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How to get your resume onto a recruiters' shortlist

By James Hawley, EVP of Hays USA on October 26, 2017

You’ve sent your resume in to a recruiter, but haven’t heard back from them about any relevant jobs. Is it because they’re not doing their job, or is your resume getting lost in the noise? As you can imagine, the average recruiter receives dozens of resumes in a week, sometimes in a day. How do they decide which ones to devote time to? Most of those decisions are made quickly based on the information on the first page of your resume.

So what goes through a recruiter’s mind as they read your resume, and how can you make it to their shortlist?

Why is your resume in front of me?

The first thing the recruiter will want to know is why your resume is sitting in front of them. What’s your career journey so far, why are you applying for this role now, and why should their client take an interest?

Your personal statement is the first thing the recruiter will read, so with the above in mind, make sure yours is tailored to the job in question and concisely tells the recruiter why you are applying for it. This last point is essential – it must be brief so keep it to two to three sentences focused on your experience and why you are suited to the role. Don’t be tempted to write about what you are looking to achieve next in your career – the recruiter needs to know how well you fit an organization’s needs, not how the organization can help you move forward.

What can you do?

Now, the recruiter will want to know at a glance that you have suitable expertise and experience. So, if you haven’t done so already, I would recommend placing a short list beneath your personal statement, almost a snapshot of your main skills, starting with those most pertinent to the job; e.g. web content management, plus your technical abilities such as WordPress or Excel.

Where’s the proof?

Once you have captured their attention with your personal statement and key skills, the recruiter then looks for evidence of your skills in the career history section of your resume.

Starting with your most recent role, list your relevant career history to date. List the job title and organization, and then follow with a few bullet points detailing your responsibilities and achievements. Remember to phrase this in a way that mirrors the key words and language used in the job description.

As you list your responsibilities and achievements, also provide facts, statistics and links to your work. For instance, if you listed web content management as one of your key skills, you should mention how much daily traffic your content drives to the site, plus any other relevant KPIs. You should also link to some of your online content.

If any past roles aren’t relevant to this opportunity, simply list the name of the company, your job title, and the dates you were employed. This shows you were employed during this time, while freeing up space for your more suitable experience.

Your education

Beneath your career history, simply list the educational institution, course, certificate and grade achieved. There is no need to go into extensive details here on your resume.

Does this resume tick all the other boxes I’m looking for?

At this stage, the recruiter will have more than likely made their decision about whether to add your resume to their ‘yes’ pile or not, and now it’s simply a case of ensuring you tick the following final boxes.

These include:

  • Would this candidate be a good fit? Yes, personality and cultural fit is best assessed face-to-face, however certain areas of your resume can give a small glimpse into what you’re like at work, and give you that competitive edge. Don’t be tempted to do this by listing your hobbies and interests though; they are irrelevant to your ability to do the job in question.
  • Do they pay attention to detail? Resume mistakes reflect badly on your attention to detail and how conscientious you are in your work. Proofread your resume at least once before sending it. Check your formatting, spelling and grammar. Make sure all the hyperlinks work. My colleague Jane has written a great article on how to make sure your resume is error-free, which you can read here.
  • Can I get in contact? Check your name, phone number, email address and LinkedIn URL are correct and sit at the top of your resume. Make sure both your LinkedIn profile and resume are aligned.

For a recruiter going through dozens if not hundreds of resumes in a week, the resumes that stand out are those that efficiently communicate all the above steps, with the most important information at the top. Make sure your resume has an immediate positive impact by reviewing it from the point of view of a recruiter or hiring manager – what do they want to know? What keywords or skills might they be scanning for? That small change in perspective will let you tailor your resume and improve your chances of reaching the next step in the hiring process.

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