Amelia Herring

What to Look for in a Resume

What to Look for in a Resume
Amelia Herring

Although social media is often part of a job-seeker’s marketing plan these days, resumes and cover letters are still the primary elements that recruiters and hiring managers look at to get an initial impression of candidates.

Because they are of premium importance, there’s a lot of information being generated by experts and amateurs alike on the Internet and in books and magazines on how to write a resume“properly.” Conversely, if you’re hiring and you know how to read one properly – meaning, you know what to look for in a resume and what to pass on – you can gather a great deal of useful information in a short amount of time.


So, what should employers look for in resumes? The first thing you want to do is decide how important presentation is to you. You’ll likely get a few unusually-constructed documents, so are you going to automatically discard them or review the contents? Your decision should be dictated by the requirements of the job (have a job analysis handy), as some positions call for more artistry or grammatical precision than others. Some anomalies you may encounter:

  • Formatting: unusual layout, nonstandard font types and sizes
  • Color: paper or the font(s) used
  • Graphics: photos, artwork or other visual elements
  • Information: inclusion of the unusual or exclusion of the expected
  • Errors: spelling, punctuation or grammar
  • Language: use of acronyms, slang or even profanity (you might encounter the latter in an email address)

Due Diligence

Just as you should investigate any job candidate you are seriously considering for hire,  you should expect them to investigate you, too. You can tell if they really care about getting the job at your company if you see customized language in the resume and cover letter referring to you or your organization by name, industry, and the specifics of the position. If they’ve researched your CEO, your product line, or even better – your competition – put this resume on the consideration pile.


Typically, this section of a resume is in reverse-chronological order. Instead of reading it this way like most people do, try going from oldest to most-recent experience. It’s easier to get a good understanding of the applicant’s career progression, and makes it easier to spot both negative and positive trends. Look for a pattern of increasing responsibility and accomplishment, such as regular promotions, added job duties, higher quotas set and achieved , increase in the size of teams managed and the like.

The following are issues of concern as they relate to experience, and if you otherwise want to consider the candidate for employment, ask them for an explanation:

  • An extended career stagnation or decline
  • Subordinate job titles. For example, you are looking for a Marketing Manager and the furthest they have progressed is Jr. Marketing Associate.
  • Gaps in employment


You want to hire people who can get the job done, and the best resumes will include tangible accomplishments. This means numbers, percentages and dollars. Look for them, and then ask for details. If they led their team to a 5% increase in sales in one year, that might sound great, but they might have been let go because they missed the mark of 15% set by management.

Clubs, Awards, Memberships, Social Activities

If there is information of this nature, look for activities related to your industry or the position. For example, if you are hiring for a sales position, long-standing membership in Toastmasters would potentially be a plus. As far as awards are concerned, winning a certificate for Salesperson of the Month is nice, but is of limited value if there is no information about what they had to do to get it.


Remember, the resume is a marketing vehicle. The candidate is presenting his or her self in the best light possible. In the same way that you don’t take a manufacturer’s advertisements for their new wonder product at face value, so too should you do your due diligence on your top applicants. If you’re using a candidate-supplied piece of information to make your hiring decision, verify it before you rely on it.

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