Recruiter Question #1: What catches your eye on a resume?

Recruiters, what is the first thing you look at on a candidate's resume?

Comments (29)

  1. HeatherLeigh says:

    Name of the company where they are currently working

  2. Brian says:

    What they accomplished, not just a list of places and job descriptions.

  3. Jen says:

    Whether their expeirence/education matches the job description.

  4. Doug says:

    Experience and Accomplishments. I never bother with cover letters and only focus on the core skills, experience and accomplishments. If those appear to be a match for ANY of our clients. I pick up the phone and go in depth.

  5. Deb says:

    While I’m not a recruiter in the sense that I spend all my time recruiting, I do a majority of the hiring for our company, so………

    First thing?  Right now?


    Then I look for keywords that fit our organization and the position, scanning experience and ignoring titles.

  6. Derek Bigelow says:

    Heather, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you check a candidates current employer first?  If you saw on my resume, for instance, that I currently work at Gap, would it deter you in any way from reading further?

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    Derek-good question. It’s just the first thing I look at, but I don’t stop after looking at it. Knowing the company the person works at gives context to their job responsibilitiies. WHen I posed the question, I quite literally meant the "first thing"…one singular thing.

    Let me give you a quick example that will help explain why I do this. Let’s say there’s a person who is a product manager at a company. Very frequently (all too frequently for my taste), I can read through their bullet points of work responsibilities and results and not have any idea what industry they work in. It seems that people feel that product is product. The reality is that a product manager at Proctor and Gamble is very different than a product manager at Microsoft. That is not to say that the person wouldn’t not get hired, but the industries are different and that is context I need when I am reading through the rest of the resume. We do sometimes hire people from other industries into marketing roles but I at least need that point of reference to interpret the rest of the resume.

    Let me also say one thing. I think many candidates feel that recruiters are looking at resumes and thinking "is this person good or not?". What I am thinking about is fit.

    So no, the Gap would not deter me from reading your resume further but it would help me focus my thinking about your background relative to positions we have open and I might be thinking "what kind of roles do we have in our consumer focused groups where a retail focus is needed?".

    I frequently give the advice that people need to put on their resume what their company does (it’s all about the context!), but few do. So I go for the company name to determine that first before moving on to other parts of the resume.

    Hope that helps!

  8. randomguymike says:

    My comment on location being the first thing looked at would be. "Boo". I mean that in a way that is, hopefully, inoffensive.  

    As a candidate I have extended my job search nationally for a few reasons. One of the bigger ones is I don’t want a company to hire me because I live close, and I don’t want to limit myself to a set of company cultures and opportunities based on the fact I have a house located here either.

    I fear the hiring company’s might make compromises to their standards to fit mileage requirements. I want them to hire me because they think I could be the best thing for them since sliced bread in this position.

    I have an offer locally, but will likely turn it down (or at least put them off till I hear about a couple awesome national things in the pipeline) because while I feel I’m exceptional at what I do, I have lingering doubts that they may be giving me an offer because I’m the best at what I do compared to others within a 15 mile radius, and they’re willing to compromise fit because of that. I never got that warm, fuzzy, "this is what I’ve been looking for" feeling with them. It may turn out that the comprises made by both parties in the sake of geographic convenience could come back to bite us a couple years down the road.

    Wouldn’t you rather have a great employee (with super fit & skills) and pay a couple thousand dollars to help move them over having an “OK” local employee? Wouldn’t you prefer if an employee sent a resume in because they thought a role at your company, and your company culture rocked, not because it’s located down the road? I dunno, I guess being a single guy with only a very cute dog to worry about can make me more carefree about location, but "Local candidates only" is one of my biggest personal peeves on job postings.

    The stuff everyone else has listed seems pretty straightforward. Good topic, though. Thanks. Its always nice to make sure I am focusing on the right stuff on my resume.

    BTW, a bit trivia I’ve always been curious about:

    Why is listing locations of companies on a resume considered standard procedure? Does it matter that a company a worked for was in Anchorage or Monroe, LA? Does that somehow make me more or less desirable as a candidate?

  9. Bad_Brad says:

    "Why is listing locations of companies on a resume considered standard procedure? Does it matter that a company a worked for was in Anchorage or Monroe, LA? Does that somehow make me more or less desirable as a candidate? "

    Well, I am not a recruiter, but I have been a hiring manager and I have taken a significant role in major recruiting efforts before (I suppose that’s another way of saying "I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV").  I’ll try to answer this one.

    The location or locations you have worked answers a couple of issues for me:

    1. If you would need to relocate, as an interviewer, I will need to make sure that you are willing to do this – if not, you are wasting our time.

    2. If all of your schooling and work experience have been in a single location, that might be a reason for me to pry into how well you might adapt to another culture.  I might ask more questions about how you have dealt with co-workers in other locations / departments in a company, how much cross-functional team experience you have, etc.

    3. For example, if the position I am hiring involves dealing with international business issues in Europe, it might be a bonus that you spent a stint of your career in London.

  10. HeatherLeigh says:

    randomguymike…this is good. Exectly the kind of conversation I was looking for so thanks for beinging this up! I’m not speaking for Deb, but I can tell you why location may matter to some recruiters: most relocations don’t cost just a couplpe thousand dollars. A company can spend that much on a month of temp housing easily. I’m not sure exactly how much a relocation package costs a company, and of course it depends on the person’s personal situation (renter/owner, family or none), but I think it’s likely more in the range of tens of thousands.

    The bottom line for many recruiters is that they simply do not have relocation budget. No reputable recruiter is going to call you and ask you to relocate yourself…atleast none that I have heard of. So when there’s no budget for relo and there’s a sense that the skills are available in the same market that the position resides in, then the recruiter recruits locally.

    So you are really reminding me of the importance for recruiters of putting ourselves in the candidates place and considering their perspective(s). Of course the location thing seems silly if we don’t explain why it’s important. It may not be a job selection criteria for the candidate, but it can be a candidate selection criteria for the company.

    Then I think of my situation. We very frequently relocate people for marketing positions here. I would never not consider a candidate due to location (as long as the experience matches and there’s no reason why relo would be a HUGE expense relative to the level of the position), but I know from experience that it is more difficult to get people to relocate from certain geographies due to quality of living and perception of the Seattle area. This is why, regardless of location (if they are non-local), we are always asking people if they will relocate. Putting something on your resume about willingness to relocate may be a little unorthodox, but it can answer one of the first questions a recruiter might have. I can’t think of a good way to work the "single guy with a cute dog" into the resume format but I might come up with something. : )

    And I don’t think people generally care where your companies were located as long as it’s clear whether you were part of a central/HQ function (I am thinking about marketing here). Also, knowing that you have moved from one area of the country to another for work may give the recruiter the sense that you are willing to relocate for the right opportunity, which is goodness as far as I’m concerned.

  11. Chris S says:

    Great topic and good advice…

    I have a question; what are the major red-flags in a resume? I assume, typo’s, grammar etc., but is there anything else that at first glance would make you stop reading the rest of a resume? What are your thoughts on not including a cover letter?

  12. HeatherLeigh says:

    Bad-Brad-great perspective.

    Chris S- well, I’m going to use that as my next question. I’ll start a new thread. Thanks for the question!

  13. Derek Bigelow says:

    Heather, that’s what I assumed, but I was just curious.  Thanks :]

  14. Heather’s getting into recruiters’ heads to help jobseekers. You’ll want to look at their answers to her questions. What is the first thing you look at on a candidate’s resume? What are common red flags on a resume? What will…

  15. eR0CK says:

    Re:  Doug

    I found a job quickly after college and even had my chance with MS, but all the resumes I sent out, my resume was accompanied by a cover letter.

    Interestingly enough, no one read my cover letter.  How do I know?  The recruiter asked me questions that were answered within the cover letter.  This reflects very poorly on the interviewer/recruiter from my point of view and even the company she/he is representing.

    However, now that it seems very few recruiters read cover letters, is it really necessary to include one with your resume?  I guess better safe then sorry is your best bet, but I’d rather spend my time doing something productive then writing several unique cover letters for individuals that won’t read them.

    Just wondering everyones thoughts on this.


  16. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ooh, wait! I’ll use that for my next question! Thanks eRock!

  17. Sandiblog44 says:

    From a recruiter’s perspective, what are your thoughts on a functional resume vs. a chronological one?  For someone who is trying to make a career shift from one field to another, I would think a functional resume would help a recruiter make the leap from one type of job to another, i.e. explicitly listing skill areas and related accomplishments that lend to another field of work.  But I’ve been told that some hiring managers prefer to see what a candidate has done in each job/position throughout their career.  

  18. vicki70 says:

    The relocation discussion in here is particularly interesting to me – especially being attached to the military and moving EVERYWHERE on the globe. My resume looks more like a connect the dots puzzle than a true representation of my experience and achievements.

    Anyway, since I now live in SE Alabama <sigh>, I feel as though potential employers think I am a Southern Drawlin’ Belle… which couldn’t be further from the truth… I don’t like to reveal where I am located, much less the location of my last job – based on the fact that it is in such a rural area and the pay ranges are less than adequate. But what else can a candidate do? I do not want to be deceptive or talk poorly of my current geographic location… but I would like to be judged on my credentials and unlimited potential.

    But I sincerely believe that I am not getting interviews based primarily on my current location – and that is sheer frustration. Getting a decent paying job as a graduate degree holder and working towards a PhD is next to impossible here. (When I moved here 3 years ago, I was told by the State Employment Agency to REMOVE my education COMPLETELY from my resume in order to increase my chances to be hired!)

    Egads… all this talk is depressing me, but PLEASE keep the good information and tips flowing….

    In the meantime, I think I will go read Heather’s posts on the 80’s and re-live the days of bad hair and flourescent apparel.


    P.S. I recently read about Seattle’s intelligence -in terms of its citizens being highly educated as opposed to other US locales. Ahhh… refreshing! Now if only I could relocate thousands of miles away from here. . . LOL!

  19. HeatherLeigh says:

    Sandiblog44- great question. Let me tee that up with a new thread! Stay tuned!

    vicki70- I hate to hear that the state employment agency told you that. My guess is that there aren’t an abundance of jobs in your area that require your advanced education. I’d have a hard time following that advice if I were you. Maybe you can focus on some freelance/consulting work where location isn’t an issue. It might be something that ou want to think about because if you tell a recruiter/employer about the military part, they may worry that you won’t stay with their company very long. I am not saying it is proper of them to do that, but that may be what they are thinking. I’m going to think about your situation more and see if I can come up with more ideas.

    The thing about the intelligence in the Seattle area shows what a few strong employers in the market with a high IP focus can do.  

  20. Deb says:

    Wow!  Nice discussion on relocation!  

    Like those in the military, I’ve moved quite a lot too.  (Preacher’s kid here.)  This continued into my adulthood and is a way of life for me.  I’ve done a couple of searches for jobs in different areas of the country from where I was currently living.  (Including one when I was living in Florida and looking to move to Boston.)

    What worked for me at those times, and what works when I’m reviewing resumes, is for you to tell me up front that you’re willing to relocate yourself to the area.  Of course we’re looking for that right person over the "OK but lives here" person.  But as we do not have a huge relo budget, it has to be a consideration for us….which means that sometimes the "OK but has potential and lives here" person becomes the "right person".  

    I wouldn’t discourage looking for jobs nationally.  But Heather is right on the money.  We want the best person for the job, but the best person for us is also the person we can afford.

  21. I look first at their objective, primarily to see if they can write at all well, whether they’ve given any effort to match it up somewhat with the posted job description, and whether they have any idea of what they want to do.

  22. HeatherLeigh says:

    Deb- thanks for the practical perspective. Good point about stating whether one will relocate themselves. If the company has budget for relo, they will pay for it, but if it doesn’t, the candidate is well served by letting them know they will self-fund. Earlier in my career, I would have done this (less stuff and no mortgage back then).

    Gary- great point. I don’t think that the objective, if it lists a position-type, should match the job description. I have to admit that I often find the objectives a little fluffy too…not enough for people not to include them if they feel strongly about it but I’m looking for the list of ingredients on the label, not the marketing slogan.

  23. vicki70 says:

    Heather – you’re absolutely right and I appreciate the candor. (BTW, I’ve kept my education on my applications/resumes because I worked way too hard to omit their existence! And I have done a lot of freelancing in the meantime too.)

    I am living with a double-edged sword here. Firstly, I am not looking for a job now – I am looking for a CAREER move. Period. My husband has 18 years in the military so RIGHT NOW I can move and stay settled in the career of MY CHOICE. I am done with the hopping around… I worked hard on those advanced degrees so that he can comfortably walk away from his career and follow ME now. But here’s the fun part: if I SAY that my husband is ready to retire, I sound like I’m OLD! Really, it seems like it is all stacked up against me!! I would LOVE to know that there is such a thing as no age discrimination and that my military spouse status would not be taken into consideration when I am looked at for hiring potential. But it is – and I’m just a thirty-something with marcom, PR, and teaching/training experience who is working on her PhD in technology management and education. I’ve had many jobs, a plethora of experience – and just want to get the heck out of Dodge so that I can DO something fun, interesting, and live in a place that has some cultural activities. (The National Peanut Festival just doesn’t do it for me, folks! Sorry!)

    It’s also important that I get my teenage girls (another thing that makes me seem a lot older) in schools they can graduate with honors and distinction. Relocation is sooooo important to me and my family!

    So how does one circumvent ALL THAT TMI when trying to get an interview?

    I really want to move in the right direction, but my husband’s career has made my own path to a fulfilling and rewarding career look like a minefield!

    I only apply to those positions that I REALLY think I would enjoy and make a good fit both professionally and personally – but I think there is a wall that is a REAL hurdle for me to overcome. I’ve been reading all these threads with great interest…and will continue to do so – so thanks again for the feedback to all! 🙂

    And Deb, I’ve already offered my willingness to relocation and share the expenses of moving -to show my committment to finding the right place/fit.

    What am I doing wrong or how can I avoid the pitfalls of being a military wife, mom to teenagers and wanting a better environment for my family while searching for the perfect career?

    Do I need a coach??

  24. HeatherLeigh says:

    vicki70- I wouldn’t worry about seeming older. I can’t imagine a company thinking that thirty-something is old (despite the fact that it is sillegal to discriminate based on age). Im wondering if maybe this is a case of TMI in the interview process. None of that personal stuff is any business of the recruiter/interviewer. A couple thoughts…

    1) When someone says "retire", it does conjure an image of an older person mostly because most folksd retire later in life (the age 65 comes to mind). I know that "retire" is the actual term for someone who completes their career with the military, but perhaps you could use a different set of words that would be less confusing to the recruiter or company. Something like "my husband is moving into the private sector after serving in the military for some time. We have agreed that now is the time to focus on MY career". Nothing age specific about that and it shows the interviewer that your career is a family prioirity.

    2) Re: teenage kids; this is none of their business. Don’t bring it up. I’m not saying that anyone would decide not to hire you because you have kids, but they could think "why did she bring that up in the interview? Will she have a hard time working here or would she rather be at home with her kids?". Back when I was interviewing people regularly, I would (could) never ask if people had kids. The job is the job and if they can do it, they can do it. Not sure what kids have to do with it.

    You know, asking about whether you need a coach…that is a smart question. I think it sounds like a good idea. It’s always good to get an objective opinion on your interviewing skills. It’s like when I was in college and my roommates said "stop doing that with your hair!". You don’t realize it until someone points it out. My objective opinion is that you might be focusing more on the obstacles (location, perceptions of your personal situation) than on the reasons why people should hire you (education, passion for your work, etc). It’s easy to do (I’m a glass half empty gal myself…can’t help it). I think that if you do look for a coach, you find one that can help with your personal "pitch" (something I would need help with myself if I were inthe market right now). I think once you get that down, you’ll be in great shape.

  25. vicki70 says:

    A short response this time (no more TMI from me): THANK YOU! 😉

    You rock!


  26. HeatherLeigh says:

    vicki70-we don’t mind the TMI here : )

  27. Deb says:

    Heather, great advice for vicki70.  I was thinking along the same lines but wasn’t being successful at finding a tactful way to say it.  

    Sometimes I like to refer to this as my own "selective denial", but it’s good to be careful to not be so focused on all the reasons one isn’t finding a job.  It’s hard to stay upbeat and focused at times, especially if one isn’t getting the response they hope for.  Stay focused positive.  (But a coach may be able to help identify that thing that Heather talks about — whether there are any issues with being able to be objective about where one’s previous experience and skills might actually land them.)

  28. HeatherLeigh says:

    Deb-you are giving me an idea for another post….it’s coming

  29. L Rubin says:

    The answer is different depending on the level of search and years experience the recruiter has. The answer is different depending on the level of research you need to do in locating the candidate. Junior recruiters and HR usually tend to match buzz words to determine a match for the hiring manager and the hiring manager takes it from there.

    I’ve been doing IT Executive Search for individual contributors and middle management (90-200K) for 12 years. Most of my clients know they do not want to pay for relocation on top of my fee and it’s expected I can bring them a local candidate.

    I am usually doing the research myself on locating a candidate and I’m only giving about 30 seconds per resume. Keep in mind that I always use search criteria of zip code and minimum education to qualify for any search (in essence you could say those are the first two items I look at). I’m looking at their most recent positions within the past 7 years to see what they have done, for whom and does it scale to my client; their name to ascertain any closer fit for my client.

    What is more critical than any great resume content is how the candidate performs in my first conversation. That’s when I go back to reread the resume in detail and decide if they make it to a final candidate pool to be submitted to the client.

    Don’t spend money on fancy resume writers or cover letters (rarely read) as most other senior recruiters I know all feel the same way.

    L. Rubin

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