What employers are really thinking when they read your resume
Knowing how employers look at resumes can help you craft it in the way that most appeals to them. So from talking with HR professionals and hiring managers I work closely with, analysis of employer behaviour on the resume pages in the Workopolis database, and my own experience hiring candidates over the years, here are some inside tips on how employers really look at the resumes they receive.
Before they even open it
I mentioned in an earlier article that I once received an application by a three-word email. The email subject line was the job title, but the entire body of the email was just: Please see attached. (Attached was the resume.) Hiring managers are people, and this minimalist, rather unfriendly approach to applying for a job can create a negative impression right off.
If you have the hiring manager’s name and email address, then address your email to them directly and add a note in the body of the email about why you’re enthusiastic about the job and potentially a good fit for it. It will change the way he or she looks at your resume.
Employers pay attention to detail. This is because they want to see if you’re paying attention to detail. I received a resume last year with the file name: Bill_Smith_Writer_Jobs_Updated_Resume2012.doc. From this before even opening the file, I assume that Bill Smith applies to multiple kinds of jobs, and this is the resume he uses to land a gig as a writer. He also may or may not have updated it in two years.
You can name your files however you need to in order to keep them organized in your own folders. Ideally however, when you’re actually using them to apply for a job, you should title it with your name and the name of the job. That will indicate to the employer that you’ve created a resume just for their position, and it will help with the organization on their end. For example, in the case of a Business Editor role, Bill’s resume could have been called: Bill-Smith_Business-Editor.doc.
At first glance
Too many advice articles tell candidates that their resume has to fit on one page only. This has caused some job seekers to squeeze all of their information onto a single page with tiny font and limited white space. Nobody’s going to read that. Use a reasonably sized 10-12pt font and an attractive layout for your resume. Employers will at least read your first page, and if the information is relevant, they’ll continue on to your subsequent pages.
Apply for the job at hand. If you’re applying for a job as a project manager, then make Project Manager the title of your resume. Too often, candidates have resumes titled with their previous job title, or their ultimate goal job title. If your resume seems to be for a different job than the one you’re applying for, employers may assume it’s a mistake and move on.
In the initial 10 second scan
Employers look at resumes tens of thousands of times every day on Workopolis. We can see in real-time how employers filter through resumes, how long they spend on each one, and what they look for the most.
Nearly 80 per cent of resumes viewed are passed over in fewer than 11 seconds. After the glance at the format and resume title, the first thing we look at is the candidate’s name. We want to see if we know you personally or have heard of you. People move around often within industries, so you frequently cross paths with people you’ve worked with or have some connection to.
Next we look at your current employment status and where you’ve worked recently. This will also give employers an indication if they know you – or if they know people who may know you. (Reference checks are not limited to the names you hand over – employers will ask anyone they know who’s worked at the same place as you what they think of you.)
Employers look for skills and accomplishments in resumes over education. The vast majority of employer resume searches are keyword based. However, only 1 per cent of keyword searches are related to degree type or specific education.
They search for specific skills. For more details on what employers actually do search for, see: The most searched keywords by industry.
Employers have numerous options for filtering the millions of resumes on Workopolis. They search candidates by skillset, experience, location, previous employers, and how recently a resume was updated, all much more than they scan for level of education.
Employers want to see your employment history clearly laid out in reverse chronological order. They want to see the relevant skills for their role that you’ve successfully used in the past. That success is measured by accomplishments – preferably ones that can be quantified with numbers.
Upon closer review
If your resume makes it past the initial scan, it can be shortlisted for further review. At this point hiring managers are choosing who to interview. Job interviews are time-consuming and can be stressful for employers too – so they don’t want to meet with too many candidates. In the closer reading of your resume, they’ll be looking for reasons not to call you in.
Spelling mistakes and typos will do it. If you can’t even produce error-free work when you’re most trying to impress us in order to get hired, what does that say about the quality of your work once you’re on the job?
More than one hiring manager told me that an unprofessional email address can also be a deal-breaker at this point. (Does anyone still use those?)
We’ll also look the finalists up online to make sure that there are no red flags on your social media profiles – and specifically that the information in your resume matches your LinkedIn profile. People can fudge dates and job titles on their resumes. That’s much harder to do on profiles connected to others in the company that can call them out for discrepancies. Make sure your online information matches your resume.
The real job of your resume is to successfully market your abilities to an employer so that they will want to find out more about you in a job interview. Employers start judging the quality of your application before they even open it. Make sure you take the time to customize your information for each job you apply for, pay close attention to detail, and make the right first impression.