and (3) help show me directly why they would be a great person to hire for the job.”
The candidates with resumes that will absolutely be passed over for consideration by headhunters are ones that have:
- Graphics: “I will immediately discredit someone who has flowery bullets or other graphics; the resume should be a list of accomplishments in a well-written, concise format. Smiley face bullet points are a no-no. Also, if I see that someone uses a “-” or “*” as a bullet point, I wonder if they know how to actually use the bullet point function on the computer,” said Jennifer Johnson, Founder of J. Johnson Executive Search, Inc.
- Misspellings or Grammatical Errors: Sara Sutton Fell said the first resumes that will be out of consideration will be resumes with any misspellings or grammatical errors.
- They Don’t Pertain to the Job Description: Especially those that show a conflicting mission or seem completely unrelated to the job, said Sutton Fell.
- Disregard for Instructions: Any applications that are submitted without following instructions and/or with information missing that was specifically requested will be passed over. “In my opinion, if it’s not worth it to you to do these things, you probably don’t have the type of professionalism and motivation that I am looking for,” said Sutton Fell.
- Resumes That Aren’t Easy for the Headhunter to Pitch to a Client: Laurie Berenson, CPRW for Sterling Career Concepts, LLC said headhunters need talking points to pitch a candidate to their clients so job seekers should help them out by avoiding filling their resume with boiler-plate phrases and instead, loading their job descriptions with a branding statement up top, details of accomplishments, successfully completed projects, and examples of how you excelled in your role. Your cover letter to a recruiter can offer them talking points as well, i.e., “I stand apart from my peers in three ways …” She said make it easy for the recruiter to market your background to their client. If they have to work too hard at identifying a reason why you’re a compelling candidate, he/she may pass you by for another candidate. Or, if your presentation is not as compelling to the client, he/she will ask to interview other candidates over you. Help the recruiter by providing sound bytes about your strengths, a branding statement that sets you apart from your peers, and quantifiable accomplishments that would compel someone to want to interview you. “Answer the question ‘Why would I want to meet this candidate?’” she said.
- Achievements Aren’t Highlighted: ”I have a list of things I look for on a resume, but if there’s one that’s most important, it’s achievements,” said Linda M. Duffy, SPHR President. “Depending on the position I’m trying to fill, I can get 300-plus resumes in response to an ad. I was hiring a recruiter for one of my clients a couple of months ago. Recruiters all pretty much have the same job description: source candidates, post ads, review resumes, interview candidates, etc. If that’s how your resume reads, I’ve got another 300 that read just like it. I don’t need a job description; I need to know how you did it better than the other 300 candidates. How many jobs did you fill? What’s the length of service of the people you hired? By how much did you cut recruiting costs or the time it takes to fill positions? That’s what will set you apart from other candidates.”
- Cover Letters: Duffy says cover letters are a complete waste of time. She said “If it’s important, put it in your resume. I have 300-plus resumes to review, and I don’t need to read that extra piece of paper or email.”Callie Miller, Recruiter for High Profile, Inc., said when we review resumes we look for consistent work history, tenure, and the formatting of the resume (this includes spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors). “Usually, we do not pay much attention to cover letters or overly wordy resumes.”
- Objectives Section: Not all headhunters may agree but objective statements are not important. “The objective is obvious; to get the job you’re applying for. Objective statements tend to waste precious space on the resume,” said Rhiannon Poore, Marketing & Communications Manager for FGP International. A summary can be better than an objective, says Alan Fluhrer, CEO of Fluhrer & Bridges, a boutique recruiting firm in Los Angeles. “They can both say the same thing, but an objective may pigeon hole a candidate in the eyes of the reader. A summary can offer more broad appeal. It also focuses on the readers needs.”
- Claims: That is, no, “I’m a strategic, clear thinker, I can work alone or in a group” etc. “Make it factual,” says Peter Bell, President of Peter Bell & Associates. Instead of strategic clear thinker, say something like “I have managed a group of five, as well as acted alone as an in-house communications department.”
- The Length of a Short Novel: Two pages, tops, no more, ever, says Bell.
- Fluff: Lindsay Olson, a recruiter for Paradigm Staffing, defines “fluff” as the adjectives everyone uses to describe themselves. “Words like detail-oriented, hard-working, multitasker are invisible to me. Content is most important. I need to see the basics—dates, employer, position, and then I want to know what the candidate did in the position. Accomplishments, numbers, percentages, dollar figures, etc. draw my attention. If the person is in the service industry, I look for client names and industry specialties. These are the main points that tell me if the person has the type of experience my client is looking for. Once I can see it, then I look deeper,” she said.
“What separates the winners from the losers in the job search process is that the winners are able to show the value that they have brought to their employers. Most resumes are just about duties and responsibilities. Chances are we already know, by virtue of your job title, what you were supposed to be doing at work. Without showing accomplishments on your job, we have no way of telling whether you were marginally competent or a superstar. To break away from the clutter and to stand out from the crowd, a resume needs to feature achievements and results,” said Bruce Blackwell, Managing Partner for Career Strategies Group.