How Recruiters Read Resumes

In the time it took to read this headline.

That’s the amount of time a recruiter takes to read your resume.

No really. It’s scanning, not even reading.

Now, don’t get too discouraged. I know you did some really great things in college and at your first job in the management program at Enterprise but recruiters are strategic readers because they have to be, not because they don’t care.

I don’t do this a lot but yes, I’m giving recruiters the benefit of the doubt here for once. They’re not all bad guys, I swear. They want to be dream makers, not bubble busters. They want you to be the right candidate. It actually helps them a lot more if you are. Remember we’re all motivated by getting shit done and recruiters get absolutely nothing out of rejecting you.

Just consider what their days look like. An in-house recruiter – in plain english, that’s a recruiter who works for the company that’s going to hire you – has to review the resumes that come in for each job. They are the first filter on if someone is worth talking to more. On average, over 100 people apply to every job that’s posted. That means across time zones and departments, for every job that’s hired, at least some, if not most, of 100 resumes get a look purely to narrow things down.

Here’s where some people will try to tell you that’s not true. That recruiter’s don’t look at all the resumes. That’s probably true for some jobs, especially really competitive jobs at unicorn companies. But do you know what I’m confident they do actually use to look at all those resumes? An ATS – the Applicant Tracking System. It’s a hub for all the resumes and job descriptions and most companies have them, if not all.

It’s usually based on keyword search so rather than pull some resume tips out of my ass about formatting, I’m going to give you some insight into how to stand out in the machine and make an impression in the moment you have a chance.

Tips to write a resume that will resonate in a glance:

  1. Let’s get this out of the way upfront. Yes, you should have a slightly different resume for each job you apply to unless the job description itself is the same for each job (which, it’s probably not).
  2. Follow the instructions. If they say you must do something for consideration, do it. It’s as simple as that.
  3. Apply on the career site. It’s a great way to get a feel for the company and their voice versus the generic stuff you get on the job boards. Plus, you’re directly accessing the ATS versus hoping the integration between the job board (that’s your Monster, Indeed, Careerbuilder, etc) and ATS is set up correctly.
  4. The job description is the most important piece of information you have. If they phrase something you have done in a different way, I want you to take that sentence and copy / paste it in your resume.
  5. If they use keywords to describe something you’ve done that you don’t use in your resume, replace the synonym with the word from the job description. As the recruiter is scanning, they’ll notice that you’re a 1:1 match for the resume.
  6. Steal a cover letter. Seriously, unless you’re applying to be a copywriter, you don’t need to spend a ton of time on your cover letter.
  7. Your cover letter should include a middle section that’s just bullets from the job description. Copy and paste them. You’re trying to show them you’re a match – don’t leave it up to assumptions and interpretations.
  8. If there’s a list of technical skills on the job description, make sure you have them listed at the bottom in a tech skills section. Again, you’re just making it easier for them to process you’re a good fit in 6 seconds or less.
  9. Make sure everything is spelled right. Some recruiters are spelling nazis and there’s no reason to get disqualified because you can’t run spell-check.

Click on the image below to see the most frequently viewed spots on a resume and give me a shout if you have questions!

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Job Search Advice

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster,, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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