How to Write an Effective Resume – Top Ten Tips From a Recruiter’s Perspective

Your resume is one of your most important marketing tools. But remember, no matter how great it is, your resume will NOT get you a job. If it if written properly, however, the odds are much greater that you may gain a recruiter’s interest and be invited to interview.

As a Senior Recruiter for both small firms and large corporations, I have reviewed thousands of resumes during my 15+ years of recruiting and HR experience. My experience is that applicants often tend to miss these most important aspects that could make their resume more effective in attracting the attention and interest of recruiters and hiring managers.

Resume purpose: to market and sell your background, skills, accomplishments, and experience to those who have a need for your expertise or a problem that you can solve.

Resume role: to create interest, to show that you indeed have the requisite skills and experience, and to get a recruiter and/or hiring manager interested enough to invite you to interview.

Top Ten Tips for Writing an Effective Resume (from a recruiter’s point of view):

1. You can (and should) have more than one resume! Create a separate resume for the top two to three main areas of your expertise. (For example, one resume for marketing, one for sales, one for engineering). Each resume should highlight specific examples of your accomplishments, skills, and experience from your current and previous roles that directly relate to that particular area of expertise.

2. Two Pages in Length, Max. Condense, condense, condense! Pretend that each word costs you $100 and you will write less, enabling you to fit your most important information on two pages. (Exception: doctors and other published professionals often need a few more pages to list their credentials and published works. But even they should keep it as short as possible). Have someone whose opinion you trust proofread your resume and edit where necessary before sending it out.

3. Choose an Appropriate Format. The best and easiest resume format to review is chronological (starting with most recent job and date and working backwards through your job history). However, a functional resume format is often suggested as an option especially for those who have been out of the job market for a while or who want to change careers. But it can raise red flags that could stop your resume from being reviewed further. Recruiters know that a functional format is often used to hide gaps in employment dates. In addition, details for skills and experience are lumped together into separate functional areas, instead of under each particular job held in the past. In many cases, because of the time and difficulty involved in reading a functional resume, recruiters often pass them over and move on to the next one.

4. Focus Your Attention on The Most Important “Real Estate” on Your Resume: the top half of the front page. Why? Because recruiters today are inundated with resumes, especially in these tough economic times when so many are out of work. Often, recruiters are managing anywhere up to 50+ jobs at one time, with each one having hundreds and hundreds of resume submissions. The average time an experienced recruiter spends initially scanning a resume to determine if it is relevant to the position is approximately 7 to15 seconds. If the top half of your resume does not quickly differentiate and sell you as a viable candidate with recent and relevant skills and experience for the specific job for which you are applying, the recruiter will simply move on to the next one.

5. Develop a Keyword Rich Resume. Be sure to add the main keywords for your skills and experience as well as your industry and organizational keywords all through your resume. Recruiters use various types of search tools in ATS (applicant tracking systems) where they type in main keyword terms for the specific job and position qualifications to search for related resumes. They also conduct similar keyword searches online on major job boards and even some social media sites. Only resumes that contain those keywords will appear in their review box and those are the only resumes that they will scan for consideration. If your main keywords are not in your resume, it is very likely that your resume will not be reviewed, even though you may be very well qualified.

6. Create a Brief Bullet Point Summary.  At the top of the front page of your resume, list 5 to 7 bullet point phrases that highlight your most compelling skills, experience, accomplishments, training and education. This summary should be located somewhere within the very top third section of the resume underneath but close to your name and contact information. Critical: avoid “fluff” or trite phrases such as “Good at multitasking” or “Detail oriented”, etc. The reader’s eye should be able to quickly scan the summary section and determine at a glance that your resume is one worth continuing to read through to the end.

7. Quantify and Qualify Your Experience. Recruiters and hiring managers highly value proven accomplishments and results. The more you can quantify or qualify your bullet point statements under each of your position listings, the more strongly you will be perceived as a person of action and results. After each statement, ask yourself, “What did I accomplish?” or “What was the result?”. Try to tie a quantifiable result to the end of each statement if possible, such as, “and as a result, saved the company $X” or “increased revenues by X%”, or “sold the most widgets on the team and was selected as employee of the year”.

8. Focus on Your Most Recent and Relevant Job Information. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know what you have done most recently that is relevant to the position for which they are hiring. Write the bulk of your resume information about your skills, experience and accomplishments for the most recent 5 to 7 years of your job history. Unless your experience past that point is unusually helpful for stating your case, minimize that information to save valuable resume space. Beyond 7 to 10 years of job history, you can just list one or two line entries for each position held. Save the rest of the details of those positions for the application form and interviews.

9. Place Your Key Credentials, Certifications, and Educational Experience Sections In a Conspicuous Place.  A bachelors degree should typically be located near the end of the resume under the educational section heading. However, do you have a job-related advanced degree such as an MBA, PhD, or other certifications or credentials that you want to make sure a recruiter or hiring manager sees?  Place them toward the top front section of your resume, right before or after the summary section. Why?  If you bury them at the end of your resume, they may never be seen. (See Tip #4)

10. List Organizations, Associations and Affiliations of which you are a volunteer or member. Often overlooked, this information can be a great way to show an employer that you stay current with information and contacts in your industry. If you volunteer for positions, especially leadership roles, be sure to list those as well. This information is especially important for those applying for roles in financial services and sales and marketing firms who need to show that they already have an established network. Place this section of information near the end of your resume.

This final tip is a bonus. However, it is THE single most important tip of all in writing an effective resume.

Always tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth on your resume…always! Never, ever misrepresent what you did or be tempted to tell a “little white lie” on your resume or to a recruiter – period! Be especially careful with job titles and job responsibilities you list. Make sure that the job title and responsibilities you put on your resume can actually be verified if someone were to call your current or former employer or colleagues and ask about you. Untrue and misrepresented statements, no matter how innocent they may seem, are a breach of integrity and can come back to haunt you many years later. You could even be fired as a consequence! It just isn’t worth it. 

Use these ten tips to tighten and refine your resume and then you can submit it with confidence!

 (c) Copyright 2009  Dresser Search and Consulting, Inc.

Working With Personnel Counselors and Recruiters

In the professional world, there are several basic ways you can get hired:

1. Personal initiative: You send your resume in response to an online job posting or newspaper ad or hand it to a corporate representative at a career fair.

2. Personal referral: A friend or relative alerts you to a job opening with their employer. Employers often reward the referring employee when you are hired so make certain that you fill in the application line, “Referred by____” completely.

3. Personnel Agency, Personnel Counselor or Staffing Services: A personnel counselor recruits a job order from a company and then either matches the job order to an existing candidate OR advertises online or in newspapers for that candidate. A personnel counselor does NOT call you at work to recruit you for a job-that is the principle difference between a personnel counselor and a recruiter. A counselor has to wait for you to make the first contact while a recruiter does not.

4. In most states, a personnel counselor is NOT allowed to take a fee from you (the candidate) but always verify that BEFORE you go on the interview. Until 1982 in California, a personnel agency could charge the candidate as well as the company a fee for the placement and thus split the fee between the two. That has changed. In 2009, many agencies state up front in their advertising and on their web sites that they are 100% employer paid.

5. Personnel agencies, such as Snelling Staffing, Abbott Staffing Group, and Apple One, usually have both a store front and an online corporate web site on which they post jobs. You can search for jobs next door or in the next state.

6. Recruiters and Headhunters: “Recruiter” and “headhunter” are interchangeable terms for a person who not only recruits job orders from companies but also actively recruits candidates through personal phone calls and e-mails. Recruiters are 95% paid by the corporate client, not by you, but it is always wise to verify.

The Ground Rules:

A personnel counselor waits for you to walk in the door. He or she matches you up with a job order that he or she already has or finds a job that fits your specifications. If the person does not understand what you do now or what you want to do in your next job, it will be very difficult to make a job match. Therefore, be willing to educate this personnel counselor on your career field, the intricacies of your job, and the type of company you would like to join.

A recruiter or headhunter is hired by a corporation to find exactly the person the company needs. Most recruiters are hired for their sales abilities. A few agencies hire someone with extensive experience in a field (e.g., electrical engineering) and teach him or her how to recruit and place candidates (like you). Because recruiters know the field, they can tell whether the candidate is “blowing sunshine up their skirts” or if the candidate actually knows the subject.

Rule 1: It is really OK to talk to a recruiter, even if he or she calls you at work — just don’t…

1. Exclaim joyfully that you are happy to be recruited.

2. Denigrate your current boss or organization in any way.


1. Give the headhunter your cell or pager number or your e-mail. If you have none of the above OR your only e-mail is corporate, then give your home phone number.

2. If you only have a work e-mail, get a personal e-mail at any of the free sites such as Yahoo. If your private e-mail address is not professional using a hotmail account with a funny name, then now is the time to register for an additional e-mail. Employers judge you on any number of levels and one is your e-mail address. Is it serious or flippant? Those who are perceived as flippant rarely get interviews.

3. The recruiter should ask for a good time to call you or may ask, “Is 7 PM a good time to call you?” You can answer by saying “earlier” or “later” until you agree on a time. The fact that this recruiter sought you out should be taken as a compliment.

4. A friend who has been placed by this recruiter may earn a referral fee of $200-1000 if they refer you to the recruiter and you are placed in a new job. If you like your recruiter, remember to ask after you are placed if there is a referral fee. If there is, refer your friends to the recruiter. Your friend will never know you referred them unless you give the recruiter permission to tell or you tell your friend.

Rule 2: Never assume that the recruiter actually knows what you do — let alone the nuances of what you do. Explain what you do in small words and slowly since this person is probably taking notes.

Here is an example of the process of informing the recruiter. In 1999 during an Internet-based job hunt, Jerry, who is a UNIX systems administrator posted his resume, responded to job postings, and investigated technical job hunting web sites (such as DICE) on weekends. During the weekdays, he had the glorious opportunity to return calls to headhunters. (Quick side note: While it’s cute having your 5-year-old twins tape the outgoing message on your home answering machine, that message is not what you want a recruiter or prospective new employer to hear first. Record a professional message on your home phone as well as your cell phone. Once you’re hired, the twins can come back and record another outgoing message.)

At least half of the recruiters presented jobs that had nothing to do with UNIX in any way, shape, or form. Another 48 percent assumed that a UNIX systems administrator with AIX working on an RS/6000 was also absolutely brilliant on Sun Solaris right now. He wasn’t.The last 2 percent were willing to actually listen to Jerry, find out what he knew and didn’t know, and then — lo and behold — actually present him to jobs for which he was qualified. However, Jerry had to spend time educating each interested recruiter. One way was to send an e-mail cover letter of Jerry’s career and education highlights. (Why? Recruiters and personnel counselors present you to the potential employer by using three bullet points of your accomplishments. If you give the recruiter this sales pitch, it makes it much easier to place you.) Jerry sent six bullet points and let the recruiter pick the three most applicable to that job posting. This effort paid off: the recruiter knew how to present Jerry to his best advantage, and Jerry eventually got the job at a 25 percent salary increase over his previous job.

Rule 3: The theory on what to put into the cover letter accompanying your Internet resume is:

1. Keep the cover letter as short as possible so that it fits on one screen of a computer monitor without having to scroll down.

2. Use bullets.

3. Care for your personnel counselor or headhunter by giving them short sentences about your education and accomplishments which they can use as a sales pitch when they present you to the company. The easier you make it for them, the more they will be willing to work for you!

Here’s an example:

My name is Jerry W——.

I am responding to your job posting for a UNIX Systems Administrator. Briefly my career includes, but is not limited to:

• M.S. Computer Information Sciences, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

• Ten years as a UNIX Systems Administrator in AIX, DG/UX, AT&T System.

• Rapid learning curve as demonstrated by becoming literate on AIX in one week based on my earlier experiences.

• Integrated an AIX UNIX system with an Ethernet TCP/IP Windows 95/NT network within 21 days of my hire.

• Converted to PCs, which emulated terminals, thereby eliminating dumb terminals and having two systems on each employee’s desk.

• Wrote and presented papers at international conferences on computer security issues.

Since I am employed, please call me at home at — — —- after 5 PM EDT or e-mail me at ———@—-. —–. My resume follows.


Jerry W——

Rule 4: Realize how recruiters work and work with them, if at all possible. Similar to real estate in which you have a buyer and a seller, any placement process consists of the job order and the candidate. In real estate, the agents for the buyer and the seller split the commission. If one person represents both the buyer and the seller, that one agent gets the entire commission because they are splitting the fee with no one.

In personnel placement, the rules are the same: if one recruiter produces both the job order (a contract with Corporation A to find and hire Person B) and the candidate (the erudite individual taking the job), the recruiter keeps the entire fee. (The owner of the recruiting firm is probably retaining a huge percentage of this fee.) If you are represented by Recruiter A in Atlanta and the company is represented by Recruiter C in Concord, then the two recruiters split the fee paid by the company.

In a very few cases, the placement office may try to charge you a fee. If the recruiting firm plans on charging you, it has to alert you before your interview with the client company. Suggestion: run for the hills! You should not pay anyone a fee when thousands of headhunters are out there eager to do work for you for free.

Recruiter A will brief you before the interview and debrief you afterwords. Recruiter C will present your qualifications to the company and debrief the firm after the interview. Then the two recruiters will share notes and try to convince you to take the job and the company to give it to you. That’s in the best of all possible worlds. What can go wrong? Recruiter C may turn up his or her own candidate and, in an effort to keep the entire fee, sabotage you. Is there anything you can do to prevent this sabotage? Not really.

How does a recruiter finds a candidate? First, the recruiter gets a job order and a detailed description of the perfect candidate. The recruiter will look for companies performing the same type of work. A recruiter in El Paso, Texas had a job order for a person with experience in wireless communications. Knowing that Motorola developed garage-door openers (which need wireless communications to operate) and that the company was a bit vulnerable to imminent layoffs, he located a Motorola division in Arizona and the man who designed the communication system for garage-door openers. Quick as a flash, he was able to contact the man, present the job opportunity, arrange an interview, and the placement (hire) was made.

P.S. It’s not unusual for the job order to change after you are presented with the opportunity. If the recruiter doesn’t understand what the job requires, you may be presented for a job that does not exist. If you don’t fit the new and improved job description, don’t worry about it: there is a better job waiting for you.

Rule 5: Never send your resume to more than one person within an office or chain of headhunters (e.g., Management Recruiters, Inc.) Why? See #4. If you send your resume to Dave and Karen in the same office, and they both present you to Terry, who holds the job order, guess what happens out of your line of sight? A huge fight! Dave and Karen both want to represent you, the candidate. A recruiting fee usually runs 33-50% of your first year’s salary. Therefore, on a $60,000 salary, the fee is a minimum of $18,000. Can you see why they are fighting? What usually happens? One of three things:

1. If the boss is a Gandhi of the recruitment world, then Karen and Dave may split half of the fee, each getting 25% of the fee.

2. A neutral fourth person will check the incoming e-mails to see to whom you sent your resume first. The person to whom you sent your resume first will collect the fee when you are placed.

3. Most likely, if you don’t get the job, no one in the office will work with you. Why? To avoid another fight. Recruiters often snub candidates who appear to be so unconscious that they send their resume twice to the same office.

Rule 6: Recruiters often trawl for resumes by placing job postings on web sites for very interesting jobs which may or may not be open at that moment. It could be that the recruiter already has someone lined up for the job and is taking this opportunity to collect qualified resumes. By law, a recruiter cannot post a job which does not exist, so you don’t have to worry about that.

Remember: the recruiter who presents the candidate gets half the fee when the placement is made so it behooves the recruiter to have as many resumes as possible. If this is the case, that is fine. Send your resume. You never know if this is an open job order or not. If it is, get in line. If it isn’t, then convince this recruiter of how exceptional you are and the recruiter will be motivated to find you a great job.

Rule 7: The recruiter or the personnel counselor may ask you where you have interviewed and/or sent your resume already OR where another placement professional has sent you to interview. Why?

1. The recruiter does not want to present you for jobs where your resume is already “in play.” For one thing, it makes the recruiter appear unprofessional to the hiring authority because they did not have enough candidate control that they garnered this piece of information ahead of time (or that the recruiter is greedily out to get a piece of the fee).

2. The recruiter seeks to contact those companies to which you have applied, obtain a job order, and make a placement.

What should you do? It is easier to tell the recruiter where you have interviewed than to have them embarrassed later on by the company. If the recruiter finds out that you are under consideration by the company, the recruiter is likely to stop working with you to prevent this from happening again. Keep an accurate, up-to-date list of where you have sent your resume and where you have interviewed, whether the initiating contact was by you or a recruiter. Even if it is to a different division of the same company, ONLY reapply if YOU sent your resume in the first place.

If a recruiter or personnel counselor presented you for IBM Finance, then you cannot apply for any other division of IBM anywhere in the world. The recruiter may have a vested interest in you (and in collecting a fee), even if you are hired by a division to which the recruiter did not present you. Recruiters have successfully collected a fee from an employer when the candidate was hired not for the job for which they were presented but for another job somewhere else in the company.

If Recruiter Z presents you for a job at KPMG but doesn’t tell you who the hiring authority is, you are not responsible later on if Recruiter Y presents you to the same company. In that case, tell Y that you did not know. Recruiters often do not say who the hiring authority is. In this case, you are not at fault and both recruiters should continue to work with you. If the recruiter contacts the companies you have interviewed with, that is fine. Even if the recruiter gets one job order out of this, it is not a problem. You will find the right job for you.

Rule 8: Keep in contact with the headhunter. If he or she thinks you want to work with him or her, the recruiter is more likely to make an effort to place you. E-mail any recruiter who contacts you at least once a week – unless the recruiter has an IQ less than 90.

Rule 9: Keep putting your resume out there. The right job is looking for you right now. You just have to be willing to look and keep looking until you find it.

If you care for your recruiter by feeding him or her easy bites of information (information that may be passed on by the recruiter to the client company with no modification, thus making the recruiter’s job that much easier), you have just increased your chances of getting hired.

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