How I Read Resumes

In the past year, I’ve reviewed around 1,500 resumes as people apply to work for my company.  It might be helpful to know how I read a resume.  I’m not going to tell you how to write a resume–just how I read them.  Here are my observations.

Observation 1: The heading is not the first thing I look at.  In fact, I won’t even look at the name and address until I decide the person is worth looking in to.  Therefore, it is not an important part of the resume.  Don’t waste space with it.  However, I will notice if there’s something funny or wacky about it, so keep your name and address simple.

Observation 2: I need to know the graduation date.  Surprisingly, about 20% of the resumes I get are for internships, even though we don’t offer any.  My first step is to weed out the people who are not graduating.  And guess what happens to candidates who don’t list their graduation date?

Observation 3: I do read multiple pages, but only if I’m already interested in the candidate.  There are only about 4 or 5 things I look for on a resume, and I know they won’t be on the back page.  If I’m already sucked in by a great resume, I’ll read the entire thing.  I have read elsewhere that you should only submit a single page, and that’s a good general bit of advice.  You should be able to effectively highlight your skills on a single sheet.

Observation 4: I love lists.  My eyes naturally gravitate toward a clean, five bullet list.  Do with that what you will, but I’ll read any list you put in front of me.  This is an effective and increasingly common way to communicate.  What’s the natural enemy of the list?  The paragraph.  When I see paragraphs of prose in the Experience section, I know there’s work ahead, and I’m likely to skip it.  Paragraphs are bad–lists are good.

Observation 5: I don’t care about coursework.  Unless I see a class that lines up exactly with my job (and there aren’t any), the Relevant Coursework section is a waste of space.  This won’t be true for all employers, but it is for me.

Observation 6: White space makes me happy.  A nicely spaced resume is easier to read, and I find myself almost in a better mood while reviewing it.  A resume filled with abutting paragraphs and poor spacing means it’ll be too much work for me to read.  I’ll lose my place three times, I’ll skip over parts I don’t care about, and I’ll get a headache.  White space helps prevent that.

Observation 7: There are very few extracurricular or volunteer activities that matter to me.  I’m don’t hire people to play lacrosse or build homes.  I may be interested in someone who modifies video games or writes opinion pieces in the spare time, however.  Unrelated activities should be left out, even if that means doing away with the entire section.

Observation 8: I do look at GPA.  Unfortunately, GPA is the easiest way to rule people out.  I only have three categories, though.  Good (3.7 and above), Completely Fine (3.0 – 3.6), Not Good (2.9 and below).  If I meet someone at a career fair and they make a good impression, they can get past a low GPA.  Similarly, I could meet someone with a 4.0 who never gets called back because they didn’t make a good first impression.  GPA never rules anyone out, and never rules anyone in.

Observation 9: I use the resume to judge if a person is proficient with MS Word.  It’s easy to tell just by looking at layout of a resume if the candidate knows her way around Microsoft Word.  It’s a good thing if she does.  The resume is essentially the first work item I get from an applicant.

Observation 10: Objectives are a waste of space.  It’s too hard to make a generalized objective sound good (“To obtain full-time employment in an industry where I can add value and build skills” doesn’t do anything for me), and customizing the objective has a very low cost to benefit ratio.  That is, I don’t need to see that you’re looking for a position with my specific company, because I already know you are.  Every so often I get a resume that was customized for another employer, and that’s a deal breaker.  The customized objective statement is too risky, and offers no real reward.

I hope that helps someone out there.  I’ll think about what candidates should put on their resume over the weekend.

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