The Few Things On Your Resume That Matter

Job-hunters spend hours, if not days or weeks, honing their resumes to a fine point. They’re hopeful that their tweaks and optimizations will do just enough to grab the attention of job recruiters and managers. But much of that work may be in vain, because resumes often only get a few seconds to do their jobs before they’re dismissed.

Citing a study by TheLadders (PDF), Business Insider says the powers that be burn through your resume at top speed, pausing only to check out your name, info involving your current position, your previous job and education. Busybody hiring types tend to skip through that nonsense about your experience and responsibilities, focusing only on your starting and ending dates.

You should be so lucky to get your resume some face time with an actual person. Some employers use programs that scan resumes for key words, disregarding others that lack what they’re looking for.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t work hard on making your resume look good. But you’re probably better off spending your time making contacts, creating work that sells you as an employee and maybe hounding power brokers for letters of recommendation.

What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume [Business Insider]

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  1. jvanbrecht says:

    When I go through resumes, if what I need is not on the first page.. I will dump it.. I have received 7 or 8 page resumes… I will only continue to look at the rest if what I am looking for is on the first page.

    • flyingember says:

      and if you ever hire someone who doesn’t work out I hope you change your practice.

      • Quake 'n' Shake says:

        Sayeth someone who has likely never screened a resume or hired an individual.

        When you have dozens of resumes/applications to go through, you have to filter somehow. If what a manager needs is not on the first page, then that means it’s either something:
        A) The applicant is unqualified/inexperienced with
        B) Not something the applicant is interested in doing.

        There’s no reason for jvanbrecht to change his practice.

      • ckspores says:

        I have a similar rule. First of all, I still believe in a short and sweet resume. I understand that someone with years of experience or lots of education probably needs more pages, but if your first page doesn’t catch my eye why the hell would I continue to trudge through your resume? Also, HUGE resumes don’t even get considered. I don’t care how much experience you have. In my industry if you can’t list your work experience, skills, and education in less than three pages, I don’t want you.

      • nishioka says:

        8 page resumes are for goofballs. Keep it short. Pages 2-8 are for when the interviewer asks you to describe what you currently do or used to do.

      • kobresia says:

        Keeping the resume to a single page (two including cover letter) shows that someone is organized, concise, and has a concept of relative importance of achievements and experience. For the most part, if a resume is over a page, the applicant is obviously doing something wrong.

        The folks reviewing resumes don’t have the time to read each applicants’ life stories. They’re looking for a picture of what someone has done and how it’s relevant (if it’s not self-explanatory).

        They’re not interested in the irrelevant stuff. They’re not interested in digging through a lot of garbage that explains self-explanatory things to find what they’re looking for. They’re not interested in feeble attempts to explain how irrelevant work experience can somehow be imagined to be relevant.

        A one-page resume is the on-paper equivalent of an elevator pitch. You have only a tiny window of opportunity to make your case and sell yourself, if you can’t do that, you’ve lost your chance.

        • RandomHookup says:

          I review resumes for a living and two page resumes are fine. The people that do one page resumes and have over 10 years of experience end up squeezing things that they don’t look very good or they end up looking like they are hiding something.

        • larissa_j says:

          Depending on your field and how long you have been in it (i.e. IT) it is perfectly acceptable for you to have more than 1 page. In some cases people in IT may have up to 6. People who have multiple technologies, languages, certificates, etc to list and have worked at multiple companies and worked on multiple operating systems or pieces of hardware and projects? You can’t possibly expect them to keep it to one page. Even I have three pages and I don’t even have my Bachelors of Science in Computer Science yet but I’ve worked at two Fortune 500 companies that deal either in Computer hardware or software.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      I think a lot of it must depend on your field.

      There are many fields where a long CV or resume is the norm, where you’re expected to list publications, presentations, certifications, major projects, etc. It’s fairly routine to have a two page resume and 3-5 pages of other stuff. The key is to put the most important stuff on the first page and the drudgery in the back.

      • racermd says:

        Having been on both sides of the table, I’ve learned quite a bit about what makes a good resume.

        First, keep it to one page. If what you want to convey to a hiring manager won’t fit on a single page, trim some of the less relevant stuff. The resume is like a billboard where you get, at most, a few second of someone’s time to view it. Make the most of that time by keeping it to the highest-level stuff, like the article says. If an interviewer wants to know more, they’ll ask in an interview. In fact, leaving out fine details from the resume is a good way to have some short (positive) stories about your previous experience to tell during an interview. Things like references and detailed work history can be written up separately and supplied upon request.

        Second, be completely honest when trying to sell yourself. A good hiring manager can suss out falsehoods pretty quickly. Lying is the quickest way to get yourself into trouble.

        Lastly, customize your resume for the field in which you are submitting yourself for. If you have some experience in an unrelated field, give it a short summary to save room to show experience in a field that IS related.

        In other words – Keep it short, to-the-point, and relevant to the potential employer.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          “First, keep it to one page.”

          I think that really depends on one’s industry. In my field, an analyst or PI who doesn’t list publications or major projects, wont make it to an interview.

          • history_theatrestudent says:

            Was just going to say, within education particularly higher education an instructor’s resume or vita is a few pages long. It includes not only their education, but research background, publications, writings, and even past courses taught.

    • Buckus says:

      I once saw a resume that was six pages long because the applicant used a large font, wide margins, and liberal use of white space. Needless to say he didn’t get considered.

    • jonroknrol says:

      At a cable network I worked at back in the earlier 2000’s, we got a resume from a guy that was at least 10 pages long. Every other page was a picture he enclosed of himself in standard hip hop gear (tilted hat, gold chains, baggy jeans and tee, etc), posing in different places and positions. On the final page he was holding his crotch, scowling at the camera. “Hustling his junk” was how a coworker referred to it.

      We kept that resume around just for laughs, but he didn’t even get a chance to interview.

    • huadpe says:

      There are contexts in which 7-8 pages or more can be relevant. E.g., we recently were hiring a graphic designer, and asked for applicants to submit a portfolio along with their resumes. Resume in that case should be 1-2 pages, and portfolio can be much longer.

      • OSAM says:

        A portfolio shouldnt be on 8.5×11 and should be presented at an interview: asking for a portfolio at the resume stage would get a link from me.

  2. chefboyardee says:

    I’m sure these things are accurate in the large corporate world, like banking, but not in my world. I’m a developer; I work for agencies, usually small to medium sized agencies. Every single resume that comes through our doors is looked at by at least 3 people before we decide if we’re bringing the person in for an interview, and then anywhere from another 2 to 5 or so people will see it after that. Even at the large agencies I’ve worked at, this has been the case – at least one person will read your entire resume. Every word DOES matter in my industry.

  3. Cat says:

    PPL PLS make sur yur speeling and gramar is correk.

    The only place that “Text speak” is ever acceptable is… in a text.
    That includes here on Consumerist, “PPL”

    JUST STOP IT!

  4. Gman says:

    Maybe for the corporate and finance sector. But my small-ish business? Heck no. Your resume and what you say in that and your cover letter matters a heck of a lot.

    I can definitively say that when I was hiring for my open positions these were [in order] what I looked for on a resume:

    – Skills/experience relevant to position
    – Work and education relevant to position
    – Brevity and quality of copy
    – Education [not always relevant - many, many self educated folks are excellent]
    – Cover letter [was for a copywriter position, so if they could not wow us on that, we had doubts]

    Name had absolutely nothing to do with it. Who cares what the person’s name is. Start and end dates only came in during the preparation for the interview itself.

    • huadpe says:

      Having done hiring for a small business, I’d generally agree with this. That said, there are things that could make me toss a resume within 10 seconds of looking at it. In the case of the last position I was hiring for, catastrophic errors of formatting were a major no-no (we were looking for a graphic designer). Had one kid who was just graduating from a for-profit technical school send me a resume with every bullet point indented to a different width. That one got canned quick.

      In most cases, a resume would spend about 2 minutes on my desk if it looked viable. I also have a preference towards more contact with an applicant rather than less, so I did maybe 20 callbacks on all the resumes that seemed reasonable. That only netted me about 3 in-person interviews, of which we picked one.

  5. Straspey says:

    I know this point has been discussed here previously at great length – however, it bears repeating…

    “The Few Things On Your Resume That Matter”

    # 1 – Grammar and spelling.

    I have a friend who works for the director of HR at a large corporation here in NY City. Her boss will immediately eliminate a resume if it has a spelling or grammatical error — the reason being, if you can’t pay close enough attention to submit a one-page resume with no errors – that does not speak well for the level of attention to detail you would give for a big company project.

    Poeple who Make mistakse like thosse dont stand a chance of having they’re resmes taken seriosly.

    • Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

      Poeple who make mistakes like those don’t stand a chance of having their resumes taken seriously.

      FTFY

      • TheWillow says:

        People who make mistakes like those don’t stand a chance of having their resumes taken seriously.

        FTFTFY

      • AtlantaCPA says:

        I have the image of a tall man walking into a short cave right now. (Pssst – I think Straspey did that on purpose)

    • Cat says:

      And further more, donut relied on spell check.

      • Yomiko says:

        Example: I saw a friend’s resume which listed his time in the “United State Navy.” He had been sending it to jobs for awhile.

        • RandomHookup says:

          Very common mistake::

          UNIVERSTY (or variation thereof), because most people accept the Microsoft Word default of not checking works in all caps.

    • StatusfriedCrustomer says:

      It’s weird that spelling matters on a resume. After all, once you get hired, it doesn’t matter ever again. I work with accountants who spell the principal (as in principal and interest) as “principle”. Doesn’t bother else on the job; in fact, they just pick up the habit and use it. And they’re perfectly good accountants – very thorough and conscientious. All spelling means on a resume is that you have at least one educated friend.

      • shepd says:

        It matters to me. I deal with people all the time via email where the spelling and grammar are so atrocious I have to request they rephrase what they are trying to say so it can be understood. And I’m just in IT.

        Also, when I do understand their email after a re-read, it’s not only distracting, but it’s a waste of time that could have been avoided if the company were to pay attention when hiring.

  6. Nobby says:

    I always include a link to my sonnet.

  7. ckspores says:

    Aside from the obvious (grammar and spelling, length, etc) I won’t continue to read a resume that is cluttered and wordy. Lots of applicants have seemingly lost their ability to write and speak in a succinct manner favoring resumes that take 30 words to say what could have been said in 10.

  8. Gambrinus says:

    The problem with these sorts of articles is that they’re usually only talking about the first screening. Whenever I’ve done hiring, the first step is to print out all the resumes (and usually someone else will be doing this too), and quickly sort them into two piles: “no” and “maybe.” Since you’re usually dealing with a huge number of resumes at this point, this is super quick and picky. Grammar mistake? That’s usually a “no.” Just how picky depends on how many resumes there are. You usually have a target number you’re trying to get down to in the “maybe” pile.

    THEN you go through them and read them in more detail, and sync up with whoever else is looking at them to decide who you actually want to interview. So yeah, people do this super fast read…but it’s not usually the only thing they do.

    Personally I never even looked at cover letters during the first pass. Took too long to read. That phase was mostly about making sure they had *some* sort of relevant experience and could put together a decent-looking resume.

  9. vorpalette says:

    I definitely agree about making contacts. I graduated college last year with a degree in Marketing, tons of recommendations and awards, and, after applying for ~500 jobs in a 500 mile radius, I ended up taking a low-level office position through a staffing agency. Now that I’m looking to move on, I’m really finding that networking is the way to go.

  10. sirwired says:

    The tiny fiddly tweaks to your resume may not matter to the HR or corporate recruiter drone with 200 to look through for one position, but they’ll matter a great deal to an interviewer, so he/she knows what to expect, and has an idea of what your skills are (or are claimed to be.)

  11. Nuc says:

    I hire technical IT folks and couldn’t care less about seeing a cover letter. I want your resume to be short and sweet. I find it hard to look over more than two pages when pouring through stacks of resumes.

    My pet peeves:
    a. poor grammar/spelling
    2. Not tailoring the resume to the job – I see too many generic resumes. Tell me how you experience is specific to what I am looking for; don’t make me try to figure that out.

    • Yomiko says:

      i.i.i. Mixing and matching styles in bulleted or numbered lists.

      • Princess Beech loves a warm cup of treason every morning says:

        Also, misuse of the phrase “could care less”, and “poring through pages”.

        • drjayphd says:

          Ooh, sorry, the OP actually used the correct form, which we all know is “couldn’t care less”. I’ll understand if your mind was so blown by the fact that someone on the Internet actually used it correctly that you couldn’t wrap your head around it.

      • lim says:

        four – inconsistent Capitalization or phrased sentences.

    • The_IT_Crone says:

      YES listen to this!

      To add to #2, I’ll read cover letters that state “I’m qualified because I meet requirements a-z” but when I look at the resume, I see no evidence of that. Clearly they are writing cover letters for each job, but not tailoring the resumes.

      Mistake.

    • larissa_j says:

      I’ve been told by multiple recruiters that they don’t read cover letters. They go straight to the resume to look for qualifications. They also don’t read references. If they want them, they’ll ask for them.

  12. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    This may be the greatest piece of information for job seekers ever. Scientificly sound, useful, and accurate. It’s tru recruiters spend only seconds with your resume the first time around, and knowing what they are looking at is paramountly important.

  13. NotLeftist says:

    The last people on earth who should be trusted with hiring tasks is HR. It’s always fun in my field trying to explain to some HR moron how high pressure liquid chromatography is not the same thing as fluid pressure liquid chromatography and why it matters.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Little do you know, they don’t do that. They ask the hiring manager what keys elements they are looking for (See: keywords) and do a search in the electronic resumes they receive. Then they give those to the hiring manager to look at, or might weed them down a little more based on criteria for all resumes.

      It’s seems completely unfair, boiling down a candidate search to if that person used the right keywords, but that’s how it goes these days.

    • RandomHookup says:

      Then it sounds like you need good recruiters (not HR people). There is a difference and, while some jobs can be really hard to grasp (especially if it’s a once in a blue moon type of role), they need to understand the business.

  14. delicatedisarray says:

    I read the entire resume, I even attack it with highlighters so it is easy for me to see what I thought was great and what was not so great and what I have questions about. I also have a second person do the same and then I compare the two. I will have that same second person sit in on the interviews also.

  15. humphrmi says:

    The thing to keep in mind here is, you have two audiences for your resume: HR / recruiters, to whom the advise in this article pertains. The second audience is the hiring manager, who is going to take a much more detailed look at your resume, if and when it lands on his or her desk. You want to write your resume for both.

    What I’ve found effective is a quick bullet point summary of my skills and knowlege just below my “Candidate Statement” and before all my work experience. Most scanning software that HR and recruiters use will pick these up, and if you’re a match, you’ve gotten past the first hurdle. Then below that I go into much more detail about where I’ve worked and what I’ve accomplished in each role. Hiring managers certainly appreciate that.

    At the same time, I keep it to 2-3 pages (I’m 48 and I have to drop a lot of stuff from my resume). Otherwise people think you’re a loon, listing the jobs you had when you were a teenager (unless you’re still a teenager.)

  16. sir_eccles says:

    Overseas/unusual education + computer resume scanning = round file

    • humphrmi says:

      Heh, so put MIT on your resume, and tell them later “Oh, did I say MIT? That’s a typo, I went to ETH Z√ºrich” :)

    • larissa_j says:

      Not really if you have the appropriate key words in your skills and/or technologies section and in your job history OR if you’ve pulled the job listing and you have the same words that are in the job listing somewhere in your resume. That’s how the software works (usually). If you have enough of the qualification and title key words in your resume that are in the job listing? You’ll probably get a call.

      That’s what they mean when they say ‘tailor your resume’ or at least that’s what they mean in IT. As long as you’re not being dishonest.

  17. ihatephonecompanies says:

    I wonder too… I see lots of advice on how to land the job, but how about the other side?

    Are bad spellers/spellcheckers ACTUALLY underperformers once they get a job, or do they just get disqualified because someone decides they want perfection on the resume?

    The only thing that seems absolutely clear to me is that job seeking is, in itself, a skill. I’ve seen no evidence of any sort that good job seekers = good employees.

    • AtlantaCPA says:

      I recall some study that showed that good interviewees were not correlated at all to good job performers in almost all fields. Yet we still insist on the traditional interview.

      So to answer your question and at least in terms of “interview skills” they are completely unrelated to job skills. I am willing to bet that spelling mistakes on the resume does have some connection to job skills, especially a job involving some written communication, but that’s just my hunch. Let us know if you find a study on that one.

      • Anna Kossua says:

        AtlantaCPA – I can believe that. Especially when they offer up what I call “pageant” questions, things like “where do you see yourself in five years?” and the like. Those questions always have a specific style of answer they want to hear, so you either give them the approved response, or you risk it and answer truthfully.

        It’s my opinion that those types of questions only reveal whether a candidate is good at “playing the game.” If the job opening is for a motivational speaker or a salesman, it could make sense. But it sure as heck doesn’t reveal whether a person is good at much else.

    • larissa_j says:

      I knew a guy who could ace an interview and knew exactly what they wanted to hear. He worked as an IT contractor for the same contracting company I worked for. We often worked on the same campus and worked in the same software development teams.

      For all that he was an excellent interviewee? He sucked as an employee. Slacked off during the day. Took long lunches. Other employees had to cover his workload. You know the type?

  18. cromartie says:

    I’ll make the effort to provide you the information you need as succinctly as possible. I’ll ensure that my grammar and spelling is correct.

    That said, I have a ton of experience in my field doing intensive, complex work with significant results.

    If you can’t be bothered to read it, I’m not terribly interested in working for you.

    Further, every hire matters to the success of the business, so for the life of me I can’t figure out why the priority of people doing hiring is to do the hiring as fast as possible.

  19. Shine-runner says:

    I once took a job that was really low paying, it was how to make sales in a special way. My spelling has major suckage. But I had to produce a book on how to sell this product. A lot of people complained that my spelling and grammar sucked. But yet I produced million dollar sellers. Oh and I retired at the age of 37. I never had a resume. If everything has to be perfect, then you wouldn’t hire Albert Einstein

  20. larissa_j says:

    This is crap advice for IT people. Sorry but it is. They ignore letters of recommendation unless they ask for them. Won’t even read them. They also don’t read cover letters. Throw them away in fact.

    Key words, skills, technologies are everything. And your job experience DOES count in IT. Jesus Christ but read the job description. Are you even qualified? If you are, does your resume indicate it?

    Because if it asked for coding and your resume doesn’t say you can code? In any respect? You aren’t going to get an interview.

  21. Egregious Philbin says:

    I am an HR Director, I have seen thousands of resumes. They get a few seconds each (none on paper any more, I have an applicant tracking software). Five to ten seconds total, I have the luxury of setting up screening questions with point totals and knock-out answers. If you answer something that doesn’t hit the minimum requirements for the job, you are gone…