What Hiring Managers See When They Look at Your Resume


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Every resume speaks for itself, but the struggle for job applicants is to figure out exactly what it says.

Too often, job hunters leave out valuable information that could help them land a job and instead throw in details that either add no value or make a hiring manager question the candidate’s professionalism or competence for the position, career experts say. Every section of the resume needs to be thought through carefully and every sentence should be reviewed to understand the impact it will have on the person reading it.

MainStreet asked two experts to give us their insight into how a hiring manager looks at a resume (see the graphic above), and to also help us come up with a set of guidelines job hunters should follow when designing their own resume to ensure that it speaks for them and not against them.

Start Right From the Top

By default, the first thing a hiring manager will see when they glance at your resume is the heading with your name and contact information, so you want to make sure you get off to a good start.

The contact information should include a phone number – preferably a cellphone – that goes to a professional-sounding voicemail, and an e-mail address that also looks professional, according to Alexandra Levit, author of New Job, New You and a member of the Career Advisory Board at Devry University. That means ditch your dragonslayer@iheartnerds.com email address and replace it with one that simply shows your name perhaps followed by a Web domain that you’ve purchased.

The Importance of the Skills Section

Nothing beats experience, but the candidate needs to be able to put that experience into the right context and do so in a succinct yet convincing manner. That’s where the skills summary section comes in.

“What I really like to see on a resume now is to see people include a summary as opposed to objectives – usually one or two sentences incorporating who you are and what you do, but not so much about what you want,” says Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for Adecco Staffing U.S.

This section should include a brief synopsis of what companies you’ve worked for, your general expertise (including soft skills like working well under pressure and problem solving) as well as any broad accomplishments that may be relevant positions. You don’t need to get too specific here since you will elaborate further in the experience section and cover letter, but this should set the narrative for the rest of your resume.

Leading with this information ahead of your career history can be particularly relevant when applying for a job outside your expertise.

“If you are making a completely different move that has nothing to do with your previous job, showing your chronological history first will make the employer wonder what your experience has to do with job opening,” Levit says. “But if you list your skills first, it can make your experience sound more relevant.”

The Real Value of Experience

When job hunters think about how to write their career experience on a resume, many simply default to offering a brief description of their responsibilities in each job and leaving it at that, but most hiring managers could care less about this.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing someone write ‘I did this,’ without saying what the result was,” Dede tells MainStreet. “Did you win an award? Did you innovate? Did you make things more efficient? There is always something that you can call out if you were a good employee.”

For that reason, Dede views it as a red flag when she sees an employment history section that doesn’t include at least some hard numbers in it to demonstrate what the candidate accomplished and how they contributed to the bottom line at previous companies.

The simplest way to spruce up this section, Dede suggests, is to make sure each bullet point in this section starts with an action word: created, developed, increased, etc. This way you won’t fall into the trap of having boring job descriptions and nothing else.

Rethink Your Education and Interests

When you are looking for a job right out of school, your education and personal background may carry more value, but the further along you get in your career, the less likely employers are to care that you graduated cum laude or took piano lessons for six years.

Instead, Levit recommends using whatever real estate you have left at the bottom of your resume to hone in on the most important skills you’ve cultivated in your education and personal life, in addition to the actual degree you earned.

“If you are going to include something about the coursework you’ve done, make sure it speaks to certain skills you have that are valuable and rare, like leadership, problem solving and global expertise,” she says. Perhaps you’ve been certified in business training courses, have experience working abroad or won an award outside of work for integrity or accountability that you can include. Each of these are sought-after characteristics that Levit says are often left unaddressed in a resume.

You might also end up alluding to some of these in the skills section at the top, but mentioning them in this section can reinforce the skills listed elsewhere and help to leave a good final impression on the hiring manager.

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