You only have a few seconds to grab a recruiter’s attention with your digital résumé, so it’s crucial that it paints the best picture of your credentials as possible. “A wise man once said you only get one chance to make a good first impression,” says Stephanie Alston, the founder of freelance staffing agency Black Girl Group. “If you’re not able to reel the employer at first glance, your opportunity to win them over may be gone.”
Whether you realize it or not, what you include — or omit — on your résumé can be the difference between getting a call for an interview, or not hearing anything at all. Incorporating keywords and phrases that highlight your unique value as a candidate, and excluding information that’s distracting and irrelevant to the job, can help set you apart from the sea of online competition and make your résumé easier to follow. As Paul McDonald, the Senior Executive Director at staffing and recruiting agency Robert Half, explains, “When you submit a generic résumé, it leaves a hiring manager trying to match your experience and skillset to the company’s needs.” Instead, he recommends individualizing your résumé every time you apply to a new job. ”By adding the right elements to your résumé (and removing the unnecessary ones), you’re telling the hiring manager or recruiter exactly why you’re qualified for the position,” he says.
Fortunately, a little effort can go a long way when you’re trying to create an eye-catching résumé. From formatting to soft skills, spelling errors, and more, here are five things recruiters say they always notice on a résumé.
Don’t make your format difficult to read.
Sure, it may seem like a minor detail, but Jim Delulio, the president of international recruiting agency PR Talent, says that even one misstep in formatting your résumé could cost you the chance of a job interview. “Make sure you format your résumé so that critical information, such as a summary statement and a list of key skills, is at the forefront,” he advises. A good summary statement is a two- or three-sentence paragraph at the top of your résumé that summarizes your overall value as a candidate. “This will make it easy for the recruiter to quickly identify why you’re the right fit for the position.”
This also means not incorporating flashy colored fonts and graphics into your résumé — save that for your website or digital portfolio if you’re in a creative field. Not only can images and colorful fonts distract a recruiter from locating important information on your résumé, but Brian Phifer, the CEO of global recruitment agency Phifer & Company, says it can cause the software that recruiters use to scan résumés (known as an applicant tracking system, or ATS) to reject the document altogether. They “prefer traditional résumés with black font and no fancy formatting,” he explains.
Do tweak your résumé for each job application.
No matter how qualified you might be for a particular position, Alston says you run the risk of being overlooked if your résumé doesn’t demonstrate why you’re the best fit for the job. “When applying for jobs, you need to make sure you tailor your résumé to each role you apply for,” she explains. “You can do this by including all job titles and responsibilities that relate to a particular role, and incorporating keywords and phrases that relate to the particular requirements for a job.”
If you aren’t sure what kind of keywords or phrases to integrate into your résumé, Alston says scouring the job description is a great place to start. “Carefully look over the job listing and make sure to include any relevant skills mentioned in the description on your résumé,” she says.
Do show off your soft skills.
To help demonstrate why you’re right for a position, McDonald says it’s important to draw attention to any valuable “soft” (or non-technical) skills you possess. “Through our research and in conversations with company leaders, soft skills are constantly called out as one of the hardest things to identify in a candidate,” he says. “Showing how you’ve been adaptable, creative, service-centric, and/or a team player will set your resume apart when applying for jobs.”
To highlight your soft skills, McDonald recommends integrating them into the summary statement at the top of your résumé and throughout each job experience description (by employer). “In the latter, you can show soft skills through specific tasks and projects,” he explains. “To show your communications ability, for example, you can write something like: ‘Liaised with colleagues, executives, and external stakeholders on a daily basis to execute [specific program or efforts]’.”
Do integrate numbers wherever possible.
When listing past positions on a résumé, McDonald recommends focusing on any quantifiable achievements and measurable accomplishments — think increased sales percentages, broadened customer base metrics, and promotions — you attained while at the job. “Recruiters and hiring managers want to see results, and providing tangible examples of how the projects you worked on affected the company’s bottom line will show the value you’ll bring to their organization if you’re hired,” he explains.
If you’re struggling to come up with quantifiable achievements and measurable accomplishments to include on your résumé, McDonald says to consider some of the other ways you can numerically illustrate your success at each former job. “Did you respond to more customer inquiries or process orders X percent faster than the previous year? If so, you can use those numbers to make an impact when you’re crafting a résumé,” he says.
Don’t forget to proofread before sending.
No matter how small or insignificant they may seem, Alston says a résumé riddled with misspelled words and grammatical errors can give a recruiter the wrong impression. “Spelling and grammatical errors in the world of spell check will only show you lack attention to detail,” she explains. “Make sure you have ample time to carefully reread and edit your résumé as necessary before submitting it to a recruiter.”
To ensure your résumé is easy-to-read and free of spelling and grammatical errors, McDonald recommends asking a friend or trusted colleague to give it the once over. “Fresh eyes are always more likely to catch errors,” he says. “If you think of a résumé as your first impression, think of these details as a perfectly pressed interview suit or showing up right on time — it shows you care and are invested in yourself and the organization.”