What Hiring Managers Really Look For In Resumes And Cover Letters

    May 23, 2003

“There has also been a lot of spin about how long or short a resume should be. From my perspective as a recruiter, a resume should be as long as necessary. For example, a candidate with five years’ experience should not require a 3-page resume. Or, a candidate with 18 years’ experience should not be reduced to a 1-page resume. Length of resume depends entirely on each individual situation. There is no formula or rule etched in stone. If a recruiter is working with a Ph.D. candidate, then a resume may be 3, 4 or 5 pages, or even longer. So be it. If it’s relevant, promote it. If you’re pontificating, don’t.”
-Tim Dermady, President, ExecutiveFit Recruitment

If you’ve been fretting over age-old questions such as resume length and other issues related to what hiring professionals actually look for in resumes and cover letters, then wonder no more. Career Masters Institute surveyed more than 2,500 randomly selected members of the Society of Human Resource Managers as well as at Fortune 500 companies known for favorable work environments.

Companies represented diverse industries and ranged from fewer than 100 employees (29%) to more than 5,000 employees (4%) in the following categories: business and professional services (23%), manufacturing (20%), finance, insurance and real estate (13%), non-profit (9%) and health services (6%). Below are responses that will help you shape more effective resumes and letters.

How long should a resume be?

One page 20%
Two pages 30%
Depends on the level of the position 60%
No preference 0%

Which resume format or style do you prefer?

Traditional (“reverse chronological”) 40%
Functional (“skills based”) 10%
Some combination of the above 50%
No preference 0%

How do you prefer to receive resumes?

By mail 10%
By attachment as a Microsoft Word document to an email 60%
By text in the body of an email 20%
By fax 10%
No preference 20%

Do you want a cover letter?

Not necessarily 20%
Personalized cover letters only 60%
Form letters are acceptable 20%
No preference 10%

How many years of related background would you like to see in a resume?

Zero to five years 30%
Six to ten years 40%
Eleven to twenty years 10%
More than twenty years 20%

Should applicants explain gaps in employment or “job hopping?”

Welcome valid explanations of employment gaps or job hopping 74%
Don’t trust explanations of employment gaps 22%
Unsure 4%

What single item is most valuable in a resume?

Verifiable accomplishments 88%
There is no single item that is most valuable 12%

Does proofing and format count?

Managers who remove an application if they find typos or grammatical errors 76%
Managers who prefer reverse chronological resumes 75%
Managers who prefer white or off-white color paper 83%

How long does your organization keep resumes on file?

Zero to one month 0%
One to three months 0%
Three to six months 30%
More than six months 70%

Does your organization use a scanning or database system to manager resumes?

Yes 50%
No 50%

What do you wish job seekers to do that they do not seem to be doing now? Typical comments included:

“Send a cover letter telling me what they really want to do and follow up. Call me if they take another position and are no longer available.”
“I would like them all to be really definite about what they do and don’t want to do in their job/career. Don’t be wishy-washy! New grads are the worst offenders in this respect. If you want to start at the bottom and eventually work your way up in sales, marketing, finance, IT or any field, say so!”
“Research the company – know something about a company’s type of business.”
“Send detailed resumes, with dates and current information.”

Louise Garver, CMP, CPRW, JCTC, CEIP, MCDP, has assisted senior executives and management clients worldwide in all aspects of job search, interviewing and negotiations, development of resume and marketing letters, career transition and career management since 1985. President of Career Directions, LLC, she is an award-winning, published and certified career coach, professional resume writer, outplacement consultant and former corporate recruiter. For help in winning the career your deserve, visit http://www.resumeimpact.com.

Louise Garver Answers Career Questions: Click Here For Free Answers