From the Resume Trash Pile to the Call-Now Pile

Hiring managers and recruiters share the features of resumes that grab their attention — or make their eyes roll.


Time was, a well-crafted resume that was a good resume was enough to get your foot in the door at most companies.

Today, with easy access candidates have to apply to thousands of job openings online, and recruiters see hundreds of resumes for every position. They have little time to review every resume — as few as 20 to 30 seconds per resume, according to most estimates — before they decide whether to place yours in the “trash pile” or the “call-now pile.”

A number of hiring professionals were kind enough to share the resume tricks that grab their attention and those that miss the mark.

Land in the Green-Light Pile

Big achievements listed succinctly catch the eye of Richard Meuris, a partner and recruiter at the executive search firm Nick Pierce & Associates. He advises brief descriptions for each position, followed by the job seeker’s top five to eight accomplishments, in decreasing order of importance. For example:


  • Achieved record profits in 2008 and 2009 despite extraordinarily negative economic conditions

“This individual’s first bullet point packs the biggest punch and, by design, he put it at the top of the list,” he said. “That first bullet point is also left intentionally without an explanation of how he did it, which makes the recruiter want to learn more.”

Demonstrate Accomplishments, Not Responsibilities
Show what you’ve accomplished during your time in a position, Meuris said. That means facts and numbers, such as revenues, EBITDA, size of team, number of locations, etc.

Cheryl Palmer, certified career coach and certified professional resume writer (CPRW), shared these examples of effective accomplishment statements:

  • Expanded territory growth by more than 30 percent and attained quarterly sales quota for 2007.
  • Increased sales by 7percent in 2008.

This resume passed the 30-second test because “it tells potential employers what they need to know quickly, without a lot of fluff,” Palmer said.

The Right Title
Make it easy for the recruiter to understand what you do, said Elizabeth Lions, a career coach and author of ” Recession Proof Yourself.” The best advice is to match the title atop your resume to the title of the position.

A savvy recruiter “will see right through” fancy, canned resume phrases, said Stephanie Daniel, of Keystone Associates, a career-management consulting provider. For example: “demonstrated experience,” “proven track record” or “expertise in all aspects of…” You can use such phrases as writing prompts, she said, but be sure to personalize them to reflect your unique capabilities when you write your resume. She suggested asking a trusted colleague or a supervisor to provide insight into your qualifications and strong points.

Human Resources managers and hiring managers won’t even see your resume unless it gets by the computer filter known as the applicant tracking system (ATS), which will attempt to match phrases in the job posting to phrases in resumes. Make certain the resume contains the words the ATS is searching for like those that describe your discipline, experience and industry knowledge, Daniel said. Get specific with tags and keywords that relate to your industry, and make sure the keywords reflect those in the job listing. (Read more on how to find the right resume keywords.)

Land in the Red-Light Pile

Functional Resumes
A functional resume, which is a rarely used format that describes your skills and experience without necessarily linking those to specific employment dates or even employers, can be a good way for someone trying to make a career change to demonstrate their skills and obscure their lack of experience. But it’s a sure way to get passed over, said Meuris. The format is awkward to read and requires close attention to detail, which can be hard for a recruiter to provide when they can only spare 20 to 30 seconds per resume, he said. (Read more about chronological, functional and hybrid resume formats.)

Meuris provided this example of self-opinionated information:

“Talented executive with superior communication skills. Hard working, detailed oriented self-starter with a proven track record in senior level management positions.”

That statement “means nothing to the reader,” he said. “Every executive believes that they are talented. Recruiters or hiring managers will decide that for themselves.”

No Results
Palmer gave us this example from a resume that fails to highlight any results from a salesperson’s previous jobs:


  • Focused and proven skills gained through formal training, focused marketing and industry knowledge.

“It does not highlight the results that he delivered to previous employers that would indicate that he would be an asset to his next employer,” Palmer said. “Without a well-written summary of qualifications, it is extremely difficult to motivate an employer to read further to find out more about what a candidate has to offer.”