What Employers Should Look for in a Resume

What Employers Should Look for in a Resume

What Employers Should Look for in a Resume

Resumes provide a first impression of prospective applicants and they are also the first point of elimination in the hiring process. For these reasons, it’s important to screen them effectively and notice red flags as well as key strengths.

Below are common red flags found in resumes, characteristics of good resumes, suggested resume screening practices, and other things to think about regarding screening resumes.

Red Flags in Resumes

Most employers agree that the following resume mistakes, errors, or problems can automatically eliminate an applicant from being considered in the hiring process:

  • General sloppiness; misspellings, errors, typos, omitted words, and poor formatting
  • Vague wording (e.g. involved with, participated in, familiar with, assisted with)
  • Large unexplained gaps in employment history; frequent job changes (short tenures at jobs)
  • Lack of experience in core job duties or a posted job
  • Generic content that is not personalized to the position
  • Does not include exact dates of employment
  • Regression in work history or job duties
  • Inappropriate email address or contact information
  • Insufficient educational credentials
  • Includes a picture and/or is too personal

While employers have different criteria for screening out applicants, depending on the employer’s process of resume screening, these characteristics can either quickly eliminate applicants from the application process or may indicate that an applicant is not a fit for a job.

Characteristics of Good Resumes

In addition to these things to avoid, a good resume generally showcases an applicant’s experience, skills, and educational credentials to illustrate how they will be a good fit for the job. Here are several characteristics of good resumes:

  • Customized for the job
  • Has an objective
  • Formatted in an easy-to-read and organized manner
  • Contains an appropriate length for experience (1-2 pages typically)
  • Presents a summary of strengths, key competencies, or major skill sets
  • Features educational credentials
  • Showcases relevant experience and expertise for the job
  • Highlights measurable achievements and results
  • Includes job titles, name of organization, city, state, and years at organization
  • Contains name and contact information

Resume Screening Best Practices

When screening resumes, it is important to have a consistent process in place for all applicants. By keeping the process consistent and objective, it can help in cutting down the time it takes to review resumes and also help ensure that no discriminatory or unlawful practices occur. Below are resume screening best practices.  

  1. Look for overall neatness and appropriate formatting, consistency, spelling, and grammar.
  2. Compare the resume to the list of required qualifications (e.g. education, certification, years of experience, skills, etc.).
  3. Compare the resume to the job description or set of key criteria. Look for how past responsibilities, duties, and experience relate to the current position.
  4. Review key accomplishments and measurable results.
  5. Separate resumes into three categories as you review them: “yes,” “on the fence,” and “no.”
  6. From the “yes” pile, compare the resumes to one another and determine the strongest resumes. Move these individuals on to the next step in the interview process.
  7. Review any rejected applicants and make sure that the reasons for rejecting them are job-related and non-discriminatory.

Things to Think About

Additionally, employment gaps, use of cover letters, and educational attainment are common criteria used in screening resumes, but organizations vary based in their practices.

Employment Gaps

For some employers, employment gaps can be a reason for eliminating applicants or red flags as they suggest that the applicant was fired from their last job, lacks experience, or lacks work ethic. Other employers welcome employment gaps, provided that they are explained.

Cover Letters

Opinions regarding cover letters are varied. Some employers believe that cover letters are an essential part of the application process and should be sent with resumes, and other organizations don’t look at cover letters.

Education Level

For some employers, a Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s degree, while for others, a Bachelor’s degree or comparable experience is sufficient for the same job. With more individuals graduating with Bachelor’s degrees than in previous years some employers believe that having a Bachelor’s degree is no longer an adequate screening measure and that a Master’s degree should be given weight when deciding between two similarly experienced applicants.


There are no standard years of experience requirements for certain jobs. These are set and reviewed at an employer’s discretion. Some employers request higher levels of experience for certain jobs, while other employers request lower levels of experience. This decision can depend on a number of factors, including how much your organization can invest in training and developing new-hires.

By keeping this information in mind, organizations can quickly and efficiently screen resumes to find the best applicants for the job. Once the resumes are narrowed down to the best ones, the next step in the hiring process can be taken, and you will be closer to finding the ideal candidate  for the job. 

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