How I Read Your Resume: a US Recruiter Notes

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Guest post from Julia Tverskaya

Your resume provides that all-important first impression. Writing a good resume is not simple. It can and should take several hours or even several days. But the effort pays off.

The purposes of the resume are:

1) to be selected for an interview;

2) to provide a conversation starter during the interviews.

Everything you put on the resume must serve these purposes.

For a resume to be selected, it must stand out from the crowd (in a good way 😊).  This means that the resume focuses on results and achievements and not as much on job responsibilities. This is what distinguishes a good resume from an ordinary one. Think about it this way: what you do every day, somebody else does every day. Putting your day-to-day responsibilities on the resume does not help you stand out from the crowd, nor does it provide a good topic for a discussion during an interview.

Even worse, when a Software Engineer says that they fix bugs, or a Physician says that they treat patients, it creates an impression of a junior person who does what they are told, someone who does not “own” or does not care about the results.

What have you done that was especially interesting or complex, something you are proud of, or something that earned you an award or praise?  Focus on that.

Reading a resume is just that: reading. First, it has to be interesting. Secondly, it needs to be clean: anything that distracts or irritates the eye is not welcome and may annoy the reader.

Let’s talk about the specifics.

Describe your experience in the reverse-chronological order. I want to see what you did and when; a “functional” resume does not work for me (and most hiring managers).

Keep it short:

  • 2-3 pages

Keep it clean:

  • Do not use many fonts and colors: it distracts me from the reading.
  • No need to include a picture.
  • Do not include any personal details like your marital status, DOB, etc.
  • Consider including visa info if the resume suggests you do not come from the USA (e.g., you graduated from a foreign university or worked abroad).
  • If you’ve won awards, graduated with a top GPA, or are a recognized leader in your area of expertise, include that information
  • If you have interesting hobbies or achievements in other areas, are a volunteer, feel free to list them at the bottom of your resume
  • Proofread your resume. Ask a friend to read it before sending it over – especially if English is not your native language. Ensure there are no spelling errors, and the grammar is consistent and correct.

Work history:

Some industries evolve very quickly. If you work in one of those (e.g., are a software engineer), everything you did ten or more years ago should be described briefly or not at all, for three reasons:

1) the further back in time, the less relevant (usually) your experience is for a reader.

2) You can be asked about any project on your resume. Are you prepared to talk in detail about something you did 15 years ago? Of course, if you did something fascinating and want to talk about it, do include this, even if it happened in the last century.

3) It helps to keep the resume short 😊


A “functional” resume is often the choice when there are gaps in the work history. However, hiding gaps will not work; I will discover them anyhow. If you have good explanations for the employment gaps (e.g., you had a baby, took a year off to travel the world, or went back to school), you can explain that in a cover letter upfront. But be prepared to talk about these gaps.

Describing your experience:

  • Describe the things you want to talk about (to be asked about) during an interview. If you have used a tool a few times but are not an expert, do not list it. I recently talked to a candidate who claimed she was a “BI expert” but could not name any BI tools she used.
  • Avoid generic terms like “involved” (variations: “deeply” or “actively” involved); “worked on”, “participated (or actively participated) in”, “assisted with”, etc. For example, software engineering is a team effort, and everybody is involved: from an architect to an intern, including an office manager who orders pizza for the team. Using these words does not provide information, but it is also irritating for me as a reader. Instead, think about what you have been responsible for and what you have done. Describe your experience using active words, showing ownership, such as “was responsible for,” “led,” etc.
  • If you are applying for a position that you are not a match for, please explain your reasoning. Otherwise, it creates an impression that you have not read the job description before clicking the “Apply” button.
  • If the job would require you to relocate, it’s better to address this upfront. Please do not make me wonder whether you missed the job location.

When applying for a job:

  • Check that you have all the “must-haves.” If you do not, your application will likely be ignored. If you do not have the required experience but still think you are a strong candidate, please address that in a cover letter. Be specific; remember that you compete with those who meet all the requirements.
  • If you have not worked for more than a few months, consider volunteering, getting a contract, and networking to “refresh” your resume first.

Thank you for reading! Recruiters, please feel free to add your comments.

(Also, check out LinkedIn Profile SEO: How to Be Found).

Comments 2

  1. I read your article it’s very informative. Now I realize that the resume which I prepare is a mess. I am applying since Last many years with no result. I have 20 years experience in construction industry and still I am working in position which I am not supposed to be. I will be thankful if you will me regarding my cv.

  2. Very good article, it’s what I teach and use to create CVs. For me it’s all about understanding who the customer is and knowing why and how to manage the relationship with them for a win-win that reduces customer risk of hire. Especially when they, as hiring customers, may be less than perfect at the interviewing process.

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