The Top Five Reasons Recruiters Reject Your Resume

What do recruiters like and dislike most about resumes? A couple of university researchers in Australia had nothing better to do than try to answer this question.

And I had nothing better to do than read the results of their study. The most impressive part of the study was that they convinced 68 managers and HR professionals who didn’t have to to read a bunch of resumes and cover letters.

Resume Research Findings

When the readers LIKED a candidate it was, in order of importance, because:

  1. They had experience that was relevant to the job at hand.
  2. They liked the format of the applicant’s resume.
  3. The applicant met the qualifications (things like education, etc.) for the job.

When the readers NOT LIKED a candidate it was, in order of importance, because:

  1. They lacked experience.
  2. Their resume had a poor format.
  3. Their resume lacked information.
  4. Their resume lacked achievements.
  5. They had a poor cover letter.

What it Means for You

  1. You better have relevant experience.
  2. Your resume needs a good format.
  3. Tell your readers what they want to know and tell them about your achievements.
  4. Oh, and the cover letter? This study supports the notion that your cover letter can hurt you more than it can help you. Beware!

Source: The Impact of Competency Statements on Resumes for Short-Listing Decisions, Jim E.H. Bright & Sonia Hutton. International Journal of Selection & Assessment, Vol. 9, No. 2, June 2000.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at for more information.

Image: Fotolia/amedvedkov
Updated June 2017

© 2010 – 2017, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

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Comments 11

  1. Good information Donna! The upshot for job seekers is to target their resume at the job’s requirements, and make sure your resume is formatted so well that it entices a hiring manager to read it.

  2. Very short, useful and clear! The only question that remains unresolved is how do we break that vicious “No experience – no job, no job – no experience cycle”. I suspect that so much talent is getting lost in it.

  3. Barbara, Rick, Nina,

    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them!

    On experience…internships are great ways to climb that mountain.

    Also, starting in a junior role. I have two friends who have parlayed roles as executive assistants to senior executives into wonderful professional roles. They both started “behind” their peers and have leapfrogged them — because they did great work and were visible to key decision makers.



  4. Donna, I don’t know how I missed this before. Excellent takeaways here, and I am glad that the dislikes included “bad cover letter”. There are a lot who question the value of including them so I’m particularly happy to see it on the list!

  5. Hi Ed,

    On cover letters, I’m of the “Keep ‘Em Short & Sweet School” unless you’re a terrifically persuasive writer. I have certainly eliminated (ouch, harsh word, where’s my thesaurus?) more candidates because of their cover letters (lots) than the other way around.


  6. Hi Donna,

    Maybe you’d like to put some names to the “Australian Researchers” in your excellent blog. They are me (Dr Jim Bright aka @thefactorypod on twitter) and Dr Joanne Earl). Perhaps you could insert our names into your blog? We are authors of the North American evidence-based resume guide “Amazing Resumes” published by JIST

    Keep up the great work Donna!


  7. Hi Jim,

    I cited the article this post pulls from at the bottom of the post. Did you see the citation?

    Very glad to know about the book that you have written with Joanne as well.

    BTW, you keep up the good work (please!). The more evidence job seekers have to guide their job searches the better.


  8. I know I’m a little late to the party. Donna, thanks again for bringing great information to light and presenting it so well.

    Now, as for these so-called researchers in Australia…

    I wonder how much grant money they spent on this research? Because I could have told them the same things for a juicy NY strip steak.

  9. David,

    You’re never too late to the party! And I’m looking forward to joining you and Jim for a lovely dinner one of these days.


  10. How are you supposed to make a career change if good CVs demand relevant experience? The best a poor sod like myself can do is try to highlight (through relevant examples in the CL) how they are good at picking up new skills and point to relevant education (in CV).

    Employers & HR drones need to be a little more venturous and give one or two new comers a chance.

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