Your Career Q&A: How to Write a Resume that Recruiters Will Read

By Martin Yate May 16, 2017
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.  

When I'm writing my resume, I want to use headings that quickly spark hiring managers' interest. I've seen sections called "Career Summary," "Career Objectives" and "Professional Summary." What's most effective? And what's the difference anyway? What works?

Anonymous 


If a movie, book or blog can grab my attention immediately, then I'm hooked and will follow the story all the way through. The same idea applies to your resume—you need to write a compelling story that entices readers from the start.

But many job hunters make mistakes with their resume opening that can destroy the chances of that resume getting read and leading to an interview. These fumbles can be resolved by sharpening the focus of the story you are trying to tell. Keep your eyes trained on these guideposts: the customer's needs and strong, relevant headlines. 

Put the Customer First

We all think of our resume from the point of view of what we want, because that is what is important to us. To recruiters and headhunters, though, your wants are irrelevant. Recruiters and headhunters represent the first hurdle between you and your dream job, and they're only interested in what is of value to them: how your skills match what is in the job description.

Your resume is a story, but it's not the story of your life, what you want or what you think is important. When you sit down to write your resume, first understand what your customer wants to read. Your resume needs to tell a story fitted to the reader's interests.  Open strong with a story that tells how your skills fit the employer's job opening, and you'll grab the reader's attention. But fail to do so and, even if recruiters accidentally stumble on your resume, your lack of attention to their needs will turn them off. 

A Target Job Title Can Make or Break Your Resume

You have never read a book or watched a movie that lacked a title. Often, it was the title that intrigued you and pulled you in. With the right title and strong opening sections, your resume is more discoverable in database searches and lets the reader immediately focus.

About half of my resume-writing clients come to me without a target job title on their resume, mistakenly thinking that "Objective" as a headline—followed by a paragraph about their wants and needs—will be of interest to anyone but Mom.

Recruiters start a database search by entering a job title from the job description, and I assure you that no recruiter has ever done a database search with "Objective" as a search term. Give your resume a target job title as a headline, one that matches with the job titles the recruiters are plugging into the resume tracking systems that access resume databases. 

Headlines Speed the Read

Headlines, such as your target job title, make the resume more discoverable and help the reader focus on how your skills meet the organization's needs. Subheads within the resume are signposts that speed comprehension.

Under your target job title, place one of these subheads:

"Performance Profile" or "Performance Summary."

Write a short paragraph that tells what you bring to the table to meet the employer's major needs. Stick to job-relevant skills and experience, keeping adjectives to a minimum and using verbs, which communicate action. Start sentences with action words whenever you can. 

Do You Have the Hard Skills?

"Professional Skills" is your next subhead and should contain a list of the hard skills needed in the job, which you have identified by studying job postings for this kind of position. This list is typically formatted into two to four columns, such as in this example:


Professional Skills

​Business Partnering
​Talent Management  
​Performance Management
​Organizational Development
​Staff Leadership
​Regulatory Compliance
​Process Improvement
​Benefits Administration
​Project Management


Special Skills

If you have a track record of achievement or desirable special skills, you might include another subhead called "Special Skills" or "Performance Highlights" to outline abilities or accomplishments that set you apart from the crowd. Adding company names and dates can enhance visibility within some resume tracking systems.

As you detail your work experience, continue to focus not so much on what you have done and what you think is important but on your abilities that are specific to the needs of the posted job. Repeat each of the phrases from your "Professional Skills" section within the description of your past jobs; this will increase discoverability of your resume and make it easier for the reader to connect the dots.

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

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