How do recruiters review resumes and CVs?

By: Andrew Seaman

If you feel like your resumes or CVs get jettisoned into a black hole after you submit them online, you’re not alone. In fact, I used to feel that way early in my career until I spent time learning how the hiring process and recruiters work.

While we’ve talked about what happens immediately after you submit your job applications online (you can read about that here), we haven’t really talked to a recruiter about how they review your resume or CV once it lands in front of them.

Before we get too far into this conversation, I know a few of you are probably rolling your eyes thinking that recruiters don’t actually read the resumes that get submitted online. The reality is that the vast majority of recruiters I’ve talked to over the years read every resume or CV that’s submitted to their positions. While they may not get back to the majority of the people who submit an application, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t reviewed by a human.

To learn what recruiters look for when they review a resume or CV, I talked with Tejal Wagadia, who is a recruiter working in the tech industry. She was also named a 2020 LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers.

Top to bottom

“Typically, the recruiters I know, including myself, we start from the top,” Wagadia told me. “We look at the person’s information, the summary and the work experience.”

While there are some generalizations floating around that suggest recruiters only glance at resumes or CVs for a few seconds at most, she said recruiters read a resume or CV from top to bottom. The exception would be if the person is completely unqualified for a position. For example, a recruiter probably won’t read the whole resume or CV of a recent graduate with one internship who applies to be an executive at a large corporation.

“When I’m looking at resumes, I personally go over everything — line by line — starting with the work experience,” said Wagadia. “We look for job duties you’ve done and accomplishments.”

She also said that she recommends job seekers list their experience in chronological order whenever possible because recruiters will want to see your career progression.

If you have a gap in your experience, Wagadia said it will stand out but a simple line explaining the gap is all a recruiter needs to know. “I always recommend putting a one-liner saying you took a personal sabbatical.”

Don’t worry too much about the length

People fret a lot about the length of their resume or CV. The good news is that the length is not too much of a concern unless your resume/CV starts to stretch more than a handful of pages, according to Wagadia. “If you go six pages, we’re talking about reading an essay.”

Most people who are describing 10-15 years of experience will have a resume or CV that falls between three to four pages, she said. As for listing jobs and roles more than 15 or 20 years in the past, Wagadia said it’s usually not necessary unless the position is asking for that much experience.

For older workers, she said one thing to leave off your resume is the year of your graduation. “People try to figure out when did you do this and how old are you.”

Wagadia also shared tips for people just graduating or just entering the workforce. You should include relevant internships and volunteer experiences on your resume/CV, she said. Also, you can list any projects you’ve worked on if they’re related to the job. As for listing your GPA, she said to include it if it’s a 3.5 or above.

What should you avoid?

Downloadable resume or CV templates are something that Wagadia said often trips up job seekers. “People use templates and then they don’t edit the template correctly.” She said people sometimes submit their resumes with some of the template’s original text.

Instead of worrying too much about format, Wagadia said the information that’s included in the resume/CV is far more important. For example, make sure the resume or CV explains your experience, what you do, what you did and how it applies to the job you want.

Wagadia also said people should avoid cramming resumes or CVs with “fluff words” that people think will help them gain an advantage over other applicants, such as “enthusiastic” or “dedicated.” 

Getting to the hiring manager

In many companies, recruiters will do an initial screening of job applicants for the position’s hiring manager. Wagadia said applicants don’t typically need to meet every qualification to make the cut. “For me, if you meet 70-80% of the qualifications listed, I will move you forward.”

However, she said there are some positions that are subject to different rules and regulations. For example, some job openings with ties to the U.S. government require companies and recruiters to follow specific practices for which candidates get passed along to hiring managers for additional hiring conversations.

Regardless of what standards recruiters use, Wagadia said it’s important to remember that recruiters are trying to find the right person for each job. Otherwise, the people they hire will not be a good fit and they’ll keep having to repeat the process over and over again.

What’s your best resume advice? Join the conversation.

You probably noticed that I used “resume” and “CV” together or interchangeably throughout this article. The reason is that some countries call this document a resume (or a résumé to be more precise) while others call it a curriculum vitae, but the content is essentially the same. In fact, “résumé” is French for “summary” and “curriculum vitae” is Latin for the “course of one’s life.” In both cases, we’re talking about a document that summarizes your professional life.

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