How to Wow Recruiters With Your Resume
Part II: Editing the Resume
You’ve probably heard that you have 6 seconds to capture a recruiter’s attention.
I can tell you that it’s sometimes even less then that. I once shared my friend’s resume to a colleague on a different team for review. I stood over her shoulder as she reviewed her resume in less than 5 seconds. In that amount of time, she had determined — with confidence — that my friend was not a fit for the position. I share this brief story only to say that no one is exempt from having this happen to them. Let’s explore why this happens, starting with the basics of formatting. We’ll use our trusty friend and Pokémon trainer, Ash Ketchum, as an example throughout this section.
Your resume’s format should closely resemble at least one of the formats in the links above. Recruiters review hundreds (maybe even thousands) of resumes per week. If your resume is in a format completely different than what I’ve shared, it makes it harder for the recruiter to find where the most crucial information on your resume is located.
Inside Scoop: Make the recruiter/hiring manager try too hard and your resume could be in the rejection pile before you even get a fair chance. In addition, please don’t put your picture on your resume! It’s distracting and stands out too much to be of any help to you.
If you’re thinking “well, recruiters should just try harder to review every resume regardless of the format”, than you may be right, but that’s simply not the reality. Trust me when I say that I used to be a big fan of colorful/well designed resumes. I thought the standard format was lame, bland, and made me seem like everyone else. Then I became a recruiter and had to look through hundreds of resumes myself.
Pro Tip: Like my mom used to say “your resume format can’t get you a job, but it can surely cost you an opportunity.” Designers and creatives have a license to make cool looking resumes. If non-designer recruiters will be reviewing your resume first, however, then I think my advice still stands (especially if you’ve attached your portfolio). Only if you know that your application will go directly to the hiring manager than perhaps some creativity will be welcome.
I’ll tackle a few high level concepts before getting into the specifics of editing a resume for the job.
Most Common Questions
If you are 1–2 years out of college, keep your resume limited to 1 page. If you have more experience, then feel free go over 1 page as needed. There’s nothing worse than a 17 page resume (you think I’m kidding, but I’m not) and 2–3 pages is absolutely fine, especially if you’ve been in the workforce for a while.
Should education be at the top or bottom? What about the date of graduation?
Your education should go at the top of your resume under three conditions: 1) If you know the hiring manager/recruiter will recognize the name of your college and be impressed, 2) you graduated within the past 3–5 years, 3) your degree is particularly relevant to the position.
Include the date of graduation if you’ve graduated within the 2000s. Otherwise, feel free to drop the date since it’s no longer relevant.
The skills laundry list (less is more)
Have you ever taken a beautiful palette of paint and mixed every color together? Or combined every drink from a soda fountain? These things sound childish right? So does a laundry list of skills on your resume. I’ve actually been in meetings with hiring managers where they comment on not knowing what a candidate is actually good at because they list out so many things on their resume and it’s cost them an interview. Be specific and choose a handful (4–5) of relevant skills that are highlighted in the job description already.
Should I order jobs chronologically or by relevance?
Hiring managers (for the most part) are particularly interested in what you’ve been doing in the past 2–3 years and how it relates to the position they’re trying to fill. If, for some reason, you’ve been working in retail recently but you used to be a six sigma black belt, your best bet is to begin working on relevant side projects to put at the top of your resume and/or to get a personal referral of someone who can speak to how much of a champion you once were.
What should I do about job hoppy-ness?
Not all hiring managers care about your job-hopping history. For ones who do, you can write a quick blurb beside each short job explaining your reasons for leaving. Sometimes there are legitimate cases where hiring managers and recruiters can overlook a candidate’s hoppy job history.
The best cure for a job-hoppy resume, however, is some stability. It might pay dividends down the line to just “stick it out” at your current job for at least a year or two before looking for something else.
6 Key Elements of Your Resume
Now that we’ve covered some common questions, I can get into the specifics of editing your resume. The following is a list of 6 key elements that recruiters will be scanning your resume for during review.
- Your current job title
- Current employer/Tenure
- The first bullet of your current job
- Previous job title
- Previous employer/Tenure
Your current job title — Let’s start at the beginning. People will disagree with me on this point, but I think this is the single most important element of your resume.
So important, in fact, that it’s worth editing when appropriate.
Let’s say you want to apply for a “Product Manager” role and your current job is “Product Owner III”. If you’ve read the description and you know (with 100% certainty) that you can do and have done what the position ask for and you genuinely feel the difference in title is semantics, then I advocate you change the title on your resume to “Product Manager.” Now this advice will obviously ruffle feathers, and for good reason. There are people who will read this article, misuse my suggestion, go into an interview, and waste everyone’s time just to never to be invited back again.
Let me be clear: please do not lie on your resume. It’s just the wrong thing to do. However, companies sometimes have certain titles for positions because “that’s what it’s always been called here.” If you fall into this category, and you’ll know if you do, then I think you should change your title so the people reviewing your resume don’t overlook your skills and experience for semantic reasons. If you make it to an onsite interview then make sure to put your actual work title in the formal application, so when HR does an employment check, things pan out.
Current employer/Tenure — If the recruiter/hiring manager reviewing your resume will recognize the name of your current employer, than it should be above your job title. Similar to the point that having an Ivy League school on your resume matters more than what your degree title, your company can provide more credibility than your job title because — unlike your role title — it’s un-editable.
The first bullet of your current job — This is where most people drop the ball because it take a certain finesse.
Applying to a job is not about you, it’s about the company. Your view of your most important skills is not necessarily relevant. What is relevant is what the company says they need in a job description.
Let’s refer back to Ask Ketchum:
To illustrate this point, take a look at the sample job description below. Pay close attention to what’s highlighted in yellow.
Now let’s take a look at the first bullet of Ash’s resume:
See how in the first bullet of his first job he does a great job at matching the most important bullet in the job responsibilities to his experience? Obviously, this is a fun example but it’s your job as a candidate to find the most important bullet point(s) of a job description and explain with a brief, data-driven, and concrete example of how you’ve done exactly what they need.
Your competition is blasting resumes out and not taking the time to do this extra step. This might take an extra bit of time, but will set you apart from others applying for the role.
Pro Tip: If there are industry keywords (like tools, softwares, buzzwords, or methodologies), that the company mentions in their job description, then include 2–3 of these in the first bullet of your current job and bold them. This is the epitome of making life easy for the recruiters and hiring managers reviewing your resume.
Keywords are extremely important in a resume and oftentimes recruiters and hiring managers will simply CTRL+F to find them. If you can beat them to the punch by simply bolding them in your resume, you’ll be ahead of the curve. It’s also important to note that including a skill in your resume is not enough, particularly if it’s highlighted in the job description. You must take the time to actually write out how you used this skill/tool/methodology.
Education — Be honest and completely transparent about your education. If you didn’t graduate, don’t make it seem like you did. In addition, if you have a GPA below 3.7 and you graduated more than 3 years ago, then it’s best that you remove it from your resume. It’s probable that the hiring manager doesn’t care and it’s best not to draw attention to it if it’s not extremely high.
Previous job title — The previous job title can do two things for you. It can either show your progression up the ranks in a given field, or it can illustrate your tenure and experience. If your title is the same at two different companies it starts to build credibility that you can do the job, especially if the job title is the same as the one in the job description. If your previous job title is a more junior title it can show that you’re a hard worker that takes initiative. Both are impressive, but make sure to craft a purposeful and meaningful story when it comes to your current and previous job titles because it matters.
Previous employer/Tenure — Last but not least, list your employer previous to your current one and the length of time you were in that role. Try and stick to a consistent format to showcase this as well. So whether that’s [employer/title/tenure], [title/employer/tenure], or any other combination, keep it consistent.
If you’re in a situation where you’ve had multiple roles at the same company, I’d suggest having one tenure at the top with different titles and summaries underneath. However, if you were there for a significant amount of time (5+ years) it’s definitely worth it to label your tenure in each role so it doesn’t leave the hiring manager guessing.
For those of you who’ve been looking for a job or generally unemployed for over a year take a look at these articles (here, here, and here) for some motivation and tips. You might be at a disadvantage, but don’t give up, winners never quit!
This article is reprinted by permission from