What do recruiters look for in a resume?

March 12, 2015, 5:27 PM UTC
Businesspeople with resume
Photograph by Getty Images/Image Source

This question originally appeared in Quora. Answered by Ambra Benjamin, engineering recruiter

I think this varies from recruiter to recruiter and also depends on the role for which you’re applying. For one, I don’t look through stacks of resumes anymore. I hate paper. I do everything online. But I’ll highlight briefly how I personally absorb a resume. I should preface this by saying that I primarily recruit for senior-level individuals. In my past life I was a campus recruiter and you read resumes of new grads a bit differently since experience is less of a factor. I’ll address how I read a mid to senior level resume:

  • Most recent role: I’m generally trying to figure out what this person’s current status is and why they might even be interested in a new role. Are they laid off? Did they get fired? Have they only been in their role for a few months? Is their most recent experience relevant to the position for which I’m hiring?
  • Company recognition: Not even gonna lie. I am a company snob. It’s not even that I think certain companies are better than others (although some are). It’s purely a matter of how quickly can I assign a frame of reference. This is often more difficult to do when a candidate has only worked for obscure companies I’ve never heard of. When I can’t assign company recognition, it just means I have to read the resume a little deeper, which usually isn’t an issue, unless it’s poorly formatted and wrought with spelling errors in which case…you lost my interest.
  • Overall experience: Is there a career progression? Do they have increasing levels of responsibility? Do the titles make sense? Do the responsibilities listed therein match what I’m looking for.
  • Keyword search: Do they have the specific experience for the role I’m hiring for? I Command + F the crap out of resumes. On any given day I’m searching for things like Ruby on Rails, Mule, Business Intelligence, MBA, Consulting, POS, Cisco, Javascript, and seriously, anything you can think of.
  • Gaps: I don’t mind gaps so long as there’s a sufficient explanation. Oh you took 3 years off to raise your children? Fine by me, and might I add, I bow down. You tried your hand at starting your own company and failed miserably? Very impressive! Gap sufficiently explained. Whatever it is, just say it. It’s the absence of an explanation that makes me wonder.
  • Personal web presence: This includes personal domains, Twitter handle, GitHub contributions, dribbble account or anything a candidate has chosen to list. Two out of three times, I almost always click through to a candidate’s website or Twitter account. It’s one of my favorite parts of recruiting. Random aside: I care less about what people say on Twitter and more about who is following you and who you follow. So much insight gained by seeing who values your thoughts.
  • General logistics: Location and eligibility to work in the US
  • Overall organization: This includes spelling, grammar, ease of use, ability to clearly present ideas.
  • Total time it takes me to do all of above: Less than 30 seconds

*Note: I will likely later read the resume far more in depth, but only if I already know I like the candidate. It takes me less than a minute to fully digest a resume and flag that person for follow up. I read a resume pretty thoroughly once I know I will be speaking to that person on the phone. But I will not thoroughly read a resume of someone who did not pass the above categories.

Things I rarely pay attention to:

Education — In the last month alone having viewed hundreds of resumes, I honestly don’t remember looking at this section once. When I used to exclusively recruit MBAs, this was one of the first things I looked for because I was generally looking for top tier B-schools. When I used to be a campus tech recruiter, I immediately checked for top CS schools. But outside of my old campus recruiting days, I am not often looking at the education. I think this is because at the level I generally hire, it’s the least of what I’m looking for. Experience is king. I can think of a few exceptions where perhaps a hiring manager wanted a certain pedigree, but that’s happening less and less I find. I will also add that this changes drastically by industry and company. I currently work in tech, but I’ve also worked in management consulting and education is huge in consulting. I’ll also add that some tech companies care more about education than others — take Google (GOOG) or Facebook (FB ) for example (I’m using big companies just for name recognition).

  • Fancy Formatting: There are exceptions here. I say this with the caveat that I LOVE a creatively formatted resume. Love. In fact, on Pinterest, I’ve started collecting beautifully presented resumes. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if you’re applying to a position online, whether it’s a PDF or not, most companies’ applicant tracking systems parse your resume for information and convert it to pure text as the most immediate viewing format. Recruiters don’t often see how awesome your resume is. The original file is usually there for us, but most recruiters aren’t clicking through to that. If you’re going to do something fun with your resume, I recommend having a clean text resume as well whenever possible so it doesn’t come through our system looking wonky. Also, if the formatting is important, always send in PDF. Nine times out of ten, if I genuinely like a candidate and all I have is a text resume, I’ll ask them to send me the prettier version for when I present them to a hiring manager.
  • Uncomfortably personal details: There are legal reasons here. I learn to tune out certain things like marital status, family status (whether or not a person has children), reference to health or medical issues/triumphs, personal photos). Including things like this is common in CVs in other countries, but it seriously makes me uncomfortable when people include photos with their resumes. If I want to see what you look like, I’ll stalk you on LinkedIn… and maybe other places.
  • Cover letters: I abhor them and rarely read them. Most of my recruiting colleagues agree, but I know there are still recruiters that do. I find that a lot of candidates don’t even send them anymore (Hallelujah). If you’re going to send one, that puppy better be darn good. I’m of the mind that most companies that request cover letters only do so to weed out the people who haven’t bothered to read the directions.

Things I wish more people would do:

  • Bring personality into the resume: We recruiters are staring at these missives all day long. Throw a joke in there somewhere for goodness sake. Talk about how much you love Nutella (I have this in my own personal resume). If you’re a rockstar, throw some cheeky self-deprecation in there if you can do so elegantly. I think it’s important to keep the work experience details as professional as possible, but trust me, there are ways to have fun with it. I love an easter egg buried in a resume … figuratively speaking.
  • Include URLs for other web presences: Enough said. And within your comfort level of course. I get it. I don’t want professional acquaintances to see my Facebook page either.
  • List key personal projects: I ask this in almost every phone interview I do. “What kind of stuff are you working on in your free time?” I am always inspired by this. Also shows me that you have passion for your field beyond your 9 to 5 (ha, ha, like those even exist anymore).
  • Use color and lovely typography

Things I wish people would stop doing:

  • Using MS Word’s resume templates: Period.
  • Writing resumes in first person: Exceptions made for people who do it cleverly.
  • Allowing their resume to be a ridiculous number of pages: Unless you are a college professor with multiple published works, you do not need an 8+ page resume. That is not impressive; that is obnoxious. Condense that bad boy s’il vous plait. Also, I do not care that you worked at Burger King in 1988. I mean, good for you, but no; not relevant.
  • Mixing up first person and third person or present tense and past tense: Pick a voice, pick a tense, and then stick with it. I suggest third person and past tense.
  • Listing an objective at the top of the resume: Dude, seriously? This isn’t 1992.
  • Mailing, faxing, or hand-delivering paper resumes: Immediate disqualification. Do not pass go.
  • Sending resumes addressed to the CEO that end up on my desk unopened: This is a gross generalization here and exceptions are made for smaller companies, but um, CEOs don’t read resumes — not the first pass. Also see above re: paper resumes. P.S. We laugh at people who do this.
  • Exaggerating titles and responsibilities: Eventually the truth comes out.

(All of the above does not apply if you’re Tristan Walker or exude ridiculous amounts of awesomeness)

That is all. I know, this is more information than you ever wanted to know. Sorry.

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