Don’t Make Me Read Your Résumé (How to Apply to Jobs)

I will read your résumé unless it’s 10 pages, but (just as you didn’t want to write your résumé) I really don’t want to read your résumé. To put it another way, I don’t want to read it because I must in order to make a yes/no decision. Ideally, I can decide to speak to you based on a few sentences in the body of an email/application, and then primarily read the résumé to prepare for our initial dialogue and use it as a framework during the call. Give me a few sentences to make me want to have that talk.I can haz job?

I never ask for or expect a full cover letter with addresses and dates and all the formatting. Personally, I don’t want to read that either, and I’d rather not task applicants with the hassle. All we’re trying to do is start a conversation, and it shouldn’t take much to get it started.

Reading only a few sentences before making a decision will clearly make my job easier, but it will make the job seeker’s life a bit better as well. There is much less pressure to have the perfect résumé if you can get past the first stage without that document being carefully judged. Invest five minutes in the application, and you can spend less time customizing résumés.

Roughly 50% of the applications I receive are résumé only. In 2013, almost 90% of my client hires included additional content. The data set is not large, but over my 15 years I’d expect that the figures would be rather consistent.

Whether applying for an advertised job via email, an online application, or even if you are just blindly sending a résumé in the off chance a company might consider you for hire, the key concepts to address in the content that accompanies the résumé are:

1. Tell me what prompted you to apply for the job

Where did you see the ad? If you were on the major job boards, you saw hundreds. What was it about this ad that caught your eye and made you act? One sentence is plenty. If you saw the ad on the company’s website, kudos – you weren’t out trolling the boards; you were actually looking into us. What did you like about us?

2. Show me why you believe you are qualified

It isn’t necessary to write a long and detailed summary of your experience here, and you shouldn’t. One or two sentences that distill the most relevant experience will get us to the next step. You can quantify years of experience in the industry and with a couple technologies listed in the ad, reference a noteworthy accomplishment, or briefly describe how a current or past role prepared you. A link to past work might help in certain cases (UI and mobile specifically).

3. Express interest

If you’ve covered what prompted your application and your qualifications nicely, a simple “I’m very interested in learning more about this position…” can suffice. If you feel you may need just a bit more to put you over the top, demonstrating that you did a minute of research on the company can help. Is there a product we offer that you’d like to know more about? Did the way we described our culture have particular appeal to you?

4. Mention the company’s name, twice

Doing this lets me know you cared enough not to send a pure form letter. Applications that use generic phrases like “your company” (or the worst, “your esteemed organization“) name scream “I’m just looking for any job” and not “I’d like to be an employee of COMPANY”. The first mention can be in the opening sentence when you list the job itself (“…apply for Senior Python Developer at COMPANY“), and specify again in your closing.

5. Don’t do anything stupid or desperate

Referencing the wrong company name due to cut/paste miscues is a common one, and although we are willing to forgive a small error it does give the appearance that the candidate has applied to several positions simultaneously (which is fine, but decreases our odds of hiring). Creating a tone that you are desperate to work is not helpful, regardless of how true it is. Make the recipient want to hire you based on your skills and not on sympathy. Don’t ask me to hire you, just explain why I should want to.

And a few Protips for specific situations…

If you are asked for a salary requirement…

If you are uneasy about providing salary requirements, at least acknowledge the request tactfully (as opposed to completely ignoring it). Try something like “It’s difficult to provide an accurate salary requirement before knowing any other elements of employee compensation packages, as well as the job responsibilities and company’s expectations for this role.

If you are applying for a job in a different city…

Recruiters receive many résumés from out-of-town applicants. When we see a non-local address without any explanation, it is often safe to assume that you are applying for many jobs all across the country. There is nothing wrong with that, but the odds that we will hire you become much lower if you are looking everywhere (more choices lower the chance you’ll choose us). Combine this with the complexity of relocation – cost of living differences, moving costs and potential reimbursement, changing schools for young children, etc. – and the recruiter has to weigh the decision to spend time with you or someone local. Therefore, unless your résumé is spectacular, a non-local applicants may not be given the same level of consideration.

When targeting a move to a specific city, mention this in the body of your application. Companies will pay close attention to candidates that have concrete plans to move to their city, and agency recruiters are much more likely to work with you if you are only seeking jobs in one or two locations. If you can provide a future local address on a résumé, that may help.

If you are somewhat underqualified for the job…

There will be times when a job looks very appealing but your experience clearly falls a bit short. In this situation, the opportunity to write a few sentences in support of your résumé is your best shot at consideration. Recruiters will often give at least one chance to underdog candidates who attempt to make up for a lack of years with some enthusiasm or an interesting story. It is much harder to say no to someone who demonstrates that they are eager to work for you.

I wrote a book

28 comments

    • fecak

      What if the resume is 100 pages – is it “my job” to read that as well? If your answer is yes, I think we need to talk. If not, what number between say 1 and 100 is a reasonable expectation for someone to read?

      My job as a recruiter is not to read resumes – it’s to identify who might be good hires based on certain criteria. Someone who uses a 14 page resume in my industry (tech), with perhaps some exceptions, clearly doesn’t understand what is important and what is not. That person is unable, or unwilling, to use any discretion in what they are writing – or simply doesn’t want to take the time to format the resume. That is a strike against any candidate.

      When I get lengthy resumes and I think it’s a good candidate based on other available data, I’ll usually tell them to trim it down a bit if they want to be considered.

    • Dan Bello

      slobberknockered – That might be the most ignorant question/statement I have ever heard. While I’m pretty sure that you’re trying to be “cute,” the simple answer is “NO!” That is NOT my job. As wonderful as you may think you and your skills/abilities/added value, etc, may be, it is NOT a Recruiter’s or a Hiring Manager’s job to have to search through your resume to find what they need or want to see. NO ONE has the time to do that.

      You are the one who is seeking employment…Ergo, it is YOUR job to make your resume stand out from all of the others (in a positive way) by actually taking the time to read a job description, learn what the company is seeking in a candidate, and then make sure that any relevant experience is up front in your resume, so that the Recruiter doesn’t have to spend their time combing through it to find the experience they seek.

      If a candidate is so self-important that they would even WRITE a 10 page resume, much less submit one, or to think that ANYONE would take the time to read a 10 page resume, this is not someone I want working in my company.

    • fecak

      See my earlier comment. No, that isn’t my job. It appears my article has hit a nerve. If you use a 10-14 page resume, that is your business – just don’t expect that anyone will read it (assuming that you are in tech).

    • Jason

      A recruiter might have to go through hundreds of resumes/cover letters for a single position… If you don’t have any relevant information in the beginning to capture a recruiter’s attention, then they probably won’t continue to read even if your resume is only 2 pages long (and it shows that you’re not very good at identifying the important information to promote yourself). If it’s too hard for you to read the job description and edit your resume, then just leave it, you don’t have to follow the advice of an actual recruiter who’s probably similar to most recruiters out there.

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  2. Drew W.

    I have never seen 100 page resumes – be real. Most typed resumes are no longer that 2 PDF pages. But nowadays most resumes are submitted online where the application “form” determines how long it looks to the recruiter. And what happens when these online forms have no space for a cover letter – this is the real world. Please don’t say you will not read a resume when that is all that these automated forms/filters give you to work with.

    • fecak

      Drew – The mention of 100 page resumes was to make a point. I’m not sure what industry you are in, but I’m not sure I’d say most resumes are no longer than 2 PDF pages. I definitely get more 3 page resumes than 1 pagers, and I probably get as many 4/5/6 pagers as I do 1 pagers as well. In the tech world, there is quite a tendency to get a bit long, particularly for consultants. That was the basis of my article – if I can decide to interview you based on 3 sentences, it is more efficient for me to come to that conclusion without having to read 3 pages (or 6). And it gives us more time to speak to you.

      I don’t use automated forms, and if you read the article I never said I won’t read a resume (with the exception of a 10 pager). Even then I won’t necessarily just disqualify the candidate, but rather I’ll tell the 10 pager to go back to the woodshed and trim it down – I do this because my clients don’t want to see a 10 page resume, and I want to help applicants appear to be strong candidates. People with 10 page resumes tend to give the impression that they don’t know what is important and what can be left off.

      If you are submitting most of your resumes online, I’d suggest there are much better ways to finding jobs. There may be situations where you need to fill out an online application form, but hopefully by then you are already in consideration and filling out the form is a formality. Just filling out online applications on company websites is arguably the least effective job search activity there is.

      • Sky

        If you can do your job of ascertaining a persons competency and skills from 3 sentences you are either psychic, or a liar.

        Which is it?

      • fecak

        Let’s be clear. What I’m saying is I can make a decision to speak to a candidate based on 3 sentences. I’m not deciding someone should be hired based on 3 sentences – that would be stupid.

        I’m fairly sure you could also make a decision to speak to a candidate based on as little as one sentence. If you were looking for an executive and got an email saying “My name is Steve Jobs/Bill Gates and I’m applying for your job”, I imagine you’d be willing to pick up up the phone.

        This is obviously an extreme example, but if I’m looking to hire a Python programmer and get an email from someone that says they have 5 years of experience and some other relevant skills, I want to talk to that person. It doesn’t mean we should hire.

        This article isn’t about making hiring decisions. It’s about making the most efficient decision possible to start a dialogue. You do not need to be a psychic to make this decision. Without those 3 sentences, you need to scan a résumé and do much more investigation to make what should be a simple and painless decision.

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  5. VALENTINO MARTINEZ

    If you’re a recruiter reading resumes goes with the job. If you don’t want to read resumes, and don’t want to be made to read resumes, why don’t you get a job that does not require the reading of resumes.

    You sound like an arrogant burn-out ringing for room service for the 3rd time on the same order. I wonder how many worthwhile candidates were passed-over because they had the misfortune of finding you not-doing-your-job. You’re a prime reason why recruiters get no respect from a majority of job applicants.

    • fecak

      Thanks for commenting. I have to ask – did you read the article or just the title? If you just read the title, you might do well to read the article before commenting. If you read the article, reread it, but this time pretend the title is “I Can Agree To Interview You If You Send Me Three Good Sentences”.

      Reading resumes does go along with the job, you are correct. It is probably the part of my job I enjoy the least, and it often adds little to the value I provide, which is why I would rather not read resumes. Do you think that people get into the recruiting business because they enjoy reading resumes? Is there a group of people anywhere that really enjoys reading resumes? If that were the case, we’d have resumes on the New York Times Bestseller lists, or at least be able to buy stacks of resumes on Amazon for our Kindle. Nobody enjoys reading resumes.

      But more importantly, contrary to popular belief, my job is not to read resumes – it is to discover if a candidate could be a fit for a job, and to make that discovery as efficiently as possible. Part of that process could entail reading a resume, but it doesn’t even have to these days. In the technology industry (which is what I write about), the need for a resume is almost non-existent these days, as candidates might just send a LinkedIn profile (which covers work history) and a GitHub account (which demonstrates coding ability to some degree).

      As the article says, when someone applies for a job we start a dialogue, and the more time we spend in that dialogue the better we can make a good decision. I can’t ask a resume questions. So you can write 3 sentences, and I can say “This Valentino, based on his 3 sentences, sounds like someone I’d like to learn more about.” I email you to schedule a conversation, and before that conversation I check out your resume, and during the conversation I’ll refer to the resume as a framework for our conversation.

      These are all concepts that were covered in the article. Recruiters do get little respect, but I can assure you it isn’t because of people like me. If you want to know how I feel about recruiters, there are posts on this blog that make those feelings quite clear.

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  7. John H.

    Very good article. I appreciate how you touched on applying for jobs outside the local area as this is something very real in my position. I am military and will probably be laid off this fall and will be looking for work back home. Thankfully relocation costs will be paid for by the military within the first 90 days. Thanks for the advice.

  8. RP

    This article honestly makes me laugh. Just like every other geek with half a brain, I have to beat off recruiters with a stick to prevent them from contacting me with unsolicited job offers. But you’re offering advice on how to *get* recruiters to take an interest. This must be that awkward moment I’ve heard about when someone of no significance whatsoever presumes you care about their opinion.

    This just in, you deluded salesperson: my CV isn’t written for you. Nor is it written for the myriad grossly-unqualified HR drones that seem predisposed to spout off about technical recruiting online. It’s written for the hiring managers and other geeks that make actual hiring decisions. You know, those people who let you play the middle man by doing the purely administrative parts of the recruitment process, if you’re lucky. The people we’re already connected to on LinkedIn, and who 99% of the time we just send our CVs to directly. Nobody cares what appeals to you. We know that you’d be happy if candidates just cut and pasted your grammatically-inept and misspelled job advert into a document with Curriculum Vitae at the top and our name as a sub-heading. Hiring managers, by contrast, are capable of extrapolating relevant information, of recognising equivalent technical terms. They are capable of – how can I put this kindly – using their brain rather than CTRL-F to find suitable candidates, as opposed to ones that are merely good at bullshitting other know-nothings like you.

    • fecak

      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you got a laugh out of the article. Although comedy was not my intent, some people can’t help themselves.

      You say “Just like every other geek with half a brain, I have to beat off recruiters with a stick to prevent them from contacting me with unsolicited job offers” – Congratulations to you. You must be very proud of that (because you mentioned it). I hope you never beat me off with a stick – sounds painful. Just be nice to them, maybe they’ll be able to help you.

      I don’t presume you care about my opinion whatsoever. What you have to understand is that every article may not be about you. Maybe this one page of billions really isn’t about you. I think that’s ok. Over 100K people read this article on Lifehacker, and a couple hundred found it valuable enough to put out on Twitter and Facebook. Some of them may have found this useful. You didn’t, and felt it was important that you told me about it. Well you made your point – you don’t like recruiters, that is for sure.

      You make quite a few generalizations about me because I’m a recruiter – I assume we’ve never had any professional contact (because you would have beaten me off anyway). Your emotions seem very strong. It’ll be OK, I promise – no one is going to make you use recruiters if you don’t want to. Cheers!

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  10. Resume Writing

    The first line of this article is really very impactful, If one is disinterested in writing a resume then how can it be interesting to a reader. I have just read the whole article and I think the points you have covered in it are useful for job seekers as well as resume writers.

  11. Luis de Bethencourt

    Great advice as usual fecak!

    Resumes are a very small window to somebody, and too focused on what the person knows/has done. Engage with the company and explain why (you want to join) and how (you can contribute).

  12. been there

    With many years as a recruiter, HR professional, and as a ‘direct hire’ manager, I can assure you that it is of utmost importance to be professional…whether it is in your presentation on your resume, CV, etc. or on a social media site. It is one thing to disagree and debate using ‘facts’; it is quite another to present contrary views that are not factual but merely to attack on a personal level. People who can interact professionally with customers (internal and external), solve problems not create them, and avoid legal liability for an employer (harassment, bullying) are primary soft skills.

    There are literally hundreds of thousands of articles available; some are good, some are bad, some are applicable, some are not, and alot of forums for angry people apparently. Not all need your comments. A good rule of thumb? “Not everything in your head needs to come out of your mouth” or on your keyboard.

    • fecak

      Thanks for commenting, but I’m not quite sure what you are actually commenting on. What contrary views as personal attacks are you referring to exactly? Was it something in the article, a comment in the comments section, or perhaps something else? Please be specific, as I’m really not sure what you are referring to – perhaps you meant to reply to one of the negative comments from readers?

  13. Terry

    Thanks for the great suggestions. I’ve never mentioned the company’s name (twice) in my cover letters and emails so I’ll start doing that. I think I’m following your other suggestions.

    I found your post while searching for why recruiters don’t read resumes but appear to do simple keyword matches instead. The worst is the five (yes, 5) emails I received from the same recruiter looking for a plastics injection molding technician. He ignored my resume objective in large, bold text of lead software developer and apparently matched on this: “Developed a graphics-based operator interface for a blow molding machine controller (Z80 assembler).”

    Seems to me that recruiters would save themselves a ton of time by reading the resumes matched by a keywords search.

    • fecak

      The fact that you were notified five times makes it more likely that no human read the resume at all, and a scanning system picked up the word and sent an automated email to you. I agree that a few seconds of even scanning a resume before hitting send would save the time of those being targeted and perhaps help to repair the image of recruiters.

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