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What Do Employers Look For in a Resume?

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated with the latest facts and new information has been added. 

What Do Employers Look for in a Resume? | Vertical Media Solutions

The inexperienced cook is often shocked when first presented with a recipe that is a list of ingredients, and nothing more. No instructions on preparation, whether it’s boiled or baked, or even if it’s to be seasoned a particular way. Job seekers are a lot like the green cook when writing a resume. They have some idea of how to go about it, but lack the depth of knowledge necessary to write a piece de resistance that gets noticed by the screening staff in HR.

Executive Chefs expect their cooks to already know certain things about a recipe — what kind of dish it is, whether it is served hot or cold, and how to prepare each component. Likewise, HR expects job seekers to have adequate knowledge of the resume screening process and how it works.

In this article, we’re going to cover how employers screen resumes and what’s important to them at each step. We’ll also share exclusive information about how to write your resume so it lands on the hiring manager’s desk. When you finish reading this article, you will have a thorough understanding of how resumes are reviewed, and how to tailor your resume content and style to fit exactly what employers are looking for.


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What Do Employers Look for in a Resume? | Vertical Media Solutions

The Hiring Funnel, What It Is, and How Resumes Fit Into It

The hiring funnel is a process that many employers use to screen applicants, with the aim of filtering out all but the most qualified candidates for the position. In this section, we’ll cover how resumes fit into the funnel, how they are screened, and what employers are looking for at each step.


Resume Pre-screen

During this step, the employer checks to see if your resume contains basic information that includes minimum education, experience, and other factors. At this step, resumes are sent down one of two funnels used when screening resumes:

  • Skilled Professional/Management Funnel
  • Entry-level Funnel

The differences between these two funnels are substantial, so we will dig into each one separately.


Skilled Professional/Management Resume Screening Funnel

When you submit your resume as a skilled professional, your resume is screened by a person who is trained to look at the critical areas of your resume. That person may also be responsible for cross-referencing your LinkedIn profile, social media, and other information to determine whether your resume should be passed on to the hiring manager.

What sets the skilled professional resume screening process apart from entry-level screening is that a real person screens your resume at each step. Entry-level resumes are often screened with software designed to look for specific keyword matches based on the job description. This automated approach is cheap and efficient, but misses a lot of qualified candidates, too.

You may be aware that the resume screening process is different for professionals. However, you may not know that employers are eager to impress you. They want to woo the right candidates for the position. Employers are acutely aware that screening professional applicants with software makes the company look like it doesn’t really care about its highly skilled employees. To make the best impression, they rely on trained HR staff to professionally screen your resume and evaluate your candidacy for the position.

To improve your chances of getting your resume all the way to the hiring manager, read on to learn what must include in your resume and how to write it to survive the screening process.


VMS Exclusive Insight — Employers want to attract skilled professionals who apply for their open positions.


Entry-Level Resume Screening Funnel

For entry-level job seekers, resume screening is likely to be automated with software that checks your resume for keyword matches to the specific qualifications the employer has determined to be critical for success in the position.

In practice, automated screening is used to screen applicants for entry-level jobs when the employer expects to receive hundreds or even thousands of resume submissions. This type of screening is fast and efficient…and imperfect. Automated processes often miss perfectly qualified people because the software used performs basic keyword matching. Read on to learn how to survive this step with your resume.


How to Survive Resume Screening

Read over the job description carefully and pay close attention to what the employer deems critical skills and qualifications. If you have software skills the employer is looking for, be sure to make this known in your professional summary. Next, read the job description and re-write your qualifications to exactly match how theirs is written.

For example, if the job description says, “Minimum 2 years scheduling production and labor in a parts manufacturing facility”, use that exact description if you have similar experience. The software will be looking for matches to keywords and phrases in the posted job description.


Why This Matters

By using the same exact words as the job description, both HR screeners and resume screening software will see the exact matches. The more matches you get, the more likely your resume will make it to the next step in the hiring funnel.


A Few Words about Keywords in Resumes

Over the last decade or so, the use of keywords in resumes has gotten a lot of buzz. While it’s true that keyword matches are important, they are a relatively small part of the big resume picture. The person who has worked in similar entry-level positions at five different employers in three years won’t be helped much by keywords. Unfortunately, the quality of employment just isn’t there. You can’t overcome a poor employment history by loading your resume with keywords that match the job description. It just won’t work.

The problem for professionals is a bit different. You may rely too heavily on keywords to ‘carry’ your resume to the hiring manager’s desk. Keywords aren’t some kind of Harry Potter inspired magic spell that automatically delivers your resume to the hiring manager. You still have to write a professional summary that persuasively communicates how your skills relate to what you’ll be held accountable for if hired. Invest the time and effort necessary to create a professional summary that truly stands out from the other candidates.


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What Do Employers Look for in a Resume? | Vertical Media Solutions

Resume Screening

Once your resume has made it through the pre-screening process, it is reviewed by a person who takes a closer look to see what your qualifications are and if they are a good match with the open position. While hiring managers may claim that they spend up to 5 minutes reviewing each resume, a 2013 study by The Ladders clearly indicates otherwise. In that study, The Ladders found the recruiter spends only about 6 seconds on each resume. Furthermore, the same study found that up to 4 of those seconds were spent looking at the following:

  • Job Titles
  • Employment History
  • Start and End Dates
  • Education

The remaining 2 seconds were spent looking at other parts of your resume. This brings to light an inconvenient truth for job seekers: you need to hit all four of these points, if you can. Let’s tackle each of these so you can see how to handle those four points and your qualifications.


Job Titles

The fact is, if you hope to land an interview, you’re really stuck using the job titles you were given at previous employers. Try to alter the titles or change them, and you run the risk of being perceived as being deceptive or downright dishonest, both of which will immediately remove your resume from further consideration. Leave the job titles alone, and focus your attention on the details of what you did for each position you held. Remember how we mentioned matching your qualifications to similar qualifications in the job description? This is precisely where you need to do that. When the hiring manager reads through your job titles, that person will also read through what you did in each position. Use those same keywords in your professional summary to quickly communicate your value to the resume screener. The more skills you have that exactly match what the employer is looking for, the better your chances of landing an interview.


Employment History

Hiring managers pay a lot of attention to this section, looking for length of employment at each previous job. Long terms of employment may not be as critical as they once were, but it’s still important to show upward movement in roles and responsibilities. Relatively short employment terms combined with jobs that show little or no advancement are likely to signal the employer that you may not stick around long enough to bother with.


Start and End Dates

Hiring managers spend time looking at these to identify gaps in employment. If you have employment gaps, it’s critically important to address them. Provide details about how you were improving yourself in some measurable way, such as taking courses, volunteering, or learning new skills on your own to increase your potential value to employers during your job search.

Employment gaps that lack a reasonable explanation may signal the employer that you might only hang around until you get bored or frustrated, then quit. You can safely assume that, left unexplained, gaps in employment may lead to your resume being discarded from the hiring funnel.


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What Do Employers Look for in a Resume? | Vertical Media Solutions


Even as higher education undergoes a fundamental transformation, employers still like to see candidates with at least some college on their resumes. To an employer, college signals that you want to do more with your life and have the level of discipline and commitment to better yourself through formal education.

You may be a job seeker who thinks your college education doesn’t really matter because it has nothing to do with the position you’re applying for. This couldn’t be further from the truth! A job seeker with at least some college education kind of degree is far more likely to get a job than those who have none. According to this 2016 article in CNN Money, of the 11.4 million jobs created after the Great Recession, 8.4 million of them went to college grads with a bachelor’s degree or higher. 3 million more jobs were given to applicants who had at least some college education.

The upshot of this is, if you have some college education, put it on your resume. It may be the difference between getting an interview or getting overlooked.


The Remaining 2 Seconds

At this point, the hiring manager has likely decided whether to move your resume on to the next step or toss it. The last couple of seconds are spent looking for answers to the burning question Why should I interview this person? By highlighting the most relevant qualifications in your professional summary, you may be able to convince the reviewer to grant you an interview.


Telephone Interview

Employers may follow up a successful pre-screen with a telephone interview. Not all employers do this, but if you do, you stand a much better chance of being hired. At this point, the hiring manager has narrowed down the list of candidates to a much smaller number and will be looking to schedule a formal interview if the telephone interview goes well.

During the telephone interview, you may be asked questions about your previous jobs, your roles and responsibilities, and other questions about your employment. Prepare yourself for the phone interview so you can effectively answer any question the hiring manager might throw at you.



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What Do Employers Look for in a Resume? | Vertical Media Solutions

Formal Job Interview

If you make it past the phone interview step, you are well on your way to landing a new job. Depending upon the position you’re applying for, you may be invited to attend one or more formal job interviews. While beyond the scope of this article, it’s important to know what comes next after your resume passes through each step successfully.


How Hiring Processes Have Changed and Why It’s Important to Adapt

The last decade has seen profound change as new technologies are developed and become deeply integrated into our everyday lives. The rise of digital technologies that make the internet faster and safer, the explosive growth of social media, and advances in AI and machine learning have transformed how we look for jobs and how employers screen job applicants.

In this article, you learned about the hiring funnel and how your resume fits into it. You also learned that employers routinely utilize software to to pre-screen your resume, searching for keywords that match qualifications that are critically important for the job. Next, you learned the hard facts about how resumes are actually read and what you can do to ensure your resume survives the hiring manager’s review.

Finally, you learned what you need to include in your resume, how to write it, and why that’s important. Now go forth and write your resume!

Whether you live in Michigan or around the country, the certified professional resume writers at Vertical Media Solutions can guide you toward a successful career change. Our personalized employment services are focused on delivering a powerful presentation of your qualifications and professionalism. Learn how we can help you today: 616-631-4300.

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