What Do Recruiters Look for in a Resume?

By Biron Clark


Applying for Jobs | Resume/CV

Biron Clark

Biron Clark

Writer & Career Coach

I’ve looked at thousands of resumes as a job recruiter.

In this article, I’m going to share what recruiters are looking for in a resume, and specifically what they look for at first glance.

I’ll also share what hiring managers look for in a resume so you can make sure your resume is getting you as many interviews as possible.

Let’s get started.

What Recruiters Are Looking for in a Resume Overall

Address and Location

Recruiters want to know where you’re located if you’re applying for a job that requires you to come into the office.

They look for this detail in your resume header section.

You can choose what to include in that section, though. For example, I recommend just including your city, phone number, and email, but not a street address.

If you’re trying to relocate and get hired by employers in a new city or state, you can use the helpful tips in this article: What to put for your address on a resume when relocating.

Otherwise, if you’re a local candidate, make it clear to the company from the start by showing them that you’re in their city.

Typically, resumes from local candidates will be favored.

Recent Work Experience

Next, recruiters are looking for experience and qualifications related to the job they’re considering you for.

Their primary hope is to see relevant experience in your two to three most recent jobs. However, that doesn’t mean they ignore the rest of your work experience; they simply put more weight/importance on more recent work, and they always look there first.

The most important thing to know about how a recruiter reads your resume:

As the recruiter reads your resume, they’re comparing your skills and experience to the job description.

They’re not thinking about whether you seem impressive in general, or smart, or even hardworking. Those qualities will be judged in an interview.

So to get the interview, you need to show job-relevant skills first and foremost.

If you’re entry-level, then you can point to education, internships, training, and anything else that shows you’ll be able to help the company if hired.

Just know that recruiters are always looking for proof you can step into the job and succeed.

Hiring managers often think in this same way. I’ll cover what hiring managers look for in your resume coming up later in this article so keep reading until the end.

Targeted Career Summary

Recruiters will read a career summary paragraph if you include one on your resume, and they’re looking for it to be targeted to the job you want next. Recruiters are only interested in your story and abilities as they pertain to the job you’re pursuing now.

So think about how you want to present yourself to employers in your current job search, and in two to three sentences, highlight the most relevant skills you bring.

You can read examples of good resume summary statements here.

Don’t include an objective section, which is outdated and therefore not necessary in a modern resume.

Advancement and Progression

Recruiters also want to see your career story and progression from one company/role to the next.

They’ll look at each company you worked for and how long you spent there. Ideally, they want to see some growth and upward movement/advancement in the long-term career trend.

Always show promotions and upward moves on your resume when possible.

If you were promoted within an organization, separate your roles on your resume so recruiters can see the different job titles and responsibilities for each position.

Separate these roles on your LinkedIn profile, too. A recruiter may look to your LinkedIn profile or other social media to gather more info about you, even if you only sent a resume.

Specific Achievements

Your resume will stand out to recruiters if you put specific, measurable accomplishments in your resume bullets.

Most candidates don’t include any specific accomplishments or metrics, which is a missed opportunity since practically every recruiter looks for these from an applicant.

When writing their recent work experience, most job seekers simply list what they were responsible for.

You should highlight exactly what you achieved and start your bullets with verbs like:

  • Led
  • Grew
  • Organized
  • Achieved

Then, include percentages, dollar amounts, the number of people you led, and all sorts of other numbers and data to demonstrate how you helped your employer(s).

I know this isn’t easy to do for some types of jobs (for example, it’s quite easy in sales but rather hard for an administrative assistant) but if you sit and think for 30 minutes, you should be able to come up with at least a few accomplishment-based resume bullets to include.

More resources to help you:

Dates of Employment

Recruiters will look at how often you’ve changed jobs and how long you’ve been in each of your previous roles.

They’ll notice gaps between companies, too. Here’s how to explain gaps in employment.

They may even try to judge your age when reviewing the dates on your resume, either by looking at your first job or your date of graduation in your education section.

So if you want to hide your age when applying for a new role, consider removing your graduation date and also consider limiting your resume work experience to the past 15 or so years.


If a certain level of education is required for a job, your education is one of the first things recruiters look for, but the recruiter will usually just glance to confirm you have the requirements and then scroll back up to the rest of your resume.

So while education is one of the first things a recruiter wants to see if it’s a hard job requirement, it’s something they confirm and then move away from quickly.

Because of this, it’s okay to have your education lower down on your resume.

If you’re a recent graduate with no work experience, then you can put your education higher up.

This article explains the key resume sections and titles, and the order you should put them in.

Relevant Skills

Next, recruiters will look at your list of skills. However, your list of skills isn’t nearly as important as your work experience and resume bullets.

Employers prefer to see where and when you’ve used each skill. They want context, not just a list of skills with no indication of how you’ve applied them.

So for this reason, recruiters, HR, and hiring managers will immediately read the work history on any resumes they receive. Then, they’ll later glance at the skills section if your work history seemed relevant.

Still, it’s worth filling out your list of skills on your resume. I recommend including 8-12 skills. Don’t overdo it.

Listing some relevant skills can help you get more keywords onto your resume and show what you’re good at overall, which is valuable info to a recruiter, hiring manager, or another reader.

Clear Formatting and Organization

The final factors that recruiters want to see on your resume are good formatting, organization, and spacing.

Make your resume easy to read. No big, bulky paragraphs. Instead, use short sentences mixed with bullets, clear section titles/headers, etc.

Resume formatting is important because recruiters skim your resume at first glance and will not read it word-for-word initially.

Resumes with good spacing and lots of bullet points and numbers/data will help the recruiter quickly gather the info they need so they can then decide if they want to keep reading.

If the resume seems difficult to read or understand, the reader may become impatient and move on to another candidate.

I know that sounds harsh, but it’s important to realize that most recruiters have a stack of resumes to review and don’t feel that candidates are in short supply, unless you have a highly in-demand skill set. So they aren’t afraid to move on quickly, unfortunately.

Also, I recommend avoiding two-column resume formats that have become so popular online recently. Stick to a one-column resume layout.

The one-column format is still preferred in practically every industry. It is what recruiters are accustomed to seeing and will have an easy time understanding.

Unless you’re applying for a graphic design position, don’t get creative in designing your resume. Companies are looking for job-relevant content on your resume, not fancy designs.

What Recruiters Look for in a Resume at First Glance

At the first glance of your resume, employers and recruiters are looking at your most recent work experience and comparing it to the requirements for the position you’ve applied for.

The primary resume area to focus on if you want to attract recruiters at first glance is your recent work experience. Use that resume section to sell yourself to this new company and show how you’re prepared to succeed in the position.

You do this by tailoring your experience to their job/industry.

If you have no work experience, then your education is your work experience essentially. Highlight coursework, academic projects, and of course the degrees/diplomas you earned.

How Long do Recruiters Look at a Resume?

Recruiters will spend 8-10 seconds on their initial glance at your resume, reviewing your recent work experience primarily. However, if your resume catches their attention and appears relevant to the required job duties, they’ll read for much longer and then forward your resume to management with the recommendation that you receive an interview.

Skills Recruiters Look for in Resumes

The skills that a recruiter looks for in a resume depends on the job requirements. A recruiter is reading your resume alongside the job description and looking for skills that suggest you’ll fit well in the position and career you’ve applied for.

However, there are also some soft skills that recruiters want to see in a variety of roles. If you can demonstrate these skills, it may help you secure the position:

Just remember, the main skills a recruiter is looking for on your resume are hard skills that are directly related to the job you’ve applied for. Anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know how a recruiter reads a resume.

You can also include keywords from the job posting in your resume skills section.

However, in your work experience section, make sure you’re also mentioning the keywords in the job description that seem most important. Describe when and how you used those skills and you’ll get more job interviews.

What Recruiters Look for in a Cover Letter

Recruiters don’t typically read cover letters unless they specifically ask for one, and so it’s not necessary to send a cover letter to a recruiter.

In more than five years of recruiting, I didn’t read a single cover letter word-for-word. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even open a cover letter from a candidate.

I also didn’t ask for a cover letter to pass on to the hiring manager.

This is because as a recruiter, I will be referring you to the hiring manager and vouching for you (after speaking to you to understand your career interests, job search situation, past experience, etc.)

The recruiter is your cover letter, in a sense.

So I recommend not sending a cover letter to recruiters unless asked. The only exception is if you need to explain large gaps in employment or a highly unusual professional background.

What Hiring Managers Look for in a Resume

Just like a recruiter, a hiring manager is looking for job-relevant experience and skills on your resume. They’re looking for evidence that you have the professional experience needed to step into this job and succeed.

Hiring managers have a deeper understanding of the job description and requirements since they’re hiring for fewer positions than the recruiter.

So a hiring manager is going to dive deeper into your resume (and cover letter if you sent one).

Make sure your resume is tailored to the job description because the hiring manager is thinking all about their job and their team as they read your resume.

List your job-relevant skills but also key accomplishments.

And assume that they’re going to start by reading your recent work experience before looking anywhere else. Only after that will a hiring manager look at other details on your resume to understand more of your story.

The hiring manager’s goal when reading your resume is to decide whether you seem able to step into their position and do the work. Nothing else. Based on this assessment, they’ll decide if you’re one of the candidates they want to interview.

Then, in the interview, they’ll go even deeper into your background, while also trying to assess soft skills like honesty, work ethic, accountability, ability to work as part of a team, etc.

Employers don’t look for these soft skills on a resume, though, so listing a bunch of soft skills like “Excellent team player” is a waste of space and won’t help you get hired for the position.

What Hiring Managers Look for in a Cover Letter

When reading a cover letter, hiring managers are looking to learn personal details that can’t be found on a resume, such as your motivations, interests, and even why you applied to their job.

They’re also open to hearing anything unique you bring to the job, whether it’s an uncommon skill, a personal interest in this field, or something else.

Don’t repeat information from your resume on your cover letter. Instead, show the company’s management team what makes you unique and what you offer beyond the basic ability to perform the work.

Conclusion: What Do Employers Look for in a Resume?

If you’ve read the info above, you now know how recruiters look at resumes and what they’re searching for.

You also know what hiring managers look for when evaluating your resume.

Remember that whether it’s a recruiter, hiring manager, or HR person reviewing your resume, they’re comparing your professional background to their specific job responsibilities and requirements.

Always view the online job posting carefully before you apply, to ensure you’re showing as much overlap as possible between your background and their needs.

Here’s how to quickly tailor your resume to the job description, and why you should always do it.

If you study the info above and adjust your resume accordingly, you’ll grab the employer’s attention and stand out from other candidates, so you can win more job interviews from top employers.

Related reading:

Biron Clark

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