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Job Magician How a Recruiter Reads a Resume  
  • The first thing a retainer recruiter looks for in your resume is your function, the level of seniority you have in your current position, and what industry you're working in.
  • Job tenures come next.
  • Accomplishments and functional skills will be ignored if you don't pass the first two tests listed above.


Being a retained search consultant, I have read a lot of resumes.  You’ll see a lot of advice out there on how to write a resume.  Unfortunately, many of these recommendations are doing you more harm than good.  Take a look at how a recruiter reads a resume before you prepare one:

  • I read the cover letter only after I see something in the resume that makes me want to read the cover letter.
  • I almost never read the summary, or any other functional skills that the person puts early on in the resume.  I skip immediately to the current/last job the person has had.  If someone has been in numerous industries or functions, and these are not apparent when looking at their current job, it can sometimes be helpful to list them at the top of the resume.  I will still skip that section, but some people do read summaries first, so your resume should have one, I guess. Keep it to a third of a page, and no more.
  • When I look at each position, the first thing I look at is the title and company.  I want to see a company description (including products and industry as specifically as possible), company size and what the person's responsibilities are.  What functions do they manage?  How many people do they manage?  Who does he or she report to?  Did the person have P & L responsibility?  How large is the volume that the person manages?  What customers does the company sell to? (This is particularly important if the person is in sales or marketing).  Customers should be listed in both general terms (Supermarkets, Discount Stores, Warehouse Clubs and Drug Chains) and in specific terms (sold to Wal-Mart, Albertson's, Target, BJ's Wholesale Club and L L Bean).  What manufacturing processes do they use?  What are the products made of?  The other stuff - the accomplishments listed - are not as likely to get me to give the person a call than the information that allows me to tell whether the person appears to have the industry fit, and that the person's previous jobs make him or her big enough for the job I'm working on. Don't leave off your accomplishments - make them as specific as possible, in fact - but the first thing that will get my attention is whether you are at the right level and have the right industry fit.    


  • If someone is playing musical chairs by leaving off the early part of their career and hiding dates of graduation, I normally throw the resume away.  I will only call if I am desperate.  I generally feel that people who are leaving stuff off have something to hide, and I usually don't want to take the time to figure out if they are or not.
  • If any functional skills are listed, they should be tied to a specific position.  That way, they are put into context
  • The length of a resume is unimportant.  Key is that the reader wants to keep reading.  Five pages is not too long for a senior executive, as long as you can make the resume readable, rather than dull. What's critical is that the first page is interesting enough to get the reader to want to read the second page.  Most resumes are read on a screen these days, so the reader is unaware of how many pages long it is. 
  • Most resumes start off with a series of self-descriptive adjectives:  highly professional, results-oriented, strategic thinker, team player, etc., ad nauseum.  Please, please, please, don't put these in.  I've heard all this before, and I don't want to hear it again.  Of course, you are all these things, but anyone can say these things about themselves, so saying them adds nothing (the most dictatorial candidates often list themselves as team players, and many of them actually believe that they are).  You need to prove that you have these attributes, and in many cases you can’t do so in a resume.  However, some of these can be demonstrated in your resume, but they need to be demonstrated by highlighting specific achievements that you will list with each job you’ve held.

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(By the way, most employers tell me that they read a resume the same way I do).
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