3 Tips to Get Your Resume Past a Job Recruiter

You’ve written your resume, sent it out and now you’re waiting for the interviews to come rolling in. However, it’s been weeks and the only offer you’ve received for a job interview is from your Uncle Stanley, who works at the local Ikea as manager of the Schlinkel-Rënikva Loft Bed department. He’s looking for an assistant and even HE’S making you interview first.

So why haven’t the 600 other people you sent resumes to calling? Probably because your resume didn’t impress the first-tier recruiter in 20 seconds or less. Yes, you heard that right. According to Brad Remillard, founder of IMPACT Hiring Solutions and expert on hiring/executive job search, it takes him about 20 seconds to vet a resume, which if you talk to professional recruiters seems to be the norm (actually a couple I spoke with said their limit is 10 seconds). “I’ve been a recruiter for 30 years,” says Mr. Remillard, “I’m sure I’ve reviewed over 500,000 resumes…most in less than 20 seconds. I would say the average is around five to seven seconds.”

Now before you cry “foul,” Mr. Remillard is quick to point out that he’s not actually reading these resumes from beginning to end, but simply reviewing them to weed out the ones he knows won’t qualify. For each open job he sets up a hierarchy of “must-haves” and if any resume is missing even one “must-have” then it goes in the trash.

Some of the things Mr. Remillard considers, for example, are:

1) Does the applicant already work in the industry to which he’s applying?

2) Is the applicant applying for a position he’s qualified for?

3) Is the applicant’s relevant work experience recent?

If a resume can’t answer all those questions in the affirmative then he or she is out. Like it not, Mr. Remillard also considers an applicant’s location (relocations are not considered), turnover (job jumpers need not apply), and education (won’t consider anyone without a college degree). And interestingly enough he won’t even look at a functional resume (“It’s obvious they’re trying to hide something and I’m not going to take the time to attempt to figure it out.”) and resumes with spelling errors, poor grammar, and rambling, verbose prose go directly into the wastebasket, no matter how qualified the applicant might be.

So if you want to get your resume past a gatekeeper like Mr. Remillard, consider these three deal breaker resume “must-haves” when you write it.

The Right Industry

If you’re not applying to the industry in which you have work experience, then really there’s little chance you’ll get called in for an interview by a recruiter. It’s not impossible, but it’s not probable. There are just too many unemployed people in this poor economy with direct work experience and they’ll get the interviews (and thus the jobs) first.

So what do you do if you’re switching careers? Your best options are to either have someone well-respected in the industry personally recommend you to either the company hiring or to the recruiter, or go back to school to get a degree in your new industry and try to get hired through your college job placement office or a college professor’s recommendation.

Good Qualifications

Apply for jobs that you actually know how to do because you’ve done them before. In other words, don’t apply for a sales position if you’ve never done sales and don’t apply to be VP of marketing if the highest position you’ve ever held is manager. Again, there are so many people (at all levels) out of work right now that the ones who have the real qualifications and experience will get the calls, while your resume gets recycled.

A Reasonable Time Line

This one is tricky, because most recruiters want applicants with the most recent, state-of-the-art experience, and thus will tell you that they won’t even look at someone who’s work experience “shelf-life” has expired. So even if you have a college degree in the industry to which you’re applying, but you haven’t worked in that industry for some time, you’ll be hard pressed to impress a recruiter over an applicant who still works in the industry.

However, that’s not to say it’s impossible to get in, even in this economy. For example, if you were a middle school math teacher 15 years ago, then you left education to become a stockbroker, but now you want to go back to teaching, you do stand a chance of getting an interview IF your resume comes with some pretty impressive recommendations by your school district, parents, and even your previous students (who are now grown).

In this case it’s a judgment call on your part as to how much effort you want to put into applying for a job for which your qualifications are rusty (at least by the recruiter’s standards).

This all sounds harsh, yes, but when you look at 50 or more resumes a day (as recruiters do), you have to be efficient, which is why YOU (as the the applicant) have to be smart. If you want your resume to pass the 20-second rule, it must have all the right “must-haves” to get past that big scary gatekeeper called a recruiter.

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