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How Independent Recruiters Can Help Candidates Improve Resumes


As I wrote a week ago, all signs are pointing to a huge surge in business for independent recruiters. According to figures from the American Staffing Association, revenues for recruiting services in the United States have tripled since 2009. Recruitment professionals are saying they’ve never had so many requests. And yet, too many open positions remain unfilled. One of the reasons, in my experience, comes down to the CV. Of all the exciting innovations our industry has embraced, this isn’t top of the list. With dwindling attention spans and rising competition for talent, it’s important that independent recruiters help job seekers resurrect and re-energize their resumes. After all, the exceptional candidates swimming in your talent pool are the people who drive your success. And they’ve placed their trust in your ability to find them a perfect assignment with an amazing company. First, however, you need to get them in the door. Let’s look at some ways you can help candidates improve resumes.

Did You Have Them at “Hello?”

Hiring managers receive countless resume submissions and job applications for any given position. When posting on a traditional job board, the odds of hearing anything back grow slimmer. Most boards receive 120 applications in a single week. By the time a vacancy has been filled, the hiring company has accumulated, on average, 250 applications. “Based on those numbers,” Michelle Riklan noted in Careerealism, “your chance of getting the job is a measly 0.4%. That’s not a typo.”

The impact must be immediate, powerful and alluring. According to recent scientific studies sponsored by Microsoft, researchers discovered that the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds over the last six years. To put it in a different perspective, scientists now believe our attention spans, long-term, are one second less than that of goldfish. As The Ladders proclaimed a few years ago, based on internal research, candidates have 6 seconds to make an impression with their resumes -- because that’s how long hiring managers deliberate on whether they’ve found an ideal candidate who will innovate, produce and integrate well into an organization’s culture.

The applicant the recruiter presented may be the top talent the client is searching for. The problem is that the resume doesn’t illuminate the points he or she wants to make. Typos, poor formatting, distracting fonts and slick designs will detract from core skills and qualifications. To prevent CVs from ending up in the slush pile or waste bin, here are some best practices to help your candidates improve resumes by creating a simple, compelling masterpiece.

Too Much Creativity Can Be Too Distracting

We emphasize the power of creative approaches in hiring all the time. Yet if the modern digital aesthetic has taught us anything, it’s that flat, simple designs make the greatest impact. Coach your candidates on how to avoid the pitfalls of being too creative with resume formats.

  • Visually stunning, yet generalized: According to a survey by The Creative Group, 40 percent of HR leaders and hiring executives found that glitzy resumes weren’t job-specific or relevant to the role. Each time candidates apply for a position, they should customize content and target details that align to the skills, experiences and missions of the companies they’re pursuing.
  • Overwhelming: In the movie “Office Space,” one character who worked for a TGI Friday’s type restaurant was continuously punished for not displaying enough “flair” on her uniform. Today, sporting too much flair is the offense. Hiring managers must move fast to conquer the mountains of CVs rising from their desks.
    • A simply formatted, black-and-white resume with standard fonts will make their tasks much easier.
    • Pie charts, infographics, colorful layouts and images will distract them from the information they need to see.
    • If candidates are applying for positions where creativity, artistry or graphic design skills are paramount, they should include a separate portfolio of their work samples.
  • Fluffy and riddled with keywords: With six seconds to make an impression, candidates want to get to the meat of their resumes. Irrelevant, inaccurate or indulgent details shift the reviewer’s focus away from the core skills and traits they want to spotlight. And although job boards parse resumes based on the identification of certain keywords, sprinkling them liberally throughout the resume can supplant your candidate’s individual voice and accomplishments with meaningless text.

Replacing Resume Fat with Muscle

Objective

Unless the candidate’s situation is unique -- such as a dramatic shift in roles or change of industries -- an objective doesn’t need to be stated. The hiring manager understands that the objective is to land the job. Instead, include a concise and engaging description of top skills and accomplishments. As with a strong business plan, consider developing a punchy, compelling executive summary.

Irrelevant Work Experience

Let’s say your candidate is a pioneering software developer, and she’s been breaking ground for nearly a decade. Her seasonal job at Disneyland during high school won’t be impressing the hiring managers at Google, unless the position requires her to stitch names on mouse ear hats. Help your talent stick to the most recent and relevant jobs they’ve held, which involved the skills of the new role.

Getting Too Personal

It’s illegal for employers to ask about personal information: marital status, sexual orientation, religious preferences, age, whether an applicant’s pregnant, social security numbers, and so forth. That’s why there’s absolutely no practical reason for including these details on a resume. Citing extramural interests are also unimportant. Discussing hobbies can be a powerful interviewing technique, but on a resume, it may serve only to clutter the essential information a hiring manager is seeking. Ensure that the candidates you’re coaching list only volunteer work for charities or community organizations, if they have that experience. Those details are worth mentioning, yet they shouldn’t take center stage. Keep them for the end of the CV.

References

Yes, references have become a big deal again in recruiting. Hiring managers are saying they’ll be focusing on strong referrals for the foreseeable future. That said, there’s no need to include references in resumes. If the application requests references, candidates will encounter a form when they begin the submission process. Otherwise, the hiring manager will ask them to provide some. Succinctness is key, and this content creates more work for readers. In a related caveat, discourage candidates from divulging the contact information for their existing jobs. You really don’t want their current boss or supervisor receiving a phone call from a prospective employer. You’re trying to get them job, not lose one.

Professional Links

If candidates want to include URLs to online work, blogs, websites or social media, make sure they’re professional and relevant to the position. LinkedIn profiles are an example of a good link. Somebody’s gossipy Twitter feed is probably not going to sway decision makers in their favor -- unless, of course, you’re having them apply for a tabloid or President of the United States. Personal email accounts should also convey a sense of maturity and professionalism, using the accepted conventions of firstname-lastname@serviceprovider rather than something like circusfreak19@hotmail.

Salary Details (Maybe Don't Show Them the Money)

The purpose of the resume is to showcase a candidate’s skills, experience, qualifications and achievements. Including salary information not only sends the wrong message, it could bump top talent out of the running right away. Making too much or too little could break the deal you’re trying to broker. You also don’t want your candidates putting forth the impression that their primary motivation for a job is high pay. When that happens, stellar workers usually come across as flight risks or individuals who position their own needs above the company’s mission.

Modern Font Family

Readability is paramount to reviewers. Advise candidates to stick with fonts and typefaces that are clear, legible and translate across operating systems. Traditional serif fonts such as Times New Roman, or a sans-serif font like Arial or Helvetica, are always strong recommendations. Avoid fancy or proprietary scripts that may not display properly on the hiring manager’s computer. It’s best not to impress recruiters with a highly stylized resume format. Dazzle them instead with accomplishments, skills, vision, values, applicable work samples or portfolios.

Avoid Jargon or Slang

Just because Hollywood made a movie about emojis doesn’t mean they have any right to exist in your candidate’s CV. Steer your talent clear of industry jargon, social media acronyms, Internet slang, memes and anything that would rank in the Urban Dictionary. Candidates should also eliminate hollow buzzwords like “proactive” from their vocabularies. Other tired old phrases that deserve a proper burial include “best of breed,” “go-getter,” “thinking outside the box,” and “synergy.” Try replacing them with strong words such as “achieved,” “managed,” “resolved,” “launched” and “created.” Even then, exercise moderation.

Reasons for Leaving

Being asked about a voluntary or involuntary departure can be an uncomfortable moment in any job interview. Some candidates might think that including an explanation of their former situation would be a “proactive” way to diminish the impact; it’s usually not. Advise them to address the question if it’s asked. Otherwise, they could be presenting an image that’s not well received by hiring managers. At the very least, it starts them wondering how they’ll be portrayed in a future scenario.

A Picture Says 1,000 Words…Too Many

Sure, LinkedIn emphasizes the importance of including a profile picture. On a resume, however, embedding an image can be problematic, particularly with job boards that rely on automated text parsing. The unusual formatting can compromise the system, which means the resume could come across as garbled, mismatched syntax. If candidates have included a link to their LinkedIn profiles, hiring managers can take a gander at their headshots.

Become Brand Ambassadors for Your Talent

As independent recruiters, you have become marketing masters, excelling at making a company’s message stand out above the unrelenting traffic. You present job openings in creative ways to showcase the personality of the organizations you support, which in turn helps job seekers get a feel for whether a business culture will be a good fit. And you do the same for talent. Not only can you help candidates develop personal brands, you know the types of employers who would find those brands most attractive. You also know how to educate talent on the best usage of social media, as well as the optimal networks to use for specific employers, industries and markets, based on traffic.

Today’s best candidates have a prime opportunity to leverage recruiters as coaches who can help them propel their careers in new directions. Reward their confidence in you by providing them will stellar recommendations, the best tools and sound guidance.

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