As a former search firm recruiter, I am often asked “How long do you take to screen a resume and what do you look for when reading them?” There is the first incorrect assumption: Resumes are not read by most recruiters. They are scanned the way most of us scan websites looking for information. Think about the last time you looked at a website: We don’t read websites, we scan them to look for specific keywords and phrases and to assess the visual feel to decide if we should keep clicking through the website or move on to the next search result. If we don’t see words we like/need or we don’t like the visual feel of the website, we move on to the next result that is provided by your search engine. This process can take most of us as little as 15 seconds.
When performing the initial scanning of resumes to determine which candidates I would call, I always looked for and I have trained numerous recruiters to seek out) the following initial pieces of information:
- What Job Are You Applying For? – Have a Target Title: In your summary section, have a target title outlining the job you are pursuing. Don’t risk letting the recruiter have to decide what job you are applying for within their company. It is possible they won’t decide and will put you in the ‘no’ pile and move on to the next candidate who spells it out for them. Or they may wrongly assume the role you are pursuing. Or worse, they may realize what job you are applying to but peg you as a poor communicator because you are not clear.
- Where Did You Work? Knowing where you work gives the recruiter context to your targeted job title. The Director of Marketing at the local doctor’s office and The Director of Marketing at a Fortune 500 company are two different jobs despite having the same title. Make your employers’ names easy to read and identify, as it helps the recruiter place your experience into context.
- How Long Did You Work There & When? Recruiters need to know the chronological order of your employment. Period. Functional resumes and any format that disguise the dates do the exact opposite of what job seekers want in using these formats—and it annoy recruiters since they have to work to find the dates and put things in context. If you were a Director of Marketing 15 years ago versus a Director of Marketing today, those are two different jobs even though they share the same title. If you had the job for 10 months versus 10 years, that tells a recruiter two different stories. A recruiter must have time frame for your resume to have meaning.
- Where Are The Numbers? Recruiters may not take the time in this initial screen to read every statistic and detail, but recruiters want to see bottom-line results on a resume upon first scan. When I scan a resume and see no results present in the content, it automatically makes me wonder if this person is achievement driven. Companies do not want to hire task masters—they want achievers. Having numerical measurement in some form, whether it be money, time saved, relationships built, can set forth a subliminal impression that you are an achiever and that can express yourself comfortably in that manner.
- Where Did You Go To School? Again, knowing where you went to school helps recruiters put things in context. This is not to assume recruiters always want to see that you went to an Ivy League school. If you attended a local regional school and went on to a Fortune 100 management job, that tells a great story. If you went to a prominent school and are engaged in a start-up initiative, that tells an intriguing story. All the pieces, of which education is one, contribute valuable additions to your story.
- Does Your Resume Look Good And Is It Easy To Read? When a recruiter reads your resume, you do not want him/her to wonder, “What were you thinking with this format?” – Is the format dated, poorly formatted, visually unappealing and or simply hard to read or understand? If a recruiter does not notice anything about your formatting, then you are at least not doing damage to your presentation. Ideally, you want the person reading your resume to think, “This person gets it” when they click open your resume. You have less than 5 seconds for that first impression and only one shot to get it right.