Workopolis has literally millions of resumes in our database with roughly 1,000 new ones added daily. Analysing the content of these as well as employer behaviour on resume view pages (they view an average of 16,000 resumes every day on our site) shows us some distinct patterns.

How employers look for resumes

Employers most often use keyword searches to scan through online resumes. They look for words and phrases that are specific to the job they’re recruiting for. These same keywords are usually in the job description. Candidates should be sure to use them in their resume when applying, and then elaborate. Your resume is going to get noticed if the language you use matches the language used by the company.

Employers have numerous options for filtering the results of their keyword searches. Listed from most frequently used to least, they hone their resume searches by:

  • Skillset
  • Experience
  • Location
  • Previous employers
  • Date updated
  • Education


It comes as a surprise to many candidates that ‘education’ is one of the least used resume searches by Canadian employers.

What employers look for first in resumes

When employers are reviewing resumes to determine who to interview for the job, they generally spend mere seconds (fewer than 11) on each document before rejecting it or putting it aside for further review.

There are just a few key pieces of information that they look for in that initial scan that determine whether a resume makes the cut.

The first things employers scan for:

  • Your name
  • Your current job title and employer
  • The start and end dates of your most recent job
  • Your previous employer and job title
  • The start and end dates of your previous job
  • Your level of education


In that first roughly 10-second glance, everything else on your resume is just extra information that employers may or may not glance over for keywords related to the skills they’re looking for.

Show don’t tell

The trouble is, many people fill up their resumes with positive sounding descriptors of themselves and their work that they hope will impress employers.

A recent survey of 1300 senior managers asked the question “What is the most overused and meaningless phrase you see on resumes?

Their most common responses included:

  • Results-oriented
  • Self-starter
  • Flexible
  • Hard worker
  • Team player
  • Highly qualified
  • Problem-solver
  • People person


These turn up in so many resumes that they don’t serve to differentiate a candidate anymore. In fact they have the opposite effect by making the job seeker appear generic and cookie-cutter.

Since no one is ever going to claim to be a lazy, inattentive loner in their resume, being a detail-oriented, hardworking team player is just expected. Adjectives such as ‘creative’ and ‘excellent’ should be demonstrated by the quality of your work and accomplishments rather than stated outright. Creativity should be conveyed in a resume by the originality of your writing, not by calling yourself creative.

‘Motivated’ is likewise a judgement call for others to make, and further, it has no alternative. It is meaningless to claim to be motivated in a resume, because no candidate would ever describe him or herself as ‘unmotivated.’

Rather than claiming to be a highly-qualified self-starter, use concrete examples of professional achievements where you took charge and delivered results. Demonstrate your abilities with numbers and achievements rather than adjectives.

The first impression that employers most often have of candidates is through their resume. It is critical to stand out from the crowd of generic applications with a document that really sells your skills and accomplishments. This deserves more than a cut and paste positive sounding catch phrases from old resume templates.

Think about those things that actually most make you stand out on the job. Then write them down as they relate to the job you’re applying for, closely matching the language used in the job description. That’s how you come out on top.

See also:

Career inspiration from Elon Musk: 5 steps to becoming extraordinary

5 great career-related podcasts for 2017


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