The three things employers want to see in your resume

The three things that employers want to see in your resume

Peter Harris|

In this business, I end up reading many theories about job interview tricks and resume strategies for getting hired. The thing is, many of these overcomplicate the situation by diving into the minutia of what is actually a fairly straightforward process. That’s why I recently wrote about the only job interview question that really matters.

I said at the time that it was my attempt to separate the stuff from the fluff. Well here’s another. There are thousands of articles out there about resume formats, length, style and more. But when it comes down to it, resumes are boring to read and hiring managers are busy. There are really only three things that they want to see in your resume, and these shouldn’t come as a mystery to you.

(And in our recent analysis of recruiter behaviour on resumes stored in the Workopolis resume database we found that the vast majority of employers spend (far) less than 11 seconds on a resume before shortlisting it or moving on. So they want to find what they’re looking for quickly.)

Here’s what employers want to see in your resume:

    1. That you care about the job you’re actually applying for

    The first thing an employer is going to notice is if your resume is relevant to the job that they are hiring for. Do you live close enough to the job to reasonably commute to it? Does your title closely match the job? Make sure that you have tailored the way you describe your experience and accomplishments to demonstrate how they can benefit the job you’re applying for. Employers don’t want to guess how your credentials apply to their role. Make it clear.

    Once while hiring an editor in Montreal, I received a resume from a poet in Halifax. The candidate didn’t explain anything about planning to move to Montreal or how they planned to do the job remotely. They just emailed in a resume for a position in a city they didn’t live in.

    Similarly, while I can see how the precise use of language involved in crafting poetry could lend itself to the role of professional editor, I shouldn’t have to do that math myself. When applying for a job as an editor, be an editor (in this case one who also happens to write and publish poetry.)

    2. That you have the qualifications to do the job

    Employers often complain that the majority of resumes they receive for their jobs are from candidates who simply aren’t qualified to do the job. Too many people think that they can increase their chances of being hired by applying to more jobs. It doesn’t work like that. Getting hired doesn’t happen by dumb luck like guessing the right lottery numbers.

    You increase your chances of being hired by sending out relevant, tailored resumes specifically to jobs that you are qualified for and would actually like to do. You don’t need to meet 100% of the requirements that job postings ask for, employers have been known to inflate the credentials required for positions to a ‘wish-list’.

    Just make sure that you have at least 75% of the qualifications asked for. Lay them out in easy-to-read sentences and bullet points, and highlight your past accomplishments to show how you’re a stand-out candidate who can excel at the job.

    3. That you have common sense

    If you are sending in a resume to highlight your qualifications for a job, and that resume is riddled with typos or grammatical errors, what does that say about your work ethic or attention to detail? (See: How to proofread.)

    Don’t make employers have to work hard to find what they’re looking for. Format your resume all in the same font in a pleasing and easy-to-read layout. Only include information that is relevant to the job you’re applying for.

    It doesn’t matter if your resume is one page or two – so long as what is there is compelling and helps build the case for your candidacy.

    Other common sense resume tips include:

  • Don’t make demands about what you want from an employer in an objective statement off the top, summarize your key qualifications instead.
  • Don’t list your strange hobbies or interests.
  • Don’t have a ‘cutesy’ email address.
  • Do include an email address and phone number that you check regularly. (I’ve actually received a fairly strong resume that had only an email address for the contact information, and that email returned an ‘undeliverable’ bounce back.)

These three categories of what employers really look for in the resume could be summarized as: is this a relevant and qualified candidate for the job who seems professional and career-savvy. Because that’s who they want to meet in an interview.

So show them that you want the job, you can do the job, and that you’re sharp and motivated enough to pay attention to detail. (And then get ready for the only job interview question that matters.)


Peter Harris
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Category: Resumes and Cover Letters
  • Staff Checking

    This article is a big help for newly grads who are looking for their
    first jobs. With all the competition they are about to face these
    information will give them a know-how they can use to be prepared for

    • Richard Derek

      Huh? This article tells new grads not to bother applying for jobs – if you don’t have the experience (which you don’t have because you were in school getting the education for the position) then you won’t get the job.

  • yury

    i have never applied for a job i am not qualified i would not be employed right now. i took chances and applied for jobs i was not qualified and 2 times i got interviews and was hired. received training and now i am a PM.

    • Rick Brown

      If one does not apply for jobs they are not qualified for. Then how does one get experience or qualifications.

    • Rob lover

      Excuse my ignorance, but what is a “PM?”

      • yury

        project manager

        • Rob lover

          For a moment there I thought it was a prime minister LOL.

          • yury

            i wish :)

    • Guest

      Excuse me, what is a “PM”?

  • Evios

    Usually, I always apply for job where I have the at least 85/90% of essential qualifications, that I think is reasonable. By the way, talking about recruiters, I receive emails from them thru job boards where they invite me to apply for positions I am very marginally qualified for. Why don’t they check my resume either before sending these emails?

    • Mm Eeee

      “recruiters”? You sure these are not people just trying to get your name,address,SSN,etc.?

  • Canwegian

    How does anyone with more than just basic experience manage to keep their resume to one or two pages, if they also wants to properly account for the experience as well as skills? It seems self-contradicting to me.

  • Richard Derek

    How can you be an Editor until someone hires you to be an Editor. A large part of the problem with qualifications is that employers don’t want to give employees a chance to do a job.

  • T.H

    I’ve been to interviews where the interviewer has stated that experience means nothing, and in that case, what criteria was used to determine who got an interview? I don’t know how one gets an interview when you take experience out of the equation!! I don’t think some of these HR departments have a clue what they are doing!!

  • Rob lover

    Emails are not 100% reliable. I found out from sending resumes online that employers never replied to emails. The best way to get a job is pounding the pavement and going directly to the employers. An in-person approach is the best way to make a good first impression and I would never have applied for jobs if I never felt qualified to do them. It’s like applying for a lifeguard job when one can’t swim.

    • adhm

      please rob lover can you do me a favor ? send a copy of your resume tibe to gaid me on my e-mail is …….thank you

      • Rob lover

        I’ll do it later; right now I just got off work after working all day and am going to the movie theater in an hour. Thanks for your email; it’s nice to be able to send a resume to someone to get a critique about it.

        I’ve spent the last seven years doing mostly resumes for my brother who is computer illiterate, sending his resumes to employers online. He never graduated from high school, but I always say on his resumes that he did, and he never gets replies from emails in spite of that. Only email reply he got was from employers nobody wants to work for. He is an experienced truck driver, taxi driver, warehouse worker, and certified (and experienced) forklift operator, worked in retail for short period of time, got laid off after the Christmas rush, and this american retailer never called him back to work there, which is a mystery because he claims he did good work when he was there, “went beyond the call of duty,” said he did what he was told and then some. He spent the last two years doing seasonal work for the city and wants to find year-round work as opposed to seasonal work.

        I will email you a copy of my resume and his resume later. I had replies to some of my resumes. I could tell you of one employer I tried 20 years to get work from, sent resumes to them every year for 20 years and finally got one interview from them after deciding to try a different approach, which was stretching the truth on my resume. I took chances in my job searching. My brother unfortunately is too cautious to take chances.

        Got to go now. Thanks for reading and will email you later. Take care and have a nice day.

        • adhm

          thank you Rob for your interest , i think you are a man of hard working and your brather too i respect you and your brather i now how hard to work to somebody and he did not estimated your hard work i beleve you and your brather will take a good chance oneday thanks another time and enjoy your movie i am waiting for your resume to help me on this conflict.

          • Rob lover

            WHEW! I’m exhausted. Just off home from grocery shopping and appointments; my next day off is Saturday. When time allows I will find my resume and my brother’s resume for you to read. Thanks for replying.

          • Rob lover

            Hello again, I just sent some resumes for you to look at. Hope this helps you with the conflict, and I won’t be offended if you want to provide a critique. Take care.

    • mahesh

      Rob ur exactly correct. until now I applied plenty of doesn’t mean that I am not fit for job.i have enough certifications what they need.but they are not giving reply

      • Rob lover

        One reason not to rely on emails is that many emails end up in the spam filters or junk mail folders that makes them easy to get overlooked. Also most businesses I’ve dealt with are too busy as they are bombarded with about a hundred emails a day. Before the internet came into my life I went to the so-called experts who told me they are stacked with about 100 resumes on their desk every day and they only glance at them, they don’t have time to read them. Best way to get a job is to see the employer in person and be persistent.

  • Rob lover

    It’s too bad this type of discrimination is legal. There should be a law to protect people from discrimination based on lack of experience, but there are ways to get experience. There is volunteer work, being your own boss, and going to school doing training programs. I heard of a man who wanted to work somewhere, he told me of an interview he had and he got experience by offering to work for this employer for one day, for nothing. He told the boss, “if you don’t like my work performance, you can always fire me. You have nothing to lose and I have experience to gain.” Never did know what happened to that guy, but he became successful at everything he did.