What should recruiters look for in a resume?

Last updated on 2 August 2023

A resume that tells a story offers far more insight than a list of past achievements. [Source: Shutterstock]

It can be a whirlwind when posting a job ad. You may find yourself faced with the daunting prospect of 100s of applications for one role and little time to filter through them all. So knowing exactly what separates a great application from an average one makes all the difference.

To minimise the risk of hit-and-miss recruitment, here’s what you should look for in a resume and cover letter to pinpoint your perfect candidates.

A unique approach

At face value, an eye-catching CV doesn’t mean you have the perfect candidate, but they have taken the time to go above and beyond the normal typed resume. A unique CV could include a variety of personal flairs and flourishes indicating the candidate is highly passionate about their work. These could include:

  • A unique – but readable – combination of fonts beyond the standard Arial or Times New Roman
  • Visually stimulating features like charts, graphics or icons to break up the text
  • Splashes of colour in borders, lines or headings 
  • A professional headshot of the candidate (while not necessary, it stands out)

Depending on the role you’re hiring for, you might feel certain flourishes are not necessary – where a graphic designer would benefit from a visually exciting resume, a registered nurse may not. Still, if you do find a resume that stands out, an invested candidate is likely behind it.

Career continuity

Visual elements are just one element of a resume: it’s the details that matter the most. Arguably the most important is career continuity. Traditionally, recruiters like to look for candidates with no career gaps and workplace longevity. But research has found the average person changes jobs roughly every three years and it’s predicted Generation Z (born between the late 1990s-early 2010s) will have up to 17 jobs across half-a-dozen different fields/industries. 

So what does that mean for recruiters? Look for trends such as signs of positive career progression or job-hopping patterns indicating a candidate might not be reliable. It’s essential to remember there can be unexplained reasons for job and career changes, including parenthood, a toxic work environment or wage stagnation. If you do like a candidate it’s worth asking for insight if their career continuity isn’t an exact match for what you’re after. 

Relevant experience

With a rising number of applicants likely to be job-hopping, there are times when that’s not going to meet your needs. So it goes without saying to filter out the candidates with the most relevant experience and qualifications for the jobs that need it; nursing, finance, clinical care, etc. These are some of the roles you cannot skimp on for experience and credentials. 

However, consider where you can offer flexibility for promising candidates who don’t meet every requirement but there’s room for growth. This could be someone in the midst of a career change or an eager learner with strong soft skills such as effective communication or relationship management. If you can provide additional training to get them up to speed or find another suitable role, it’s a great way to capture a stand-out applicant.

Passion for the role

How can you tell when an applicant is genuinely interested in a role? Look for how they present themselves through their writing, a sense of authenticity and any reference to your company. Someone who is passionate about their career and the job on offer will go the extra mile to include these personal elements in their CV. 

  • Consider the verbs and adjectives they use when describing past experiences: are they stock-standard responses or do they more unique? You want to see their personality translated on paper
  • Is the applicant telling a story in their cover letter, or just picking out key phrases from your role description? If they’re deeply interested they will tell you why they want the job right away. 
  • Do you see how the role fits in with their career? If they express interest in it being a long-term position, rather than just a stepping stone, how does that align with your needs?
  • What kind of references to your company are included? If the applicant provides references to your services, leading personnel or visions, that’s a clear sign they have done some research and will put in the effort for a job.

Attention to detail

Ultimately, no one wants to read a haphazard resume with spelling and grammar mistakes. And even if there’s no direct correlation between an applicant’s grammatical skills and the role on offer, the lack of attention to detail could be reflected in their performance. Your most promising candidates will be those who put in the time and effort to show they want to truly be a part of the company. 

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