The internet is rife with websites claiming to be the authority on résumé do’s and don’ts, tricks of the trade, and how to set yourself apart. But who out there is better equipped to give résumé advice than recruiters – the ones who weed through stacks of them, day in and day out? You’ve been exposed to a sizable cross-section of the job-seeking world’s résumés, and we figured it’s about time we mined that knowledge. With our newest survey, we’ve collected your opinions on every major aspect of a résumé. So let’s dig into the results, shall we?


The easiest thing to take away from the results of our biggest turn-offs question is that recruiters are annoyed by a lot of things on résumés. Of the various annoyances, only the length of the résumé seems to be no big deal, which is odd because traditional wisdom says that a résumé should never breach a single page. If you don’t have enough to fill that page, you’re terrible, and if your résumé is two pages, you’re a jackass. Apparently this line of thinking has faded.

Not surprisingly, outright lies and grammar/spelling mistakes are the major résumé offenses, signaling to employers you aren’t well educated, you’re careless, or you just aren’t good at the finer details.

I was surprised, however, that gaps in work history should still rouse such animosity, given the recent legal attention this topic has gotten. (Just this week, the New York City Council made it possible for the unemployed to sue for hiring discrimination.) Thankfully, many recruiters offered reasonable comments on this note. One suggested that explanations should accompany the gaps, while another judiciously observed that “everybody has gaps nowadays.”

Perhaps the most unexpected delight of all these results was seeing the demise of the computer résumé aggregator in this question. A fraction of 1% of you use aggregation tools or parsers prominently, though just a few years ago this method seemed to be trending.

Though candidates don’t have to surrender their skills to a computerized keyword search, some of you recruiters out there perform similar tasks, anyway. Almost half of respondents say they scan or speed-read résumés, and a quarter jump straight to the important stuff. So the lesson to take away from this is job-seekers better have something relevant and impressive to say by the first half of the first page. One recruiter said, “If I don’t see major keywords I am looking for while scanning, I move on. They have to catch my attention quickly.”

Of all the questions in this survey, this one produced the most surprising results. More than half of respondents voted that the best way to stand out on a résumé is tailoring it specifically to the opening you’re applying for.

A sense of personality (19%) placed fairly high here, and landed in fourth on the most important résumé elements list. Similarly, design is mentioned in three survey questions and placed respectably. When we delved deeper, by looking at the people who voted for design and personality specifically, we saw that they did so across the board. This tells us that, though a majority of people don’t stress design or personality, those that do place a lot of importance on it.

With about 7% of the vote, “other” is sadly vague in the results, but was instantly clear in the comments. Other than tailoring that résumé, recruiters/employers look for a sense of trajectory, including “quantifiable accomplishments” and a sense of “progression.”  A résumé shouldn’t be a ho-hum list; it should be an arc. Because, presumably, candidates didn’t merely land the job and do it – they made it their own and, hopefully, excelled.

Much like a job-seeker shouldn’t wear hot pink to an interview or come off attention-grabbing, recruiters repeatedly commented that they don’t want gimmicks or anything “unexpected.” They’d much rather see a résumé that’s clear, concise, and professional.  Simple as that.

All told, about 40% of recruiters say most candidates need a “major résumé overhaul,” and a miniscule 16% think most candidates’ résumés are acceptable. But that doesn’t necessarily reflect the talents of job-seekers, as one recruiter commented that résumé writing is “a skill not mastered by many.”

So while your candidates can read up on the thousands of do’s and don’ts articles out there, maybe this glimpse of what actually goes on in the minds of staffers when they look at résumés will help them master their résumé-building skills.

Tags: Business, Resume, Survey, Surveys