What Managers Actually Think While Reading Resumes

By Barbara Mason

What do managers think about as they open a file and read through a truly exceptional, job scoring resume? Even if they skim through 20 documents in an hour, most managers agree that the best resumes are easy to recognize and hard to forget. Here’s what goes on in their minds as they read a resume section by section.

1. Assessing the task

“Okay, I have to read through 20 resumes before my lunch meeting, which means I have to start now and I can’t spend more than 10 minutes skimming through each one. But I want to give each resume a fair shot, so here’s what I’ll do: I’ll read each one, but I won’t do any final eliminations. I’ll just set the best ones aside in this labeled folder.” 

2. Starting the process

“This resume looks nice. It’s neat, professionally formatted, and lovely. This took some thought and time, and this candidate has a strong sense of design and an eye for presentation. Before I even read a single word, I’m already picturing this person in my mind. She seems trustworthy, friendly, and sharp. I like her attitude.”

3. Reading the summary

“This summary suggests a candidate who knows her way around an office and understands our industry. This is especially refreshing because she’s so young…most new graduates in this age group seem a little clueless and lost. But even though she doesn’t have much industry experience, she still seems to have plenty of social savvy, leadership instincts, and life experience. I’m impressed. Oh…and it says here that she worked for six months with a company that seems similar to ours. Nice.”  

4. Reading the education section

“She has the degrees and certifications we require. Great. Her course of study doesn’t perfectly align with what we asked for, but that’s fine. A diverse and interesting background usually suggests a candidate who takes risks and isn’t afraid of change.”

5. Reading the work history section

“Now I’m learning more about the six month position she mentioned in the summary. In just two lines, she makes it clear that this position is, in fact, relevant to what we do here. And her other experiences also seem relevant. I can see that she completed an internship with the Red Cross…I’ll ask her about it during the interview. Based on the rest of the resume, I’ll bet this internship taught her plenty of things about teamwork, leadership and responsibility.”

6. Reading the skills section

“She lists all of the skills we requested in the job post. She knows how to use basic software tools, and she has experience with a document management system that I recognize. She also knows CRP and she can speak Spanish. We have two clients in Barcelona—she can help us connect with them.”

7. The final decision

“I still have several more resumes to read through, but I’m putting this one in the “yes” folder, and I’ll send this candidate an interview invitation as soon as my meeting is over. I feel one step closer to staffing this position and completing this task, and I’m glad I found this candidate today.”

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