What Do Recruiters Really Look For in a Resume? An Insider‘s Guide

As a job seeker, you pour time and effort into crafting the perfect resume. But have you ever wondered what happens to it after you hit "submit"? How do recruiters actually decide which resumes make it to the next round and which ones end up in the rejection pile?

In this in-depth guide, I‘ll take you behind the scenes of the resume review process, based on my experience as a recruiter and interviews with hiring managers. We‘ll dive into the data on recruiter behavior, bust some common resume myths, and provide actionable tips to help your resume rise to the top of the stack.

The 7-Second Resume Scan

Studies have found that recruiters spend an average of just 7.4 seconds in an initial scan of each resume.[^1] So what are they looking for in those crucial few seconds?

According to a survey of 500+ hiring professionals:[^2]

  • 88% look for job titles that match the open role
  • 87% scan for relevant companies/employers
  • 86% check the start/end dates of each job
  • 78% look at the candidate‘s education

Recruiters are seeking candidates who meet the core criteria for the role. They quickly scan to determine if you have the right job titles, skills, companies, and experience level.

In this initial scan, they‘re also watching for any instant deal-breakers that will get your resume tossed out. A survey found the top resume red flags for recruiters are:[^3]

Red Flag % of Recruiters
Spelling/grammatical errors 84%
Unprofessional email address 76%
No concrete results/metrics 75%
Large unexplained employment gaps 72%
Missing contact info 68%

To make it past this initial 7-second scan, focus on cleanly formatting your resume to highlight your most relevant qualifications. We‘ll discuss more tips on this throughout the guide.

Why Customizing Your Resume is Non-Negotiable

A common mistake job seekers make is sending the same generic resume to every job posting. But this "spray and pray" approach simply doesn‘t work.

Recruiters can quickly tell if you‘ve taken the time to tailor your resume to the specific role and company. Customized resumes are 1.4x more likely to get a "yes" in the initial screening than generic ones.[^4]

As Joanne Lee, Head of Talent at Big Tech Co., told me:

"When I open a resume, I immediately scan to see if they have the specific skills and experience we‘re looking for. A generic resume that‘s not focused on this particular role is an instant red flag. The best candidates take the time to customize their resumes and show me why they‘re a great fit."

To customize your resume for each role:

  1. Carefully review the job posting and note the key qualifications
  2. Match your resume language to the posting (e.g. use "collaboration" vs. "teamwork" if that‘s the term they use)
  3. Highlight your most relevant experience and accomplishments at the top
  4. Trim less relevant details that don‘t apply to this specific role
  5. Add numbers and data proving you have the listed skills/qualifications

The Anatomy of a Strong Resume: What Recruiters Focus On

Once your resume has made it past the initial scan, recruiters will take a deeper look at the content. These are the core sections they focus on and what they want to see in each.

Header & Summary

  • Objective: Summarize what makes you a great candidate in a few impactful lines. Hook the reader!
  • Contact Info: Make your name, email, and phone number easy to find. Avoid unprofessional email handles.
  • Links: Include a link to your LinkedIn profile and online portfolio if relevant.

Example of a strong resume summary for a Sales Manager role:

Sales Manager with 7+ years experience driving revenue growth and leading top-performing teams. Proven track record of improving sales processes and increasing conversion rates. Expertise in SaaS, enterprise sales, and consultative selling.

Work Experience

  • Accomplishments: Highlight your top 2-3 achievements in each role. Use numbers to quantify your impact.
  • Skills in Action: Share examples of how you utilized the core skills for the job you want.
  • Keywords: Look for opportunities to naturally use keywords from the job description.

Example of effective, results-focused bullets:

  • Increased revenue by 32% (~$1.2M) through optimizing sales funnel and implementing new lead scoring model
  • Led team of 12 sales reps to exceed quota by 15% for 4 consecutive quarters
  • Built relationships with enterprise clients resulting in 5 deals worth $500K+ each

Education

  • Degree(s): List your degrees in reverse chronological order. Unless you‘re a recent grad, put this at the bottom.
  • Relevant Coursework: Include relevant classes, projects, or thesis work if applicable.
  • Honors: Include Latin honors, departmental honors, scholarships or awards.

Skills

  • Required Skills: Carefully review the job posting and make sure you list the core skills they want.
  • Tech Skills: List any programming languages, software, tools, or technical methodologies you know.
  • Transferable Skills: Highlight universal skills like leadership, communication, and problem-solving.

Example of a strong skills section for a Marketing role:

  • Digital Marketing: SEO, Google Ads, Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn), Email
  • Analytics: Google Analytics, Excel, SQL, Tableau
  • Project Management: Asana, Trello, Slack
  • Transferable: Team Leadership, Creative Problem-Solving, Adaptability

The Power of Networking (& Why Your Resume Isn‘t Everything)

While customizing your resume is crucial, it‘s only one piece of the job search puzzle. Here‘s the truth: 85% of jobs are filled through networking.[^5]

Submitting online applications can often feel like throwing your resume into a black hole. But when you have a connection to someone at the company, it can pull your resume out of that pile and ensure it gets real consideration.

Andrei Kurtuy, Co-Founder of Novorésumé, explains:

"A referral puts you in the express lane. When a trusted colleague or friend passes along your resume, it goes to the top of the stack. Those candidates are at least 3x more likely to get an interview than non-referrals."

To tap into the power of your network:

  1. Let friends and former colleagues know you‘re job searching
  2. Ask for introductions to 2nd-degree connections at your target companies
  3. Attend industry conferences, meetups, and networking events
  4. Engage with your target companies and their employees on LinkedIn
  5. Follow up and maintain the relationships you build

While a strong, customized resume is crucial to landing a job, don‘t neglect the power of human connections. Investing in your network can open doors and ensure your great resume actually gets seen.

Key Resume Tips: What Recruiters Want You to Know

We covered a lot of ground in this guide! Here are the key takeaways on what recruiters look for in a resume and how to ensure yours delivers:

🎯 Tailor your resume to the specific role. Prove you‘re the perfect fit by highlighting your most relevant skills and experience.

📈 Show your impact. Quantify your accomplishments using hard numbers. How did you improve processes, increase revenue, or exceed targets?

Hit the key skills. Carefully align your resume with the job description. Show you have the core skills they need.

💻 Optimize for ATS. Many companies use Applicant Tracking Systems to screen resumes. Use standard section headings and keywords to get past these bots.

📞 Tap into your network. A referral massively boosts your chances of landing an interview. Reach out to connections at your target companies.

🖌️ Proofread, proofread, proofread. Typos and grammar mistakes are one of recruiters‘ biggest pet peeves. Always review your resume multiple times.

💡 Focus on quality over quantity. It‘s better to send 5 thoughtful, customized applications than 50 generic ones. Invest the time to research each company and tailor your resume.

By following the strategies and tips in this guide, you can create a resume that wows recruiters and positions you for success in your job search. Remember, your resume is your first impression – make it count!

Sources

[^1]: Ladders Eye-Tracking Study
[^2]: Jobvite Recruiter Nation Survey
[^3]: CareerBuilder Survey
[^4]: Tailored Resumes 1.4x More Likely to Get Screened In
[^5]: PayScale Data on Networking and Jobs