What Employers Actually Care About on Your Resume


You landed your dream job after college, and you’ve loved every minute of it. But one day, you get a call from a recruiter at another equally-cool company, and you are actually really intrigued.

By the end of your conversation with the recruiter, you’re in! You want to meet the hiring manager and learn a little bit more. But then the recruiter says those dreaded words… “Send me the most recent copy of your resume, and I’ll schedule your meeting.” Good thing the recruiter can’t actually see you, because your jaw just hit the floor. Resume? People still use those? You stammer your way through a goodbye and promise to send your resume as soon as you get home from work. And then the panic sets in.

What do employers want to see on a resume? Many college students land their first job by building a resume filled with their very respectable college accomplishments; but after that first job, what is appropriate to include?

After seeing thousands of resumes for a variety of roles, I’ve identified a few principles you can follow for your resume reflect the professional, grown-up adult that you are. At the end, I’ve also included a few practical tips to help you get started.

1. Scrap (most of) those college accomplishments.

WHY: To land your first incredible job, you likely accomplished some pretty awe-inspiring things while in college. All of these accomplishments are great, but employers often don’t know how to value them and end up viewing them as “fluff.”

MY ADVICE:  Keep a small list of your proudest college accomplishments in your education section, but scrap all the detail. Once all is included, your education section should, at most, take up ¼ of your “real estate” on your resume. Two exceptions can be made: 1) If you are still very young with little work experience, you may want to elaborate more on one or two main college accomplishments. 2) If you did something truly exceptional in college that is directly translatable to the employer, you may want to add more detail.

2. Maniacally organize your work accomplishments.

WHY: Employers likely will spend 10 seconds max skimming through your resume. If they can’t quickly digest your accomplishments in the workplace, the next filing system your resume will meet is the trash can.

MY ADVICE: Choose a systematic method to organize your accomplishments. Most often a chronological system works best, with the most recent position and accomplishments at the top. However, if your work consists of overlapping projects that are difficult to untangle chronologically, it may make more sense to organize by project. The most important principle is to group “like” items together, whether by time, position at the company, or project.

3. Ensure your career progression jumps off the page.

WHY: If there’s one thing all employers look for on a resume, it’s progression in responsibility. They expect your accomplishments to escalate over time, because it shows that you not only are constantly learning, but also that your supervisors trust your work.

MY ADVICE: Not every workplace provides frequent tangible progression, such as title changes. If you’re in this situation, don’t panic--there are other ways to display your progression. You can mention the progressively larger dollar impact you had on the company, or the number of people you supervised, or the types of meetings you led, or the awards you won. The important thing is for employers to see that you weren’t just meeting the bare minimum requirements to get by.

4. Don’t be afraid to show some personality.

WHY: You have to toe a fine line between professionalism and personality, but most employers enjoy glimpsing your personality and interests outside of work. Not only does this allow them to get to know you a bit, but it also provides them great conversation starters when they meet you. You’re not just another boring piece of paper.

MY ADVICE: Use a very small amount of real estate--maybe 10% or less--to list a few of your interests and involvements outside of work. If you have tangible accomplishments, such as non-profit work, serving on boards, etc., you may want to provide a little extra context on them. Don’t be afraid to just list other interests such as running, foreign travel, reading, etc. though!

Here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned along the way:

  • Quantify - Quantify accomplishments whenever you can--dollar impact you made, number of people you led, etc.

  • Selectively bold - If your accomplishments fail to jump off the page, you may want to selectively bold a few key words (or dollar amounts) to make them stand out.

  • Don’t forget contact info - Include your contact info--email and phone number at a minimum, bonus if you include your LinkedIn URL.

  • Check grammar + spelling - You’d be surprised how many resumes I’ve seen with spelling and grammar errors; check, re-check, then check again. Choose to use full sentences or just phrases for your bullets, but don’t mix the styles.

  • Explain reasons for leaving - If you have “red flags” in your work history such as a gap between employment or a short stint at a company, it can be wise to provide an explanation (such as your former employer getting acquired, taking time off to care for an ailing parent, etc.).

  • Remain humble - Don’t take credit for accomplishments you didn’t achieve, and present your achievements objectively and without a prideful tone.

Finally, I have heard differing opinions on two elements of resumes; here are my two-cents:

  • Creativity in design - While a unique format, colors, etc., can make your resume stand out, they can also make you look unprofessional very quickly. If you choose to be creative, use easy-to-read fonts, muted colors, and other neutral elements. Comic Sans and fuchsia are a no-go.

  • Objective at the top - Many career coaches will recommend including an objective statement at the top of your resume. The advantage to this is that it shows intentionality; however, there are also a few disadvantages. You may be open to several types of opportunities and could pigeon-hole yourself. You also are using up valuable real estate on the page. You may run across the occasional employer that loves objective statements, but in my experience they are few in number. My advice is to include an objective statement if you need to take up space, or leave it out if those few lines are better used to elaborate on an accomplishment.

So next time you’re asked for your resume, don’t panic! Just remember to remain professional, showcase your accomplishments, and earn that conversation with the hiring manager.