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How Employers Review Resumes: The Secret for Standing Out

By Harry Urschel

The hope: Every job seeker would like to believe that when they send a resume to an employer, someone on the receiving end reads the entire document word for word, thinking...

“How can we best use this person in our organization?”

The reality: Your resume will most likely never be read in its entirety, and the real thought process when reading it is...

“Is there anything in here that knocks this person out from further consideration?”


Especially in today’s competitive job market, employers are overwhelmed with the number of applicants they get for each job, most of whom are not remotely qualified.

In the simple point & click world of online applications, many people apply to hundreds of jobs whether they are qualified or not, in the hopes that they might get lucky.

Receiving Resumes

An employers’ only hope of finding the qualified candidates in the hundreds of resumes, is to reject as many as possible, as quickly as they can. How do they do it?

Methods and processes vary. However, here are likely scenarios...

Larger companies typically use ATS’s ("Applicant Tracking Systems") to gather and track all applicants.

  • When someone applies, the resume and application go into a database (not to someone’s desk or email).
  • Periodically, a recruiter or hiring manager will search the database by keywords, and the corresponding applicants will pop-up.
  • They scan the resume and application for a few seconds to determine if this is someone that they might want to check out further, or disregard.
  • If someone’s resume doesn’t pop-up from the keyword search, no human eyeballs ever see the resume at all!

Smaller organizations typically have a more manual procedure, reviewing resumes individually.

  • Resumes typically arrive by email, and someone looks at each one.
  • Because of the volume, they must make a judgment on each one in a very few seconds

In either case, the reader decides if each candidate is worth further consideration - or not worth further consideration - from a very brief scan, determining if the person has the relevant background and experience for the role. If they don't see the connection between background and experience and the job requirements immediately, they move on. There are plenty of additional resumes to review.

How Resumes Are Typically Reviewed

How do employers make the judgment in that quick scan? Typically, most recruiters will approach a resume in a similar way...

  • They will disregard any summary or functional information at the top, and jump right to the work history to see if the person has had a related career background (companies / titles / appropriate number of years of experience in the field / stable work history). If not, they move to the next resume. If so, then they...
  • Quickly scan to see if there are related keywords in the resume that are easily apparent (skills / tools / processes / etc) with preference given to recent experience vs. history from years ago. If not, they move on to the next resume. If so...
  • Scan to see if there is appropriate education, certifications, or other required criteria. If not, they move on to the next resume. If so...
  • They will include this resume in the “maybe” pile, with a plan to re-evaluate it compared to the other resumes that end up in the “maybe” pile once the majority have received an initial review.

Is the employer being cruel and heartless? No. Is the system flawed? Certainly...

However, currently there is no other way to deal with the volume of applicants more effectively. How long would it take you to thoroughly read dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of resumes, and compare each of them to find the 3 most qualified?  Way too long!  More time than any employer has available for the project.

Secrets for Standing Out

So how do you make sure your resume gets picked?

Make sure your resume screams “I’m a fit!” in that initial scan!

  • Make your relevant work history clear.
  • Make appropriate skills, experience, and certifications jump out (bold face font).
  • Use appropriate terminology from the employer's job description, not your own.
  • Write in brief, concise (easily digested in a scan) phrases, not long sentences or paragraphs.

Understanding the typical process on the employer’s end when reviewing resumes can help you be more strategic in crafting your resume so that it has the best possible chance of being selected.

Bottom Line

Always consider the process form the employer’s point of view!  What do they want?

For More Information

About the author...

Harry Urschel has over 25 years experience as an independent recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives. He can be contacted by email at:

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