What Do Recruiters Want To See On Your Resume?

I heard from one of my clients who was offered a new job. When she got the offer, the hiring manager told her that when they saw her resume, they just *had* to find out who the person was behind this unusually crafted document! Interestingly, she had gotten less positive feedback from some other people. Yet she stuck with her slightly unconventional resume and it led her to a great job.

A Sea of Opinions

Perhaps what drives job seekers crazy more than anything else is that if they ask 7 people to review their resume, they will get 7 different opinions about what is working and not working about the document. This state of affairs is challenging for me as a resume writer too: no matter how great I think a resume is, there will always be someone who disagrees with at least something about it.

In an attempt to set the record straight, and to debunk the rumors and folklore that abound in conversation about resume writing, Career Directors International conducted a survey of recruiters, human resource professionals and hiring authorities: Global Hiring Trends 2012

I encourage you to read the entire report if you can (see the link at the end of this article). It is a quick read, full of illustrative graphs and charts. To give you an idea of what's in there, I am highlighting some of the most salient results here.

The Truth about Page Limits!

A question that comes up extremely frequently with job seekers is whether their resume can be more than one page - or more than two pages. During one of my "Top 10 Ways to Make Resume Writing FUN" webinars, someone asked whether his resume could be automatically rejected by a company simply for breaking the 2-page barrier. I am happy to report that these fears are for the most part unfounded.

Page Preferences for Executive Resumes

In the survey, 37% of respondents stated that "length is not an issue as long as the resume provides the right data to make decisions"-and 8% actually preferred a 3-page resume, vs. 6% who preferred a 1-pager! (Only 34% preferred a 2-page resume.) Perhaps most important, 58% of respondents stated that they would NOT penalize an executive candidate for having a resume that did not meet their preferences (only 5% stated they would do so).

Here's a surprise to me: Several respondents stated that 5 pages was the maximum length they would read! Did you hear that, ladies and gentlemen? A 5-page resume! I think this reality check is a good one for any executives attempting to squeeze their resume onto 2 pages. Clearly it is more important to include essential information such as achievements and experiences than to meet some mythical page requirement. A hard-hitting resume with a compelling message about what the executive will do for a company will almost always be read, regardless of length.

Page Preferences for Non-Executive Resumes

When it comes to non-executive resumes, there is a higher preference for 2-page resumes, at 37%, and a lower percentage of respondents who didn't have a preference (21%). One-page resumes were preferred by 21% of respondents for non-executive resumes, and only 6% preferred a 3-page resume. I'm putting my money on the 2-page resume for non-execs!

Conclusion on the page length issue: It's not size that matters - it's content! A hefty 54% of respondents said the length would not really matter if the resume were well-written and highly focused. As one respondent stated, "As long as the person has a reason for several pages and I can find value in what is written, I don't care. However, if the résumé is filled with nothing but job duties on 80 separate lines, it is a waste of space and my time." (The same could be said of a 1-page resume that doesn't deliver the goods.)

Resume Format and Design

Format and design questions rank high on jobseekers' question lists. The question that most interested me was about graphs and charts on resumes. Surprisingly, 33% of respondents still have not received a resume with a chart or a graph. 24% of those who had seen charts and graphs found them helpful or very helpful, while 22% found them distracting. These results are rather inconclusive but indicate to me that if you work in a conservative industry it might be best to stick to the tried and true bullet format; in more innovative industries I think charts and graphs can be a great fresh approach. Also for someone climbing the ladder within the same company, charts and graphs might be very effective.

I was also intrigued by the response to rumors that some recruiters and hiring managers never click live links because of the possibility of viruses. The results of this survey tell a different story. Although 17% of respondents never click on links, 62% of reported that they sometimes or always click on hyperlinks when provided.

Regarding format, the survey found that Word (.doc or .docx) is the preferred format for receiving resumes by far, although 23% preferred .pdfs.

Tooting Your Horn

I have begun to include testimonials on almost every resume. Should you put them on yours? Although 41% of respondents said testimonials would not influence their decision positively, 29% stated they would. To me that's enough support to continue my practice of including testimonials when space allows. I'd rather have someone else sing my clients' praises than have the clients toot their own horns. You might want to find a quotable quote for your own resume as well.

No Rules

What this survey brought home for me is that there are no hard and fast rules of resume writing. However, if you focus on communicating your skills and accomplishments honestly and professionally, in a way that matches who you are, I figure you can't go wrong. Sure, as my client found out, there are multiple opinions out there and there is no way you will please everyone. But in the end, you only need to impress one person: the one who hires you.