Your Resume — How Recruiters Read Between the Lines

Many people yearn for the death of the resume.

Maybe that’s because it tells savvy readers so much about a person.

Or perhaps it’s because it tells us so much about ourselves.

Regardless, it’s important to understand what skilled readers see in your resume beyond the obvious.

Here are ten of my favorite resume tells:

1. Writing Skill and/or Ability to Delegate and Edit

I often remind my search clients that a well-written resume does not prove a person’s ability to write well. Maybe so, but it might also show they know how to delegate to a good writer and edit their work.

2. Achievement Orientation

Do you devote more space to telling me about your duties or your accomplishments?

I like people who give relative weight to describing accomplishments appropriate to their roles and levels of responsibility.

3. General Mental Ability

Your resume shows your abilities to:

a. Analyze information (the job posting and any research you do).

b. Identify what matters (the company’s needs and your background).

c. Make decisions (what to share or not share about yourself).

d. Build a rational argument to gain the support of others (your resume) – in the face of severe time and space (two pages) constraints.

Writing a resume is like solving a business school case. It’s not easy, but when you ace it, you make yourself an attractive potential colleague.

4. Story Telling Ability

Clear writing shows clarity of thought and storytelling ability. Whether the candidate has written their resume or delegated it, they’re responsible for its story.

If it reads well, I get excited about talking with them.

5. Ability to Create and Sustain Relationships

I look at how many employers a candidate has had in the last ten years and calculate their average tenure per employer.

The smaller the number is, the less likely I am to want to interview the person. For whatever reason, they don’t form long-term relationships and/or commitments.

The “why” of excessive turnover doesn’t matter.

I have to recruit people who will stay with my clients long enough for them to get a good return on their investment in the person’s learning curve. Short tenures rarely yield high returns.

The longer the tenure, the more likely I am to want to interview the person – to a point. If a person has been with one employer for years and years, then I worry about their ability to adapt to a new culture.

6. Business Literacy

Have you shared the basic info used to describe companies in your industry (ownership structure, revenue, geographic scope, etc.)?

When executives don’t share this information on their resumes, I often find they lack business literacy. They might understand their jobs, but they don’t get what their colleagues in other departments do, and they don’t understand the collective effort.

7. Professional Standards

If an executive gives me a sloppy, poorly organized resume, I wonder if s/he would use the same presentation standards for materials for their Board of Directors.

If I get a neat, well-organized resume, I’m more inclined to want to talk with the sender.

8. Self/Other Focus

Have you made it easy for me to scan and read your resume? From any device? Can I easily find your contact info?

I form an impression about a candidate’s ability to put him/herself in others’ shoes from how easy or hard it is to use their resume.

9. Secrets

If you have more than one gap on your resume, or a large gap, I want to see a verifiable explanation(s). Give me one short sentence (25 words or less). Don’t make me wonder if you’re hiding something.

10. Overall Quality

I look at the overall quality of your background, accomplishments, writing/thinking, presentation, etc.

Your resume gives off a meta impression, a gestalt, of quality or lack of quality. It’s good to know this and check your resume’s meta-message to make sure that it’s positive.

Professional Resume Samples

I bear all of the above in mind when I write resumes.

You can see sample resumes here that illustrate the information I shared in this post.

Bonus Round

Learn more here about whether or not you really have to customize your resume for every opportunity that interests you.

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

Image: Fotolia/gajus
Updated May 2017

© 2015 – 2018, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

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