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What recruiters look for in a resume

I’ve read, evaluated and written literally hundreds of resumes. Clients come to me and want to know what can they do to help their resumes stand out. They ask – "What do recruiters look for in a resume?"

By Kendell Brown

Kendell Brown is a member of the iRelaunch Career Coaching team. Founder of Ascension Careers and a relauncher herself, She works with clients with to ascertain and achieve their career goals via strategic planning, positioning and branding assessments, identifying transferrable skills and providing counsel for working through challenging work situations. Kendell is an iRelaunch professional resume writer and offers discounts to the relauncher community. Learn more about this service here.

Recruiters are looking for a candidate that has the experience and skills to effectively perform in the role. Employers use resumes to help winnow down the pool of candidates to a manageable number. However, they have little time to make the “Yea” or “Nay” decision, so a well-designed and smartly-written resume is critical if you want to move to the interview stage. The resume is Step One in the vetting process, the leverage the list below to get you to Step Two – the interview.

Keyword Rich

Use the job posting, industry knowledge and company research to familiarize yourself with the language and jargon that will impress. Consider revising responsibilities, results, job titles, etc. so that they you showcase their relevance if they don’t match the posting. Ensure that you include these keywords on your resume while being careful to avoid a “keyword dump” – your resume needs to be understood by both HR generalists and technical experts. Ask a friend (in an unrelated field) to read your resume? If she understands the general gist – you are good to go.

Visual Ease

Resist the “more is more” temptation. Strike a balance between white space and content. If someone needs a magnifying glass to read your resume – they won’t. Use a standard font (Arial or Times New Roman are personal favorites) and size (10-12 point). Formatting is your friend – create section headings, use bullet points, employ 0.75’ to 1” margins and emphasize key points with a sparing use of underlines, bold and/or italics. Translate your experiences to resume “speak” – eliminate first person, use concise sentence structure and compelling yet descriptive language.


Highlight projects and responsibilities that relate to the specific role for which you are applying. Employers value experience related to position they want to fill. Use your resume to show that you can do the job and that you’ll hit the ground running. Are you a career switcher? Highlight prior experiences (paid and unpaid) that are most similar to what you’ll be doing next. Remember, the entirety of your resume must be accurate. However, it doesn’t need to be proportional. If a 4-month project was the catalyst for your new career direction, it’s ok for that project to feature prominently.

Career Progression

Tell the story of your career and your history of success. Remember, when job searching it’s not the time to be modest. Highlight promotions (on time and early), awards, recognitions, responsibility growth and career moves that portray you as someone that performs at or above expectations. Did you have a short career? Demonstrate progression through outside activities - detail going from PTA member to PTA Asst. Treasurer to PTA President.

Hard and Soft Skills

Hiring managers value hard skills because they verify you have the technical know-how to get the job done. Furthermore, possessing these skills from Day One typically means you’ll have a flatter learning curve and can start contributing sooner. However, if you really want to pack a 1-2 punch, include soft skills on your resume. These are your innate talents and abilities that cannot be taught – you either have them or you don’t. Think “perseverance”, “bias for action”, “listening to understand” – these are the skills that can separate you from other candidates because they give a sense of whether you’ll be a cultural fit.

Accomplishments and Results

Illustrate how you make an impact. Include the outcomes of your work, ideally using quantifiable facts. Ensure that your resume speaks a language every reader will understand. No matter a manager’s title, department or industry, she/he/they understands numbers – the universal language. Those peak career moments that you want a reader to remember? The best way to highlight them is to use statistics/percentages/figures. Numbers have the benefit of being both concise and easily remembered.

Of course, you think you’ll be great in the position. Use your resume to get everyone else thinking the same thing.

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