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What Do Recruiters Look for in a Resume at First Glance?

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As a job seeker struggling to land a position in a depressed market, you have likely applied at dozens of places (or even hundreds in some cases). Before you continue on your all-important job search, take a few minutes to stop and think about that piece of paper or papers that you're submitting with each one of your applications. That's right, I'm talking about your resume. We asked recruiters across the country what they look for in a resume at first glance, as well as what stands out in a good and bad way. We wanted to find this out so we could share this for your benefit, so that you know what employers and recruiters are looking for, and you can tailor your resume accordingly. Feel free to share your own thoughts and advice in the comments below the article. Here is what they had to say:

  • As a hiring manager, I glanced at the company names who they worked for. My bias is "the bigger the better" so I look for recognizable names which shows credibility and their ability to navigate around complex organizations and politics.

  • Then I look at titles to get a sense if they have progressed through a function (entry level through mid-management, etc.) or progressed through an industry
  • Finally, length in role and length with companies. Although there are more and more people who have shorter stints due to economic downsizing, it is still important to see their commitment.
What Stands Out in a Good way:
  • Bullet points, easy to read
  • Descriptions of their skills and experience vs. a job description - most resumes share too much about the company and job vs. THEM
  • Metrics - grew something from X to Y, saved the company X $, etc.
  • Cover letter that makes the resume relevant to me…answers "why I'm the best candidate for your position"
What Stands Out in a Bad way:
  • Grammatical errors, typos, miss-spells
  • Too many acronyms without writing them out
  • Too much text: blah, blah, blah
Dana Manciagli
Global Career Expert
Speaker, Consultant, Author of Cut the Crap, Get a Job

I am a small-business owner and I'm frequently looking for good people. The problem with most resumes is that the applicant thinks the employer is simply looking to check off boxes, so if the resume mentions 30 skills and proficiencies, hopefully that will match the employer's needs. That may have been the case 30 years ago, but we are in an Information Age now. I can train you for new skills. But I need to feel something special from your resume if you want the interview, much less the job.

The most important thing I need to see is your passion for whatever I'm hiring you for. Whether it's sales, new business or sweeping the floor, I need you to be passionate about what you do, and I need your resume to reflect that. So don't give me a list of lifeless facts. Illustrate who you are and what you bring to the table.

That means zero typos. That means real thought put into how you present yourself. That means instinctively knowing that your resume isn't going to get you the job -- you will -- in how you present yourself from a 360-degree perspective.

Jeff Goldman

Simple: First, location. If it's a local search and the candidate is from out of town, I'm finished with the resume. Second, years of employment. If the candidate can't keep a job for more than a year or two, I won't consider him. Third, qualifications. Either the candidate has them or not. If not, that's the end of the candidacy.

What will also kill a candidacy is an "Objective" or a "Professional Summary." They are insults to the intelligence of the recipient.

What I really like to see, up front, is a section titled "Selected Accomplishments." Don't tell me what you want (the "Objective") or how great you are (the "Professional Summary") but what you have actually done in your career. In the end, that's what is going to get you the job.

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D.
President and CEO
Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd.
Executive Recruitment and Career Counseling Services

When I'm looking at a candidate's resume for the first time, I automatically look at the current company and position to assess how close of a match the person is in their current or most recent position. If they are working for a competitor or doing the job now in a similar field, I automatically continue on. Since I work in a niche field, I know the players and the target background we are looking for. I also look at where the candidate resides as most of our clients would much rather hire locally than get involved in a relocation (though if the candidate is spot on and a relocation scenario it's open for discussion).

After the initial glance I start looking into the details - job history, longevity in each position, how the candidate demonstrate their success and accomplishments. I'd note any "red flags" to get more information about during a phone call. Red flags meaning the typical too many jobs in a short period of time, downgrades in title, little career progression. I note the areas where I think my client will question so I'm prepared to overcome that potential hurdle if the candidate is the right fit for the job.

Lindsay Olson
Paradigm Staffing

I'm looking for measurable accomplishments.

The summary should give me specifics about what the candidate has done.

Managed 100 people. Saved $50 million in operating costs over 5 years, etc.

At least a BA degree from an actual school - University of Phoenix is an automatic ding against them.

I like to see something that makes them stand out from the average - Eagle Scout, Team Captain, NCAA Athlete, Military experience.

I like to see strong test scores and GPAs. Goes to general intelligence and work ethic.

Steady career progression in titles.

People with tenure of at least 2 years in each job.

My clients like hard working people who get things done. We're not looking for 9/5ers.

John Paul Engel
Knowledge Capital Consulting

Working years in the staffing industry I have reviewed a lot of resumes. The first thing that stands out is your format. This is your first impression to show your interest the position, your skills, your attention to detail, and how you can stand out from the rest. A few helpful tips to get your resume noticed:

  1. Email yourself a copy to review how your resume looks and reads as a document
  2. Make sure your object/summary includes the key words outlined in the job description. Let's say the position is in an Accounting department. You want to include your skills that match the description. Including your skills such as, Excel, spreadsheets, payables/receivables, purchasing, and reconciliation. Show the recruiter your interests and skills match the job requirements.
  3. In the subject box write your name and job title
  4. Make sure your attachment is your name (not resume, your initials, etc.) you want make it easy for the recruiter to remember your name and resume.
  5. Have an email address with your name
  6. Make sure your resume includes your contact information, objective/summary, skills, education, and work history.
  7. At the end of the interview, thank the recruiter and say, may I ask your professional opinion? Is there anything I should include, delete, add or change on my resume?
Good Luck

Diane Bogut
Author/Speaker/Coach/PT Radio Co-Host Employment-Relationships-Inspiration

What do recruiters look for in a resume at first glance?

With the mass amounts of resumes that cross my desk every week, there is no way I can sit down and read each one as a narrative. I go right to the work experience, skipping the executive summary. If the last two positions are relevant to the role, then I look deeper. The next think I look for is how long they were at each company to see the depth of the experience. If the candidate is trying to leverage experience from over five years ago, I usually can find a stronger candidate with more recent experience. The next thing I look for are their educational credentials and their location. If they have the right training/degree, live in the right area, and one of their last two jobs are relevant to the opening, I call them.

The following are other things that I consider when viewing resumes:

White Space

One glaring mistake I see on some resumes is that they have too much white space. My recommendation is not to get too "tab happy" to the point where the bullets of your current position are near the middle of the page. Also, I would recommend not using resume builders that come standard on your computer, as they are notorious for creating tons of white space.

On the other end of the spectrum, you don't want to jam pack a twelve year career on one page with margins that are 1/16th of an inch. This is not enough white space. If I may, allow me to dispel a myth. Your resume doesn't need to fit on one page like we were taught in school.


Always include the months and years you worked at a company. An obvious red flag is a resume that doesn't have the months included. The main reason is that if your resume states "2004-2005," that could be 24 months or two months. If you worked for that company from January 2004 to December of 2005, that is roughly 24 months. If you worked there from December of 2004 to January of 2005, that is roughly two months. So, whenever a candidate doesn't have the months on their resume, it's assumed they are hiding a short stint or a gap in employment.


One of the keys to creating a great resume is knowing your audience and tailoring your resume accordingly. Each resume you send out should be tailored for the opportunity in which you are pursuing. The "OBJECTIVE" should be specific to the job. If it's a role where the education is paramount, then list your education before your experience. If education is not a crucial component to the position, then list the experience first. If it's a position where specific skills are needed then a "SKILLS" section might be appropriate at the beginning.

If you're going to list skills and write a brief summary of yourself, please realize this should not take more than half a page. I've actually seen resumes where the candidate's experience doesn't start until page two. I think people are receiving misleading advice from resume writers and career coaches that this is okay, and I would strongly suggest otherwise.


I think it is interesting how companies like to rename what the industry commonly calls a function. If you happen to be employed by a company that titles your position atypically to the industry, here is my advice to you. On your resume, list the title that your company created then make a parenthetical statement that states what the industry would title you. Here's an example: "Title: Regional Medical Research Scientist (Commonly Known as a Medical Science Liaison)."

The reason I give this advice is often times your resume is screened by people who are not industry experts, and they may not know all the different titles that certain functions are called. I see this a lot with sales people who have "manager" or "director" in their title, when really they are an individual contributor sales person. Here's an example on how to clear up the confusion: "Title: Regional Sales Manager (Individual Contributor)."


Some people like to describe the duties they carried out at a company in bullet point form, others prefer a paragraph. My personal preference is bullet points, but regardless of what you chose, stick with that choice throughout your resume-be consistent. Occasionally, I will see a resume where for one job they will use bullet points, and the next they will use a paragraph.

The same can be said about the tense that is used in a resume. My recommendation is to keep everything in past tense. If you want to leave your current position in present tense, that is fine, but that creates a lot of editing throughout your career. If you happen to miss editing one bullet point, it can really weaken your resume. Also, stay consistent with how you use dates. If you are going to use "Jan." for one job, don't use "January" or "1-" for the next one.

Michael Pietrack, CSAM
Vice President of Medical Affairs Recruiting for The Alpine Group, an affiliate of MRI Network

If I'm interviewing a seasoned professional, I go straight to the "Experience" section. Then, I compare the most recent position with the requirements of the position they applied for. If it's a recent college graduate or student, I look at their major and GPA. For the most part, I want to see the relationship/connection of the job and what they majored in.

What makes it stand out in a good/bad way?

Good - Detailed listing of responsibilities & accomplishments AND the impact it has on the organization or clients. ("Led a team of 15 account representatives that increased sales by 55% with 9 months.")

Bad - Ambiguous/general statements. ("Led a team of account representatives that sold our products to clients.")

Anthony R. Todd Jr.

When reviewing potential candidates' resumes on behalf of my clients, I consider:
  • Length of service with each company. If a candidate has job-hopped, it is a red flag.
  • If there is a legitimate reason that a candidate has not stayed at one company for at least three years, this should be explained on the resume.
  • For example, if your entire department was laid off or a local office shut down, this can easily be noted next to the dates to provide a complete picture for the hiring manager.
  • Generally, companies like to see a tenure of at least three years at each previous company.
  • In the industries we serve, we review whether candidates have certain credentials that demonstrate their leadership and personal development, such as professional engineer (PE) or registered architect (AIA).
  • Clear explanation of accomplishments.
  • It isn't enough to list your job title and responsibilities; hiring managers need candidates to paint a clear picture of quantitative successes and leadership opportunities.
  • Appropriately detailed resume based on years of experience.
  • If someone has 15 or more years of experience, a one-page resume isn't going to tell me a complete story about the candidate's accomplishments.
  • A candidate should vary the length of his resume based on the amount of time he has worked in the industry.
  • Limiting resumes to one-page is yesterday's rule.
Jeremy Smith

Senior Associate with AEC Consulting Group, a national leader in recruiting civil engineers, environmental consultants, architects and construction executives.

What I look for when I first glance at a potential candidate's resume is patterns. Are there common themes in education/experience? Are there duties/responsibilities listed that demonstrate certain characteristics about the person? The patterns themselves don't necessarily show a good or bad candidate It is after looking at these patterns you have to ask yourself, as an employer or recruiter, whether these patterns fill your needs for a position and the company.

Scott Rawitscher
Collaborative Business Solutions, LLC

I am a recruiter in Chicago who gets hundreds of resumes daily. Here are some of the things I look for in a resume:

  1. Grammatical Errors. I have seen people misspell "detail".
  2. Clear sense of what job they are seeking in the objective - not just a glowing recommendation on themself.
  3. Chronological order of their work history - I don't want to have to guess at what they have been doing lately.
  4. I like to see specific accomplishments and improvements they contributed to their job.

Morgan Nichols
Managing Partner

Torrey & Gray specializes in accounting and finance placements and temporary staffing.

Resumes with email addresses at the top that have names like, etc. are always a turn off. Be careful with using a personal email for job hunting. The smart thing to do would be to create a separate email for job searching since they are free.

When the first sentence of a cover letter or the objective of the resume clearly identifies why they are applying for the job and demonstrates their ability to actually perform the job duties, it immediately stands out in a good way.

Davina Douthard is the CEO and founder of Davina Douthard Inc.

A resume stands out positively when it has no gaps in employment history and has complete, clear information.

When a resume is too lengthy it stands out negatively. Also, the jobs and skills you list should not be irrelevant to the job posting.

Lawrence Payne
Employment Specialist
Polishing the Professional

What do you look for when you first glance at a potential candidate's resume?

  • Obvious typos or formatting issues
  • Where the person lives, and if it is a resume from out-of-state or international I'm immediately looking for why that person is relocating (cover letter, usually) or visa status
  • A link to that person's LinkedIn profile, which I now really prefer over a formal resume
  • Companies where that person was employed
  • Degreed or non-degreed and where the person earned a degree

What makes it stand out in a good way (or a bad way)?

  • It's getting harder to impress people with resumes now that LinkedIn contains such rich information about potential candidates. I have a lot more fodder for research on LinkedIn, can see mutual connections, and recommendations. A resume needs to be even more to-the-point and concise to be useful, and no resume should be without a link to LinkedIn, even if a candidate is only putting it in the mail.
  • Typos or formatting issues are deal breakers. There's no position in any organization where attention to detail isn't desirable, so if a sloppy resume doesn't immediately rule out a candidate, it will eventually become a differentiator and lead to elimination. The solution is always heavy proofreading and making sure that several other people read a resume before it's sent out.
Matt Paddock has 15+ years of experience in recruiting, including work as an agency recruiter/headhunter and as a corporate recruiter and manager of recruiting departments. He currently serves as director of engagement for Grow, a digital ad agency in Norfolk, Virginia USA that produces websites, apps, and social media content for clients.

I don't spend a lot of time looking at resume's, in fact, it's usually a matter of seconds. The first thing I look at is the resume's name, if it's out of date e.g. "Resume 2012", or labeled something silly e.g. "All Hail Queen Elizabeth - The Greatest"(Yes, that was one I actually got), then it's going to be ignored. Most do however get a quick scan though, and with that 10 second look I'm checking a couple of things.

A clean and easy to read resume is important. I'm not going to throw out a resume because I didn't like the way it looked (Not hiring designers here), but a candidate does hurt their chances by making it hard for me to read.

Relevant work history is the first detail I look at. Work history tells a story that demonstrates a candidate's skills and abilities, it also tells me how long a person has been in the industry.

On the topic of "years experience", we absolutely will make exceptions for someone that seems to have good character and the ability to do the job.

Technical skills should be listed. I would like to see a description of the applicant's skills and a summary of those skills within the context of their work experience. In addition to candidates skills, programming languages and certification details should be noted as well as include examples of what the candidate has done with those technical skills. This is important, especially for new grads; I want them to demonstrate to me how they have used their technical skills professionally.

Philip Juhasz
Nuspire Networks

This summer, Reputation created an online reputation management guide for employers, and we spoke with several recruiters and employment experts about positive signs and red flags they've found in online searches. They're on high alert for extreme opinions, crude language, drinking or using drugs, and badmouthing previous employers. On a resume in particular, recruiters and hiring managers will watch for poor communication skills, especially grammar, as well as lies about qualifications.

It seems that employers are looking for any excuse to whittle down the pool of qualified candidates with red flags, but they're paying attention to positive entries as well. Professionalism, industry discussions, active online profiles, industry networking, and positive connections are important online. Job seekers can support these positive factors on their resume by sharing memberships to professional organizations and making sure that what they've listed on their resume will line up with the information that employers might discover in an online search.

Jessica Merritt

Recruiters are inundated daily with a barrage of resumes from candidates looking for their next challenge. As a result, we've developed quick ways to determine if we'll spend additional time reviewing someone's resume. We typically look at the following (in order):
  • Formatting - A resume needs to be "skimmable". If the content isn't clearly laid out in a way to quickly assess the aspects below, the resume goes to the "no" pile.

  • Titles - The next key component for a recruiter is to evaluate the most current titles. If the first few don't seem close to what the recruiter is looking for, they rule the resume out.

  • Brands - Assuming the titles are similar or the same as what the recruiter is search for, they'll spend some time checking out the brands the candidate has worked for. They will either need to be big names or highly specific to the position the recruiter is looking to fill.

  • Education - The final check of the first glance is to look at the candidate's education to check the level of education and the notoriety of the institution(s).
An experienced recruiter can zip through the above aspects in one glance, top to bottom, of a resume. If these all check out, the recruiter will spend the time looking deeper - the career trajectory, relevant accomplishments, and any potential inconsistencies.

Bryce Murray

Managing Director of Talent Acquisition
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