What Employers Look for in a Resume

Business man reviewing a resume near his computer
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You can easily spend hours—or really, days or weeks—laboring over your resume. But will all that hard work result in a resume that matches what employers are looking for? A successful resume doesn't just showcase your work; it matches recruiters and hiring managers' expectations, clearly conveys that you're a good fit for the role, and above all, is easy to read and understand. Here is a look at some of the things that employers look for in a resume. This insight will help you make sure your resume matches employers' expectations and desires.

 

Ease of Reading

Your resume should be written in a reasonably sized, legible font, and have normal-sized margins. Don't make hiring managers or potential interviewers wonder if they need a prescription for reading glasses — a too-tiny font is a sign you should cut some copy, or expand your resume onto a second page. Be mindful that your resume is easy to read both on screen and in a printed out hard copy.

Scanability

While you should labor over choosing the best action words and power verbs for your resume, and ensuring that everything is phrased perfectly, know that few hiring managers are actually reading your resume. Rather, they are speedily scanning the page, looking for keywords, job titles, and major facts that will show if you are a good fit for the position. Make it easy for employers to find this valuable information — include enough white space between lines and in the margins to make it scannable, and also put the focus on the relevant information.

Qualifications

An employer's number one goal is to find a well-qualified candidate. How can you show that you're qualified, and the best possible person for the job? Start by matching your qualifications to the job — if employers are looking for someone who is detail-oriented, make sure your organizational skills and ability to manage lots of projects without mistakes is on display.

In the job descriptions on your resume, go beyond listing day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Think bigger: Employers want to know what you'll accomplish if you're hired on. Give them a sense of your abilities by putting your achievements — whether it's overhauling an inefficient system, saving the company money, or generating sales revenue — on display. And make sure that most relevant accomplishments, the ones that readily translate to the job you want, are most visible.

Coherent Story

Relevance is important when it comes to resumes — it's not that employers are lazy, but that it's in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for them to understand you as a candidate. Did you switch careers mid-stream? Consider leaving off some of the jobs from your first career, or grouping the job titles together with a very limited description. And, if it's been decades since your first job, then it's likely time to remove it from your resume.

Use your resume to draw as straight a line as possible between your experience and accomplishments, and the job you want. If possible, try to show your career progression, too. Ideally, a resume should show that with each new role, you took on new challenges and increased responsibilities.

Formatting

Perhaps it's a bit old-fashioned, but there is a certain traditional format and style to resumes. If you are going to break the rules, do so knowingly and carefully. Employers are looking to see if you can put together a presentable document. This is true for all jobs, but particularly positions where communications and presentation matter. Keep formatting consistent throughout the document. Hiring managers see a lot of resumes, so they know what should be included, such as contact information, education, etc.

Make sure all of the expected information is in place.

Avoid These Deal-Breakers

Here are some easy ways to make recruiters flip past your resume, or reject it outright:

  • Typos: Catching your own typos is very, very hard. Consider asking a friend or family member to give the document a review.
  • Poor word choices or bragging: While you want to tout your accomplishments, and use strong words to describe your responsibilities and achievements, be careful not to tip over the line into bragging. And, don't use the thesaurus so much in an attempt to avoid repetition that you use overly fancy, absurd-sounding words.
  • An unreadable resume: Whether because of typos, confusing formatting, or an illegible font, if it's hard to read your resume, most likely, recruiters will skip it.