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What makes resumes rise to the top

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By Eve Nicholas
Herald Columnist
When I worked for a recruiter, part of my job was to screen resumes and find potential candidates for open positions. I tore through hundreds of resumes in an hour. I opened each e-mailed file, made a snap decision and then clicked on the next one. On a good day, three or four resumes would capture my attention. I printed the documents and placed them on the recruiter's desk for closer review in the morning.
It was extremely rare for a true gem to arrive in the inbox. But once in a while, an exceptional resume would catch my eye. The formatting was clean and appealing. The writing was fresh. The candidate's strengths were apparent on first glance. These documents made my day. I printed them immediately and took the time to examine them closely and jot down notes for the recruiter. Then I did something that all job hunters should know: I stood up, walked over to my boss's desk and interrupted whatever she was doing so we could discuss the stand-out candidate right away.
Often, the candidate seemed like the perfect fit for a current job opportunity. But even when an ideal position wasn't available, we reached out to the job seeker anyway. There is no question about it: People with excellent resumes sprinted to the front of the line.
With the top-notch resume in her hand, my boss tried to get the job hunter on the phone. If no one answered, she listened carefully to the voicemail message. If the applicant picked up, my boss would sneak in a couple of interviewlike questions to garner more information about the person's professionalism, communication skills and ease under pressure.
There is something else that I want to tell you. Those resumes, the ones that prompted me to cease all other office activities, weren't always glistening with perfection. Many times I interrupted my boss to present a document that grabbed me for another reason. A young person trying to establish a foothold after graduating from college. A mom returning to the workplace. A manager with experience in a strange or highly specialized industry.
Why did I bother to separate these files from the hundreds of others overburdening my inbox? In reviewing each of these documents, I noticed something right off the bat. Within just a few seconds, I was able uncovered more than a hodgepodge of resume jargon. I saw a real person. With goals, plans and an authentic human voice.
Don't get me wrong. They didn't go overboard. They merely replaced tired cliches with actual information. Substituting a bland statement: "Improved sales" with a thought-provoking bullet, like this: "Drove up revenue by creating a new market for a never-before-launched product line." Replacing "Increased productivity" with a straight-from-the-workplace example, like this: "Blasted through a four-week backlog in five days to make time for money-making pursuits."
From my experience in recruiting, I learned that a great presentation opens doors. Even if the person's career history was flat-out wrong. If the candidate was young, old, held no degree or was unemployed. All they had to do was impress us on paper (or on the computer screen), and we stopped what we were doing, picked up the phone and called.
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Story tags » JobsEmployersEmployment



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