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How Employers Actually Look at Your Resume


When you’re applying for your dream internship or job, you know your resume has to be perfect so that you can stand out from the crowd.  You spend hours agonizing about every little detail of your resume.  You change “managed” to “led” (then back to “managed” again) in your job descriptions to give them the most oomph.  You interrogate friends, career counselors, and your parents about their views on 0.5-inch margins versus 1-inch margins.  All of this in the hopes of catching an employer’s eye when they look at it for the first time.

But what will really make a difference when an employer looks at your resume?  We asked Heather R. Huhman, career expert and founder of Come Recommended, a PR and marketing consulting company, about how employers actually look at your resume, what they look for, and what will make them throw it right in the trash.

How long do they look at your resume?

Here’s a depressing fact: despite all the hours you’ve spent creating and revising your resume, Huhman says that most employers will probably only spend “a few minutes” looking at it—possibly even less!  “Recent data shows many hiring managers and recruiters spend as little as six seconds reading a resume!” she says. “However, it depends on the size of the company and how many applications they receive on a daily basis.”

If you’re applying for an internship or job at a large company, it’s even more likely that the employer will only look at your resume for a few seconds.  To make sure your resume stays in the “yes” pile, use short bullet points in your job descriptions. Bullet points will stand out to an employer more, since they won’t have time to read through paragraphs of descriptions in just a few seconds.

What do they look for first?

“The first thing employers, including myself, look for in a resume is accomplishments related to the job for which I am hiring,” says Huhman. “When I look at a resume, I want to be able to learn what makes the candidate qualified for the position and why they would be the best fit for my company.”

When writing up your resume, tailor it to the specific job or internship you’re applying for—don’t create clutter (and lose the employer’s interest!) by listing experiences that aren’t relevant to the job description.  The more relevant the jobs and accomplishments you list are to the position you’re applying for, the more likely it is that an employer will want to hire you.

What specific elements catch their eye?

Huhman says employers look for keywords in your resume that are specific to the position for which they’re hiring.  Before you write up your resume, look at the company’s description of the job or internship you’re applying for and try to identify a few main points and keywords that you can incorporate.  You don’t necessarily have to copy and paste them, but if your experiences are similar to the tasks required for the position, the employer is sure to take notice!

“Employers look for leadership experience, team building, problem solving, and written/oral communication skills,” Huhman says.  Go through each experience you have listed on your resume and think about how you can best bring these concepts out.  Did you hold a leadership position in a club on campus?  Include that! Did you work successfully in a team to accomplish a goal?  Mention it!  Focusing on your accomplishments instead of just job tasks in your descriptions will make your resume stand out much more to employers.

What do they think about your resume layout?

You may only have six seconds to impress an employer with your resume.  So what you need to do is create a flashy, eye-catching design for your resume, right? Not necessarily.

“The appearance of a resume is an important element because employers expect to read a professional document,” Huhman says. “If a resume has hard to read fonts or distracting colors, the employer could toss the resume.”

When applying to most internships or jobs, it’s best to stick to the standard black Times New Roman font and ditch the fancy design elements. However, if you’re applying for a position in a more artistic field, such as graphic design, you may find it to your benefit to have a more creative resume.

What will make them throw out your resume?

Those six seconds an employer spends reading your resume could be cut even shorter if you include a deal breaker such as a typo in your resume. “Poor grammar and spelling will automatically cause an employer to throw out a resume,” Huhman says. “Resumes lacking relevant experience or skills will also be thrown out.”

Don’t trust solely your own eyes to review your resume—you’ve probably looked at it so many times that you’re likely to skim over any mistakes.  Instead, have a career counselor or a nitpicky friend (or, better yet, both!) look over your resume to make sure you don’t have any errors that could send it straight to the trash.


After all the work you put into crafting the perfect resume, it can be disheartening to think of it being looked at for only a few seconds or minutes.  But with HC’s tips, you can make those precious seconds worth it and get a call back from an interview in no time!  Good luck, collegiettes!

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