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What Recruiters Are Saying About Resumes

(By J. Michael Worthington, Jr.)

Recently ResumeDoctor undertook the immense project of interviewing several hundred recruiters/headhunters to find out what they are saying about resumes. These recruiters stemmed from varied specialties and industries throughout the US and Canada (Engineering, Information Technology, Sales and Marketing, Executive, Biotech, Healthcare, Administrative, Finance, etc.). ResumeDoctor sought to find out what are the recruiter's likes and dislikes in a resume they receive and what is going to get a resume read by them. Some of the "Pet Peeves" shared will be obvious, while others might surprise a job seeker.

#20 - Burying or Not Including Important Information in the Resume
Many recruiters shared that candidates often leave off very important and critical experience/information that is pertinent to the job they are seeking. Just as bad is to include this important info, (i.e. holding a Security Clearance or being bi-lingual in Spanish, when it is a requirement of the position), but burying it so deep into the resume the recruiter will not see it. No recruiter has the time to play Sherlock Holmes or guessing games to figure out a candidate's background. Job seekers must be aware that recruiters receive literally hundreds of resumes a day and spend only about 10 seconds "skimming" through each resume. This is why it is imperative that if a job seeker possesses the requirements of the position, that they GRAB the recruiter's attention IMMEDIATELY with these skills/experience. If not, it reduces the chances that a recruiter will call considerably. The best scenario is to customize each and every resume that is sent out and tailor it to the "hot buttons" that will catch the employer/recruiters attention within 5-10 seconds.

#19 - Gaps in Employment
Employers are probably going to be a bit more understanding than in the past regarding gaps of employment because of all of the corporate layoffs, reductions, etc. However, holes or gaps in dates in a resume will solicit questions from employers and recruiters alike, so be prepared to answer. Even if you took a sabbatical for personal reasons, it is a good idea to state such.

#18 - Resumes Written in the 1st or 3rd Person
A resume should not be written in the first person. A resume is a marketing piece and business correspondence. No recruiter or future employer wants to read a resume full of "I did this and I did that..." Furthermore, writing a resume in the first person often leads to it becoming too verbose.

Writing a resume in the third person was also slated a major "pet peeve" among many recruiters. There is no, absolutely, no reason for such. Once again, a resume is simply a quick marketing piece about the job seeker's background and how it matches the requirements of the position. It is not a biography for a book jacket cover. For example: "Mr. Smith is an excellent recruiter, who has placed many architects..."
Recruiter Trey Cameron of the Cameron Craig Group shared the following comment, "At least make it sound like you actually wrote the resume yourself. I don't care how experienced or senior level you are."

#17 - No Easy to Follow Summary
Candidates have to realize that recruiters receive literally hundreds and hundreds of resumes per week. A resume has to GRAB the reader from the get go. Recruiters told us that if a resume does not convey a match within 10 seconds, they move to the next candidate. An effective summary section will help the recruiter identify if the job seeker is a viable candidate for the position quicker. This summary section can be customized to the position you are applying.

For candidates of a technical nature, it is imperative that a Technical Summary is also compiled. Make sure that these technical skills are clearly laid out and current. When creating this Tech Summary, be careful not to create a long list of "alphabet soup" no one will ever read or understand.

#16 - Pictures, Graphics or URL Links
Unless you are a super model or are applying to a position such as an actor or television personality that might require a "headshot," there is absolutely no need to include your picture. A candidate should be judged based on their skills, education, and work history, not race, sex, age, etc. Providing a picture only opens up problems. Secondly, pictures are next to impossible to download into recruiter and HRIS systems. In addition, sending a picture only increases the file size and download time of your resume. Remember, a candidate only has about 10 seconds to grab the recruiter, don't waste these precious seconds for a picture to download.

Much the same goes for graphics and endless URL links. Including graphics only causes download time to increase and often makes a resume more difficult to read on a computer screen. Furthermore, because of the fear of computer viruses, many recruiting departments are set up not to accept graphics, pictures, downloadable files, etc. Your resume, in that case, will just be deleted before it is even opened. In the case of URL links, they just clutter up your resume and no recruiter will ever spend time "clicking" on these links. Give the recruiter the facts. Like what was mentioned in Pet Peeve #20, no recruiter has the time to play Sherlock Holmes or guessing games to figure out a candidate's background.

#15 - Resumes not sent as a WORD Attachment
Unless specifically requested otherwise, your resume should be sent as a Word Attachment. Word is the standard in business correspondence. Do not send your resume as a PDF, Mac file, etc. As already mentioned, candidates have to be aware that recruiters receive literally hundreds upon hundreds of resumes per week. A recruiter simply does not have time to download and convert special files. PDF files require a much longer download time and special software. In addition, do not send your resume in a ZIP file. Not only does a recruiter not want to deal with going through the extra step of opening a resume, but also ZIP files are designed for long documents. No resume should be 60 pages long period. Furthermore, ZIP files can contain viruses that cannot be detected in the email body message. Savvy recruiters will often just delete the email message as to not risk contaminating their system. Unless you are a graphic designer or multi-media developer, no recruiter will spend time going to your "homepage" to download your resume. Even if you are a graphic designer, you still need a Word attachment resume. So if you are an accountant, engineer, etc. do not try to be fancy, because no recruiter has the time or desire to call up a homepage.

Another top reason for avoiding formats other than Word or a plain text file is that it becomes increasingly more difficult to download into many HR and recruiting systems. Often a recruiter will not have a job for you today. If they cannot enter your resume into their recruiting system, they will be unable to match your resume with any positions that do become available. This also goes for mailed and faxed resumes. Unless specifically requested otherwise, recruiters are looking for easy to open Word attachments.

Recruiter TIP: Many recruiters shared with us that it is always a good idea to name your Word attachment "Smith, John Resume." Recruiters have no time to "guess" the author of the attachment. Many recruiters are still organizing resumes sent to them in one folder, so already providing the recruiter with your resume with an easy to follow document name will make your resume easier to find.

#14 - Poor Font Choice
When creating your Word Attachment resume, keep your font simple and easy to read on a computer screen. Be kind to your reader. Do not use italics or extremely difficult to read fonts like Edwardian Script. Font size is just as important as style. 8-point fonts are too small to read, even for Superman. Microsoft seems to have settled on 10 point Arial as their default font in most of their applications. People are accustomed to reading such on their computer screen. For headings, recruiters shared that 12-point bolded is the best choice.

Recruiters told us that that second best choice is Times Roman as every newspaper and magazine is printing with such. Once again, people's eyes are accustomed to reading text in this font. However, 10-point Times Roman, (unlike Arial), is too small for a computer screen. It is recommended if you choose Times Roman, use 11 or 12 point. If a resume is difficult to read, a recruiter will simply move onto the next one.

#13 - Objectives or Meaningless Introductions
According to recruiter Gayla Moore of Taylor Recruiting in Austin, TX, "A general objective is a good way to have your resume tossed out immediately. A candidate who states they want to be with a great company who values its employees... well, guess what? Everyone wants that!!"

Instead of an Objective that can pigeonhole your focus too narrowly or an introduction that adds nothing to your background, use this top piece of real estate to really SELL yourself, by creating a HEADLINE. Don't be shy. Tell them who you are and what you do immediately. Come up with one powerful sentence or phrase to "grab" your reader. Think of this like a headline to a major front-page news story: PATS UPSET RAMS IN SUPERBOWL. What is going to grab that reader to want to read further? For instance:

Senior-Level Health and Safety Manager with Extensive Experience Working with FDA Regulations in the Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Arena.

Recruiter TIP: This headline can be customized to match the job description and "hot-buttons" of the employer or recruiter.

#12 - Lying or Misleading Information
We all know the temptation is there to beef up your background by stretching the truth here and there to land that job. BEWARE! It is becoming more commonplace for companies to do extensive background and reference checks on a candidate's background prior to hiring. Also, companies are demanding that their vendor recruiters do more extensive background checks. The chances of being caught are forever increasing.

Recruiters stated the most common misleading information being put on resumes is:

  • Inflated titles
  • Inaccurate dates to cover up job hopping or gaps of employment
  • finished degrees, inflated education or "purchased" degrees that do not mean anything
  • Inflated salaries
  • Inflated accomplishments
  • Out and out lies in regards to specific roles and duties

Connecticut recruiter, Tom Mahon shared this story, "One bonehead forgot we had worked together a few years earlier (I still had his old resume) and sent me a new resume where every title was upgraded. His former Employers apparently promoted him because he was doing such a great job at his current Employer." If you are in sales, don't be surprised if an employer will ask to see your W2's to verify your sales income before being hired. So in a nutshell, recruiters are "hip" to what is going on. Present your resume accordingly, be TRUTHFUL.

#11 - Employer or Industry Information Not Included
According to executive search recruiter Terry Cantrell of Panama City, Florida, "People often try to write a resume so generic that a reader has no idea what industry the candidate comes from. Did they manufacture fertilizer, package cow chips, cook and distribute potato chips or assemble computer chips? Often I have no idea what "Acme" sells, services, imports or manufactures. I cannot take the time to filter through a thousand resumes to see what and where their real network is. I am usually looking for a reason to exclude resumes, not a reason to include them."

Kelly Persichetti of the Persichetti Group adds, "I always tell candidates to think about WHO the initial receiving audience is of your resume. With this in mind, many times one has to be more explicit with their resume. Believe it or not, many recipients wouldn't even know if the resume they were looking at was even in their own industry!"

It is suggested that your resume specifically state the type of industry, revenues, public or private in the body of the resume in or beneath the specific company. This will help the reader determine if it's a direct industry OR an ancillary industry.

Recruiter TIP: Another idea is to bullet-point in your summary the specific industry experience the recruiter or hiring manager is seeking. For instance:

  • Extensive Internal Audit Experience in the Healthcare industry

#10 - Personal Info Not Relevant to the Job
Not only is including personal info that is unrelated to the job a waste of space, but it can actually hurt you. You never want to include information that could be viewed in the wrong way or open up even the slightest temptation for prejudice or misinterpretation. Recruiters do not need to know your age, height, weight, martial status, sexual orientation, religious or political affiliations, or even about your hobbies. They are trying to fill an open job requisition, not match you for a blind date.

There are times when there will be exceptions. For example: If you were applying for a position as a computer programmer at Burton Snowboards, and your hobby happens to be snowboarding, then definitely include this related information. Your hobby in this case offers value to the potential employer and will work as a benefit to you. Your familiarity with the snowboarding lifestyle and industry could help to open the door for that all-important first interview.

One recruiter shared with us that he recently received a resume from a candidate who included their shoe size. Another recruiter also sent us a story about a candidate who included his dead daughter's bio on his resume. Needless to say, this info has no place on a resume. Your resume is your personal selling tool and should be clear of any and all non-related information.

#9 - Unqualified Candidates
Candidates who apply to positions they are not qualified for

#8 - Paragraphs
Long paragraphs, not bullet-points

#7 - Long Resumes- Too long

#6 - Functional Resumes as opposed to writing a Chronological Resume

#5 - Poor formatting
Boxes, templates, tables, use of header and footers, etc.

#4 - Contact Info
None or inaccurate contact info or unprofessional email addresses

#3 - Dates
Not included or inaccurate dates

#2 - Too Duty Oriented
Reads like a job description and fails to explain what the job seeker's accomplishments were and how they did so.

#1 - Spelling Errors, Typos and Poor Grammar

This article is published with permission from © Copyright 2002,