Understanding the Approach of a Human Resume Reader

By Joe Stein

The job of a Resume is to attract enough interest so that you can obtain a phone or in-person interview.  What is ironic (and perhaps more than a bit frustrating) is that, at least initially, the document you have spent so much time writing and editing will probably only be scanned for moments before a decision is made whether to pursue you further.

So, what does go through the mind of a Recruiter or Hiring Manager when faced with a stack (either paper or in an electronic file) of Resumes to review?  Let’s take a look at the mindset and hot buttons of the reviewer.  This will allow you to better customize your document to what the Resume reviewer is looking to see.

• Time is Very Precious – Regardless of whether you have a Recruiter or Hiring Manager reading your Resume, chances are the person is overworked and lacking time.  We would love to think that the reader of our Resume is diving into the document like a classic novel, but chances are they are not taking that approach at all. What does this mean for you?  You should write your Resume in a way that will not be intimidating to the reader.  A document that is full of narrative paragraphs will be put in the back of the pile, perhaps never to be read.  A Resume that is 3-4 pages long will be saved for another time (which may not occur, if at all).  The lack of time will be a recurring theme, as we examine the approach of a Resume reader.

• Readers Go Out Not In – For most Resume readers, the process is to sort out people until you get to a much smaller short list of candidates.  By this, I mean that the typical Resume reviewer will start the process of elimination sorting out as many candidates as possible, leaving only those that they truly want to speak to.  I typically sort into three distinct buckets:  “Yes” I will look further, “No” they are not a candidate, and “Maybe” which I only revisit if I don’t have enough in the “Yes”.  My goal is to eliminate the distraction of the unqualified or semi-qualified, so I can focus on my small list (after all time is precious).  Just like our discussion of time, the concept of eliminating candidates is a fundamental one for most reviewers.

• Conditioned to a Certain Look – Unless you are going for a position in graphic design, reviewers are expecting a certain basic and professional look.  The usage of different colors, unusual fonts, or odd formats may positively grab his or her attention but, most likely will cause it to go into the discard pile.  When you are used to a certain format of Resume, you condition your brain to be able to quickly review the document. The vast majority of Resume readers desire to see a chronological and bullet-point oriented Resume.  Resumes that do not look the part generally may be considered too much work to review further.

• Don’t Make Any Errors – Again, the review process is one of elimination.  Resume readers have radar for typographical and grammatical errors.  If you make them, chances are they will be found.  These mistakes may give the reviewer the excuse needed to eliminate you from consideration.

• When In Doubt…Discard – If a Recruiter or Hiring Manager has doubts about you, then chances are you will be discarded or (in a best case scenario) go into the “Maybe” category.  If you do have anything on your Resume that causes doubt to creep in (such as having employment gaps, leaving position dates off, or over exaggerating accomplishments), the discard pile is probably your future.

• Provide the Information Needed – Resume reviewers want to easily see how your qualifications match up with the open position.  You can give them this by ditching the dated “Objectives Statement”, and replacing it with a bullet point summary of your qualifications.  In a similar vein, they want to quickly read what you have accomplished in your career.  So, don’t just list what you have done, but rather highlight what you have achieved in an easy-to-read method.

Getting your Resume past the initial review process is an obviously critical time in your candidacy.  It would be great if the Recruiter or Hiring Manager was waiting for your Resume to come in so they can pounce on it.  The reality is you will probably be one of many candidates for consideration, and it is imperative that you positively grab their attention immediately.

As always, best of luck in your job search.