When your resume lands in the inbox or on the desk of a potential new employer, it’s the hiring manager that picks it up. This is the person that decides whether you get to dry clean your suit and practice your greeting in the mirror.
We know you look a million bucks in your suit. You know it too. We also know that you’ll nail any interview that comes your way. All you need is the green light. So, how do you get it? How do you get the hiring manager to pick your resume from the hundreds of others they have to read each day?
We asked a hiring manager, who’s worked with several top tech brands and hired hundreds of people over a 20-year career, for his take.
Now, our hiring manager preferred to remain anonymous for this, so we’re going to call him Jeff (he looks a bit like Jeff Goldblum and it’s a name he was happy for us to use). But his name's not important. What is important is the wisdom he's been so kind as to share.
Let's dig in.
Format for easy skimming
Depending on where you get your information from, a hiring manager spends anywhere from 6-10 seconds looking at your resume… If you’re lucky.
According to agency technical recruiter and career consultant, Dave Fecak, over on Quora, you’ve got even less time to impress. If I'm looking for someone with a specific set of skills or qualifications, I can probably figure out within 2-3 seconds whether the resume will include them.
You’re on borrowed time here so you need to nail the format.
Let’s say I’m giving your resume eight seconds of my time. In those eight seconds I want to be able to take in all of the important highlights to get an idea whether or not you’re going to be right for the job, says Jeff.
What I don’t want to see is damn ugly formatting with several different fonts, fancy colors, hard to read text, and long paragraphs. If the format hurts my eyes at first glance, there’s a special place for it in the bin. The resume needs to be organized and consistent.
Strong words! An ugly resume is recycler’s dream, so stick to the basics — the things that never go out of style:
- Bullet point highlights (just like this)
- Effective use of white space so that text is easy on the eyes
- Clear contact details
- Calibri or Helvetica font in size 12 points
- Bolded headings in size 14 or 16 points
But, hold up, Jeff — what about the actual format, like chronological or functional?
Play to your strengths. If you have little job experience, put anything related to the job first. If you have a rich job history, lead with experience.
A good way to test if your resume format is on point is to hand it over to someone with no clue of your professional background and ask them to read it for 20-30 seconds. Then, ask them what they’ve learned about you.
If they can recite some juicy highlights, you’re onto a winner.
Oh, and one last thing on this: do not… DO NOT… use Comic Sans. Not even as a joke.
There’s no room for “Generic Eric”
Generic Eric has an impressive background: college degree, management experience, solid references. There’s enough in his resume to land a decent job. The problem is, he’s Generic Eric. And there are hundreds of other Generic Erics sending the same kinds of resumes to dozens of hiring managers.
I’ll sometimes have 50 or 100 resumes to get through in an hour, which gets boring in a hurry. I don’t want to see the generic ‘dedicated, hard-working, punctual’ cliches over and over again. Hard work should be a given. Give me less of the generic stuff and entertain me. A bit of humor is OK, y’know?
Oh, we know, Jeff. You can bring personality to your resume without losing any of the professionalism, as engineering recruiter, Ambra Benjamin, points out in her post about what recruiters look for a resume.
We recruiters are staring at these missives all day long. Throw a joke in there somewhere for goodness sake. Talk about how much you love Nutella (I have this in my own personal resume).
If you’re a rockstar, throw some cheeky self-deprecation in there if you can do so elegantly. I think it’s important to keep the work experience details as professional as possible, but trust me, there are ways to have fun with it. I love an Easter egg buried in a resume… Figuratively speaking.
Be careful not to let things swing too much the other way, though. Going too heavy on the personal details can be a turn-off. Marital status, number of children, medical issues, your favorite song from The Greatest Showman — those things can be left out. If a hiring manager wants to learn more about your personal life, they’ll just trawl through your social media like the rest of us.
Computer says “No”
I rarely read paper resumes these days. Most come through from recruiters in PDF or Word.doc format, which is great because I get to hit Ctrl+F and search for whatever keywords fit the job description. If none of the words I’m looking for show up, it’s onto the next one. I won’t even get to learn your name.
So my advice would be to make sure job titles and skills match the job you’re applying for.
It’s not just hiring managers like Jeff that are picking out keywords rather than taking the time to admire your stellar job history, recruiters do it too.
And they’re even more ruthless about it. Rather than go through resumes individually, recruiters use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to do the work for them. An ATS will look through hundreds of resumes picking up on keywords and phrases that match the job spec given to them by employers.
Drop keywords in to your resume. Read through the job description, pick out words that are mentioned often and drop them in naturally. Include the job title word-for-word and drop in similar words and phrases.
For example, if you’re applying for a role in digital marketing, include the word ‘digital marketing’ and related words like ‘online marketing,’ ‘social media,’ ‘email marketing,’ and ‘SEO.’ Include these keywords in your professional summary or objective and at relevant points throughout your resume that relate to the role. Just remember: keep it natural — don’t try to shoehorn keywords in.
Doing this gives you a resume that’s targeted for the job/industry you’re going for and instantly puts you ahead of people that use one generic resume for every job they apply for. Of course, it’ll mean you needing to customize your depending on the particular role, so it’s more work. However, the chances of being noticed are much greater so it’s worth it.
Do you even internet?
Doing a bit of online digging is one of favorite things. You might call it stalking, I call it research. Stalking it is then, Jeff.
If I like a resume, I’ll be clicking through to your website, LinkedIn or Twitter profile next. If those things aren’t listed on your resume and I like you enough, I might just Google your name instead. It’s good to have a positive online presence. And believe me when I say: hiring managers do take these things into account. If I stumble across something about you that’s unsavory, it might influence my decision.
Get yourself an online presence. Show off your skills on a portfolio website and LinkedIn profile. Get a Twitter account and Facebook profile too, but be warned: keep things professional. If there are things on your social media accounts you’d rather a hiring manager didn’t see, keep your profiles private.
Think about your profile pictures — these will show up regardless of privacy settings. It’s unlikely a hiring manager will want to see you half naked in a Vegas bar having tequila poured down your throat, even if that was THE BEST NIGHT EVER!
Be consistent with your online and offline presence. Make sure your website and social profiles match the person you talk about in your resume.
Also, no using your first ever high school email address. No email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Stick to using a variation of your name: email@example.com, for example.
He shouldn’t really write in the third person
First person vs. third person is a common debate. How should you write your resume Jeff is clear on this.
For me, don’t write in the third person. It’s your resume I’m reading, I know you wrote it. And if you didn’t write it, the person that did should make me believe it’s you. I know people recommend writing in the third person but, seriously, it’s so confusing.
So there we go. Write in the first person — sell yourself as yourself. First person writing is more natural and will read better. But go easy on the pronouns.
One page will do
This one harks back to the 6-10 seconds skim reading thing. Jeff is a busy man.
I’m a busy man (Told you). I don’t have the time to read through a tome of a resume, no matter how glittering a career you might have had. Try to fit everything on one page if possible, two pages at the most.
If your resume extends over one page, make sure the most relevant pieces of scannable information are on the first page. Write so that the first page alone could land you an interview.
Go easy on the experience
15 years of experience is usually enough. HR-managers not really interested in anything older than that because it’s usually not relevant.
It’s not that I’m not happy for you that you worked at McDonald’s in 1991, but it’s not going to be a deciding factor in me hiring you for a lead web developer role.
Tailor your resume for the job that you’re applying for. Leave out any jobs past the 15-year threshold unless they absolutely relate to the role and avoid putting dates on any certifications that may seem outdated.
Of course, this depends on experience. If you’re relatively new to the workforce, all employment can be used to showcase a particular skill.
Typos can make or break you.
I might let you get away with a typo if it’s a clear error and the resume is otherwise strong but misspelled words and frequent grammar errors are inexcusable. Spell check is widely available, you should be using it.
A lot of hiring managers and recruiters aren’t as forgiving as Jeff. For some, even a single typo is a no-go. Take a look at some of the responses to this LinkedIn post on resume errors by entrepreneur, hiring manager, and author of The Creative Curve Allen Gannett:
It’s a total disqualifier for me. I am always interested in candidates who are willing to put that degree of effort into the detail of their work.
I toss most resumes that have spelling errors. Warrants a giant red X.
That’s the point of spell check. Your resume is supposed to showcase the very best of you, and if grammatical errors are present, you didn’t put your best effort forward.
I asure you that I have the rite skills, kwalifications and ecksperience to add valew to the bisiness.
Don’t leave anything to chance with typos. Here are a few simple ways you can proofread your resume:
- Read back over it on a device different to the one you wrote it on
- Read it out loud, word for word
- Use an app like Grammarly to pick up on any errors
- Ask a friend to read over it
- Read it one sentence at a time from end to beginning
Phew. We covered a lot of ground there. Plenty of things for you to stew over when putting together your resume.
So, hiring managers expect:
- A clean format that’s easy to skim read
- A little bit of personality
- Keywords that match the job description
- A consistent online presence
- Writing in the first person (without the pronouns)
- Everything on one page
- Relevant experience that’s no longer than 15 years old
- No typos
Write with these things in mind and you’ll have employers flooding your inbox… So long as your email address isn’t… firstname.lastname@example.org, of course.