Gain More Opportunities by Knowing How Recruiters Look at Resumes

screen with various resumes on it

You probably already know that in order to get your resume in a recruiter’s hands it takes networking, strategy and, sometimes, a little luck. If you don’t have some kind of connection to a recruiter at the organization you’re applying to, you have to rely completely on your resume to make an argument for you. 

The thing is, your resume will likely go through a process in the company’s Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before it can even get in front of a recruiter. So, you’ll need to take your time filling out the online application and structure your resume correctly so that it makes its way into the initial pool of qualified candidates.

Getting your resume through the ATS is only the first thing you need to consider when you’re drafting your resume. Once it makes it to the recruiter’s desk, it still needs to grab their attention long enough that they will read through it and move you forward in the process. 

On the surface, this might seem intimidating or overwhelming but you’ll have a serious advantage if you have a strong understanding of how the filtering process works and how recruiters actually review resumes that they get their hands on. While every organization and recruiter is a little different, here are some of the basics. 


woman at a laptopWriting Your Resume to Sell Your Story

Learn how to write a stand-out resume tailored to the job that highlights your job experience and skills, and gets noticed by recruiters and hiring managers. Read more.


Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

First things first, unless you’re applying to a very small company, your resume will probably go through an ATS. This is where you’ll fill out your personal information, check a few boxes and upload your resume. Some systems ask applicants to type out their job history or experience in addition to uploading their resume, and while that can be really frustrating on the applicant’s side, it’s important to take your time with it because oftentimes those answers are what the system uses to filter out candidates. 

If the ATS you’re submitting to only asks for your resume or LinkedIn profile, it has the ability to scan your resume for keywords. Usually, these ATSs are a little more forgiving in the filtering process than the others, but it’s still important to structure your resume so that it picks up on the information it needs to get you through to the next round of review. 

Tips for getting your resume through the ATS

Tips from a recruiter
💡 Use the job description as your guide. Don’t just pay attention to the qualifications, look closely at the responsibilities. The job description will have keywords popping out throughout the duties section, so take note of them and then revise your resume so that it aligns well with those responsibilities and mentions those keywords throughout.

💡 Don’t rush. Filling out an application with the information that can be found in your resume might not feel like the best use of your time, but this step is important. To optimize this, and your time, make sure any field you fill in yourself is keyword rich so that the system picks it up.

💡 Remember, there is no gray area with technology. Let’s say the job requires a certain certificate that you technically don’t have right now, but will in a month when you’re done with your program. You can explain this caveat on the phone with a recruiter, but you can’t do that with an ATS. You certainly should not lie on your application, but in a case like this, indicate that you meet the qualification so that the ATS doesn’t filter you out.

💡 Pay attention to and follow the directions. They are there for a reason, and it’s usually so that the ATS can properly filter through the candidates. You don’t want to be ruled out of a job because you didn’t attach a cover letter or skipped writing out your job history. 

Once the resume is in front of a recruiter

Now that your resume has moved from a stack of 100 to a stack of 30, you need to grab the recruiter’s attention and keep it for as long as possible. On average, a recruiter spends less than eight seconds looking at a resume. That means you have a very small window to make an impact and get noticed so you want to draft your resume with a focus on the things that matter the most. 

recruiters know whether they'll hire you within 90 seconds

The most important things to a recruiter

👉 Keywords, keywords, keywords. Just like the ATS, the recruiter will start out by giving your resume a really fast once-over. You want your resume to be reasonably rich with keywords so that as the recruiter skims over it a few will pop out at them.

👉 Numbers and data. In a one-page document primarily full of words, numbers stick out, so the more data you can add, the better. Keep the data concise, though. Don’t write out a big long sentence to get to the point, you want the recruiter to be able to quickly look at the number and the few words after it to know what it means.

👉 Evidence you can do the job. Since numbers and keywords pop out to a recruiter, put them together to quickly show that you can do the job. For example, if a job description includes something about marketing and ROI, this might stand out on a resume “Spearheaded an email marketing campaign that generated a $20k ROI.”

Stand out as a candidate

Once you’ve grabbed the recruiter’s initial attention, set yourself apart with a little personality. In your job summary, include a small personal detail that will remind the recruiter you’re a person, not just a piece of paper. You can also get a little creative with your resume layout (just don’t go over the top) or include a small section that lists some of your hobbies. 

What causes recruiters to stop reading

Just like they’re able to tell a good resume within seconds, a recruiter can spot a bad one even faster. Since you obviously don’t want them to disqualify you before they even start to dig into your resume, here are some things to avoid.

❌ Adding too much fluff or embellishment. You can certainly get creative with your words, but there comes a point where that creativity starts to sound fake. For instance, if you have a responsibility that is a little mundane, you can highlight an aspect of it that demonstrates your competence, but trying to twist it into something more prestigious is obvious and much more off putting

❌ Too much information. You probably already know to avoid a two-page resume, but you don’t want to cram too much information onto your one-page resume, either. It needs to be readable, so use a normal font size and include only the major accomplishments that are relevant for the job you’re applying to.

❌ Not meeting minimum requirements. Sometimes a resume gets through the ATS even though the candidate doesn’t totally qualify for the job. This isn’t necessarily something you can avoid unless it’s because you’re being dishonest in the application process, in which case you will make a very poor impression and might risk being considered for jobs that you do qualify for at the company

❌ Too much personality. Adding a personal touch is a great way to stand out in the applicant pool, but the bulk of your resume should focus on your professional history and accomplishments. Also, go easy if you’re adding color, you don’t want it to be visually overstimulating. 

Tailored resumes get the most attention

Editing and revising your resume for every job application can feel exhausting, but the more tailored it is to the job you’re applying for, the more likely it will grab attention. Create a few versions of your resume based on the jobs you’re applying for to make editing a little quicker and easier. Remember, this is all to get a recruiter to review your resume, and once they do your qualifications and experience will help you land an interview (and the job)!  


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- September 13, 2021

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