As a former hiring manager and now career counselor, I have been privy to reading hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes. Looking at it from the “other side of the table” is an interesting exercise, for it can highlight an entirely new perspective. Here is my take on what an employer is REALLY thinking when they read your resume.

I Really Wish You’d Chosen Some Different Words

Phrases like “detail-oriented,” “passionate” and “good with people” are terribly overused and not very original. If you really want to knock my socks off, spend some real time examining your strengths, and writing about them in a way that’s innovative and creative.

I often tell my clients to think about the skills they would use in their dream job, and focus on those. Being detail-oriented is good of course, but is that what you really want to be known for?

Chances are you have an entirely different skill set that the world really needs – one that is unique to you. Think about what that is, make it your focus, and you can’t go wrong. (Stumped or having trouble? Check out Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath to delve deeper into your unique talents).

I Really Wish You’d Taken the Time to Make it Look Good

Formatting goes a long way with resumes. In fact, a beautifully formatted resume can sometimes offset a resume thin on experience, simply by looking good.

If your resume uses a font that is professional and clear (no Comic Sans please!), and you’ve utilized borders and margins correctly, my brain unconsciously makes the assumption that you will submit professional work that is also detailed and crisp looking. Appearances really do count in this arena.

If you aren’t sure what looks good, try a Google search or head to your local library to access some resume books. There are literally thousands of examples online and all you need to do is copy a format that stands out from the crowd.

I Really Wish You’d Gotten Some More Experience

This one is especially true for entry level candidates. I appreciate a strong GPA when I look at a candidate’s resume, but I also appreciate seeing a well- rounded person. If you have only focused on your coursework but haven’t put the time in to other areas of your life, that raises a bit of a red flag for me.

Soft skills are incredibly important in the workplace – attributes like teamwork, dealing with diverse people, office politics – all of those things can only come with practice. I want to see someone that has a variety of experiences on their resume, and someone that is interested in contributing to the world.

Where are your volunteer experiences? How about your leadership skills? Have you had the chance to live in other places?

I Really Wish You’d Been More Concise

With the exception of academic resumes, which by nature are required to be more lengthy and verbose, resumes of those with professional experience can sometimes err on the wordy side.

Rather than simply listing all of your jobs and responsibilities bullet by bullet, think about ways you could possibly group your skills by them. Maybe a functional resume would be more appropriate?

If you don’t have an attention grabbing profile or objective statement, write one! It only takes a few sentences to convey the essence of who you are and what you’re looking for. A powerful headline statement can go a long way on a resume – use that space to let me know who you are quickly. I don’t enjoy having to dig for buried treasure amidst the bullet points.

Writing a resume may feel like a chore, but taking the time to sit down and really think about the message you are trying to convey, as well as spending the time needed to make it appear polished and professional, goes a long way.

Updated: 05/04/2017
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Erika is a career development professional with over 15 years of experience in both corporate and higher education settings. Her current role is Assistant Director of Career Education at a private university in Chicago, Illinois. She also works with individuals on strengths discovery, interviewing skills and networking. She can be reached at careerplayground (at) gmail.com

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