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What Do Employers Look for in a Résumé?

You have 6 seconds to impress a recruiter with your résumé. Make every second count with these résumé writing tips.

For every job vacancy in the U.S., an average of 118 people apply.* And many companies now require you to submit your job application and résumé online, so you don’t even have the opportunity to interact with decision-makers early in the process. Now that the all-important first impression comes from a résumé, here’s how to write yours so it represents you at your best.

How to Write a Résumé Employers will Read: Insight into the Review Process

Recruiters and employers often know exactly what they’re looking for in an applicant, so they tend to quickly skim through large piles of résumés in search of specific keywords, phrases, skills, and experience. According to a recent study released by online job search site The Ladders, recruiters spend an average of 6 seconds scanning each résumé before making the “keep it” or “pitch it” decision.

What Do Employers Look for in a Résumé?

Pass the 6-Second Test With These Key Résumé Building Tips

When potential recruiters and employers scan through a pile of résumés, they look for specific keywords and red flags to let them know if the candidate is worth a second look. Think of your résumé as a sales pitch—and the product you’re trying to sell is you. If your sales pitch isn’t strong enough, recruiters and employers won’t be motivated to buy. These tips for résumé writing—what to do and what not to do—will help you position yourself as strongly as possible.

What Recruiters DO NOT Want to See on Your Résumé

  • Disorganization—If your résumé doesn’t follow the logical, organized structure that recruiters and employers expect, it will go in the “toss-it” pile. Important information must stand out, such as your:
    • Name
    • Current title/company
    • Current position start and end dates
    • Previous title/company
    • Previous position start and end dates
    • Education
  • Frequent job changes without explanation—Ideally, many employers want to see a steady work history with longer periods of employment at fewer companies, but that’s not always today’s reality. If you’ve listed several previous places of employment in a short span of a few years, make sure you highlight factors that demonstrate continued growth and professional motivation.
  • Large gaps between jobs—Once you account for job changes, you may be left with employment gaps. In real life, people sometimes go months without a job for understandable reasons that you can explain in a cover letter or brief personal statement:
    • Going back to college or trade school to increase your knowledge and skills
    • Inability to find work in a tight job market
    • Medical issues and family obligations
    • If you’ve been unemployed or self-employed, be certain to include specifics on any activities—even volunteering or other unpaid roles—that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.

  • Spelling and grammatical errors—Proofread your résumé, and then ask someone else to do the same. Obvious mistakes in spelling and grammar will make you less appealing to a savvy recruiter or human resources professional.

What Recruiters DO Want to See on Your Résumé

  • Polished professionalism—Your résumé format should be organized for quick scanning. List your current or most recent job first. Recruiters and employers don’t necessarily care about every job you’ve ever had, so stick with what’s recent and relevant. Ask someone to put your résumé through the 6-second test and tell you what stands out in that short time.
  • Effective job titles—When a job title is more descriptive, it will capture a weary recruiter’s eye. When you compare “accounting” with “manager of accounts receivable flow,” the latter stands out more.
  • Accomplishments, not just tasks—You should only have a sentence or two describing each position, followed by a bulleted list of your strongest accomplishments. Employers look for problem solvers and those who go above and beyond.

Beyond Tips: Professional Résumé Writing Help

If you cringe at the thought of writing your own résumé, consider hiring a professional résumé writer. If you’re finishing a degree program, contact your college or university’s student services department for help with your résumé.

At Walden University, an accredited institution with online degree programs, our Career Services Center helps students effectively use their degree to advance their careers using a wide variety of tools and resources, including résumé writing and building tips. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your professional goals.


*Forbes Magazine, “7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Your Job Search,” on the Internet at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jacquelynsmith/2013/04/17/7-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-your-job-search/

†The Ladders, Keeping an Eye on Recruiter Behavior Study, on the Internet at: http://cdn.theladders.net/static/images/basicSite/pdfs/TheLadders-EyeTracking-StudyC2.pdf

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.ncahlc.org.

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