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What Employers Think When They Read Your Résumé

Robert Half International

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If you're like most job seekers, the hiring process can sometimes make you scratch your head in confusion. For example, how many times have you come across the "perfect" position, quickly submitted your résumé and eagerly anticipated the hiring manager's call ... only to hear nothing from the company?

Unfortunately, the frustrating reality is that the majority of résumés you submit will elicit little or no response from potential employers. Much of the time, the situation is out of your control: The position may have already been filled by the time you inquired about it or simply wasn't as good a fit as you thought. That doesn't mean, however, that there's nothing you can do to improve your odds of being called for an interview.

Following is an inside peek into the questions hiring managers ask themselves when evaluating résumés. By understanding potential employers' thought processes, you can craft stronger application materials.

Can the applicant fill my need?
Admittedly, it's an obvious question. After all, a firm looking to hire a computer programmer isn't going to call you for an interview if you only have a background in human resources. But even if you possess the necessary experience, if your résumé isn't targeted to the specific company and opening, your qualifications could seem equally unrelated. Tailoring your résumé to the position involves positioning your skills and experience in a way that shows the hiring manager that they align perfectly with the opening. So, rather than submit the same generic résumé for every job you pursue, look at each opening and create a customized résumé. Sure, it takes a little more time, but it's worth it.

If you are applying for a programmer position, for example, the company will want to see previous employment in the information technology industry; knowledge of Java, XML or other computer languages; and evidence that the applications you've helped develop have benefited former employers. In this case, you would downplay your three years as a busboy in college as well as your brief stint as a telemarketer.

Throwing everything against the wall and seeing if something sticks isn't the right approach; a hiring manager is more likely to discard your résumé than wade through it in hopes of finding relevant information. Use numbers perhaps by pointing out that your program enabled the sales team to collect more than 5,000 leads per month which are likely to stand out in a sea of words and grab a hiring manager's attention. Research the company and re-read the job description several times to make sure you are stressing all of your most relevant qualifications.

Will the applicant remain with my firm for the long term?
The hiring process is lengthy, complicated and expensive. An October 2004 study by the Employment Policy Foundation found that replacing just one worker costs businesses an average of $13,355. Because of high turnover costs, hiring managers seek employees who are not likely to leave the company soon after accepting an offer. They'll look to your résumé for proof of a stable work history.

If you have job-hopped in the past, consider submitting a functional, rather than a chronological, résumé. A functional résumé is organized around your skills, experiences and accomplishments, not the specific roles you have held at various points in your career. You also can use this format to downplay employment gaps; but be prepared to explain them during an interview.

In addition, hiring managers look for assurance that you are dedicated to your profession. If you belong to a professional association, possess certifications or take professional education courses, list this information on your résumé. But make sure everything is relevant and current. You may have a certified financial planner designation, but it means little if you have not renewed your certification in four years.

Is the potential employee professional?
Imagine trying to convince someone to buy a product by providing them with a description of it but not allowing them to see or test it. Sounds hard, doesn't it? In essence, that's your challenge when submitting a résumé. A hiring manager will use just a few sheets of paper to determine if you are professional and can communicate well. So, make sure your résumé is free of typos and grammatical mistakes and that it is easy to understand. Because hiring managers may receive hundreds of applications, they'll eliminate you from contention for the slightest infraction.

And if they have a question about your work history, they don't have the time to call you for clarification. Have a friend, relative or member of your professional network read through your résumé with a sharp eye to spot any errors you might have missed. Afterward, ask the person to summarize its contents. Can he or she accurately recall your past positions and responsibilities? Can the individual name your career highlights? Is the person able to tell the type of job you seek? If not, you're probably not getting your message across as clearly as you can, which means a hiring manager may not be as impressed with your application as you'd hope.

The hiring process can be opaque, but one thing is clear: A well-written, targeted résumé gives you the best chance of being called for an interview and, ultimately, landing the position you desire. Before you submit your next application, think like a hiring manager to ensure your résumé doesn't get lost in the crowd.

Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 330 offices throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit

Last Updated: 14/01/2008 - 11:38 AM

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