Three things employers want to see in your resume

The three things that employers want to see in your resume

Peter Harris|

Because our recent article, the three things employers want to see in your social media profiles resonated with so many people, we decided to take a similar look at the very essentials of a resume.

In this business, I end up reading many, many theories about job interview tricks and resume strategies for getting hired. The thing is, most of these over-complicate the situation by diving into the minutia of what is actually a fairly straightforward process. When it comes down to it, resumes are boring to read, and hiring managers are busy. There are really only three things that they want to see in your resume, and these shouldn’t come as a mystery to you.

(And in our recent analysis of recruiter behaviour on resumes stored in the Workopolis resume database we found that the vast majority of employers spend (far) less than 11 seconds on a resume before shortlisting it or moving on. So they want to find what they’re looking for quickly.)

Here’s what employers want to see in your resume:

    1. That you care about the job you’re actually applying for

    The first thing an employer is going to notice is if your resume is relevant to the job that they are hiring for. Do you live close enough to the job to reasonably commute to it? Does your title closely match the job you’re applying to? Make sure that you have tailored the way you describe your experience and accomplishments to demonstrate how they can benefit the job you’re applying for. Employers don’t want to guess how your credentials apply to their role. Make it clear.

    Once while hiring an editor in Montreal, I received a resume from a poet in Halifax. The candidate didn’t explain anything about planning to move to Montreal or how they planned to do the job remotely. They just emailed in a resume for a position in a city they didn’t live in.

    Similarly, while I can see how the precise use of language involved in crafting poetry could lend itself to the role of professional editor, I shouldn’t have to do that math myself. When applying for a job as an editor, be an editor (in this case one who also happens to write and publish poetry.)

    2. That you have the qualifications to do the job

    Employers often complain that the majority of resumes they receive for their jobs are from candidates who simply aren’t qualified to do the job. Too many people think that they can increase their chances of being hired by applying to more jobs. It doesn’t work like that. Getting hired doesn’t happen by dumb luck like guessing the right lottery numbers. (Here’s how to actually become luckier.)

    You increase your chances of being hired by sending out relevant, tailored resumes specifically to jobs that you are qualified for and would actually like to do. You don’t need to meet 100% of the requirements that job postings ask for, employers have been known to inflate the credentials required for positions to a ‘wish-list’.

    Just make sure that you have at least 75% of the qualifications asked for. Lay them out in easy-to-read sentences and bullet points, and highlight your past accomplishments to show how you’re a stand-out candidate who can excel at the job.

    3. That you have common sense

    If you are sending in a resume to highlight your qualifications for a job, and that resume is riddled with typos or grammatical errors, what does that say about your work ethic or attention to detail? (See: How to proofread.)

    Don’t make employers have to work hard to find what they’re looking for. Format your resume all in the same font in a pleasing and easy-to-read layout. Only include information that is relevant to the job you’re applying for.

    It doesn’t matter if your resume is one page or two – so long as what is there is compelling and helps build the case for your candidacy.

    Other common sense resume tips include:

    • Don’t make demands about what you want from an employer in an objective statement off the top, summarize your key qualifications instead.
    • Don’t list your strange hobbies or interests.
    • Don’t have a ‘cutesy’ email address.
    • Do include an email address and phone number that you check regularly. (I’ve actually received a fairly strong resume that had only an email address for the contact information, and that email returned an ‘undeliverable’ bounce back.) [See: Three reasons you never hear back from employers.]

    These three categories of what employers really look for in the resume could be summarized as: is this a relevant and qualified candidate for the job who seems professional and career-savvy. Because that’s who they want to meet in an interview.

So show them that you want the job, you can do the job, and that you’re sharp and motivated enough to pay attention to detail. (And then get ready for the only job interview question that matters.)


Peter Harris
Peter Harris on Twitter

Category: Resumes and Cover Letters
  • Staff Checking

    This article is a big help for newly grads who are looking for their
    first jobs. With all the competition they are about to face these
    information will give them a know-how they can use to be prepared for

    • Richard Derek

      Huh? This article tells new grads not to bother applying for jobs – if you don’t have the experience (which you don’t have because you were in school getting the education for the position) then you won’t get the job.

  • yury

    i have never applied for a job i am not qualified i would not be employed right now. i took chances and applied for jobs i was not qualified and 2 times i got interviews and was hired. received training and now i am a PM.

    • Rick Brown

      If one does not apply for jobs they are not qualified for. Then how does one get experience or qualifications.

    • Rob lover

      Excuse my ignorance, but what is a “PM?”

    • Guest

      Excuse me, what is a “PM”?

  • Evios

    Usually, I always apply for job where I have the at least 85/90% of essential qualifications, that I think is reasonable. By the way, talking about recruiters, I receive emails from them thru job boards where they invite me to apply for positions I am very marginally qualified for. Why don’t they check my resume either before sending these emails?

  • Canwegian

    How does anyone with more than just basic experience manage to keep their resume to one or two pages, if they also wants to properly account for the experience as well as skills? It seems self-contradicting to me.

  • Richard Derek

    How can you be an Editor until someone hires you to be an Editor. A large part of the problem with qualifications is that employers don’t want to give employees a chance to do a job.

  • T.H

    I’ve been to interviews where the interviewer has stated that experience means nothing, and in that case, what criteria was used to determine who got an interview? I don’t know how one gets an interview when you take experience out of the equation!! I don’t think some of these HR departments have a clue what they are doing!!

  • Rob lover

    Emails are not 100% reliable. I found out from sending resumes online that employers never replied to emails. The best way to get a job is pounding the pavement and going directly to the employers. An in-person approach is the best way to make a good first impression and I would never have applied for jobs if I never felt qualified to do them. It’s like applying for a lifeguard job when one can’t swim.

    • adhm

      please rob lover can you do me a favor ? send a copy of your resume tibe to gaid me on my e-mail is …….thank you

      • Rob lover

        I’ll do it later; right now I just got off work after working all day and am going to the movie theater in an hour. Thanks for your email; it’s nice to be able to send a resume to someone to get a critique about it.

        I’ve spent the last seven years doing mostly resumes for my brother who is computer illiterate, sending his resumes to employers online. He never graduated from high school, but I always say on his resumes that he did, and he never gets replies from emails in spite of that. Only email reply he got was from employers nobody wants to work for. He is an experienced truck driver, taxi driver, warehouse worker, and certified (and experienced) forklift operator, worked in retail for short period of time, got laid off after the Christmas rush, and this american retailer never called him back to work there, which is a mystery because he claims he did good work when he was there, “went beyond the call of duty,” said he did what he was told and then some. He spent the last two years doing seasonal work for the city and wants to find year-round work as opposed to seasonal work.

        I will email you a copy of my resume and his resume later. I had replies to some of my resumes. I could tell you of one employer I tried 20 years to get work from, sent resumes to them every year for 20 years and finally got one interview from them after deciding to try a different approach, which was stretching the truth on my resume. I took chances in my job searching. My brother unfortunately is too cautious to take chances.

        Got to go now. Thanks for reading and will email you later. Take care and have a nice day.

  • EMO

    The jobs are simply not there… do we look at all these details to hire people at Tim Hortons, or McDonalds or in all these low paying jobs….. I think not

    • WhatHappenedToCanaduh

      We’re reaching the point where even terrible jobs have so much competition that every detail matters. Ridiculous but true.

      • Owen Rona

        Attrition ensures that “terrible jobs” will always be in demand. But you’re right, many Entry Level jobs of anyone’s dream job/career require at least 1 yr of relevant experience.

        Best to take Coops or Internships at first and show commitment by trying to transition to perm after. Job hopping never bodes well.

        Hope that it helps. ☺

  • Laura Johnson Cyr

    The biggest problem is that our expectation is to be a wage slave to a corporation instead of using what we have learned and creating our own business. I was surprised hearing Conrad Black during an interview say “business degree? What the hell is that? We train our own people our way.” Being old school myself and having had some high end jobs, I recall that I was recruited with a high school diploma and the oil company trained me and paid me very well. The only university degrees to be found there were the engineers …professionals were special skills are needed. Now people are graduating without anything to fall back on. I just hired two house painters who were best friends in high school. They got a summer job working for a professional house painter and wound up staying with him for five years. He taught them everything he knew and helped them start their own business. He was not afraid of the competition because he knew there is a serious shortage of qualified trades people. A year later I called them back for another painting job and they were booked for the next six months. Rather than disappoint us because we were one of their first customers when they were starting up, they gave up their weekend to paint for us.

  • Ally

    On the very first point, if you did live elsewhere (either different city or country) where on your resume would you explain why you are applying for a job in a different location? I thought it would look odd if that’s how the resume started. Any pointers?

    • Efrem

      You mention in your cover letter that you are willing to relocate.

  • terryannrittenhouse

    I think one of the biggest problems is that HR staff, who now do the screening, have never actually worked at anything but HR. Most that I have run into at the preliminary stages are in their 20s.They don’t seem to understand transferable skills.

  • smallstar

    Authenticity also plays a role… I just came across this site – the
    program hasn’t launched yet but if you put your info in it’ll connect you to IT
    jobs in Toronto once it does. It basically verifies what you write on your
    resume and matches you to companies that specifically want verified applicants.
    I wouldn’t recommend this if you lie on your resume but if you don’t, it
    definitely looks good to have your resume verified on top of these 3 recommendations.

  • smallstar

    Authenticity also plays a role… I just came across this site – the don’t think the program has launched yet but if you put your info in it’ll connect you to IT jobs in Toronto once it does. It basically verifies what you write on your resume and matches you to companies that specifically want verified applicants. I wouldn’t recommend this if you lie on your resume but if you don’t, it definitely looks good to have your resume verified on top of these 3 recommendations.