The Top 9 Things Job Recruiters Look at First on Applications

Your resume is the first thing recruiters see. Heed this advice to get their attention.
Last updated Jan. 20, 2023 | By Will Vitka | Edited By Chris Kissell
smiling young businesswoman looking through binoculars

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Landing an interview for a new job is tough. You have to find a way to impress prospective employers while competing with dozens or even hundreds of well-qualified candidates.

No matter how persuasive you are in person, your resume or job application is the first and best tool to catch the eye of hiring staff.

So, if you are looking to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck, keep in mind these nine things recruiters look for first when scanning your resume or job application.

Ability to follow directions

Rawpixel.com/Adobe job application concept

You’re going to face this one right out of the gate. As you apply for a job, follow the directions on the job listing. There might be aspects of the application process that go beyond just a cover letter, resume, and application.

For example, you might be asked to provide additional documents or answer questions about why you’re the best fit for the job.

It can be easy to overlook parts of an application if the requests are not the standard ones you expect to see. But if you can’t follow an employer’s instructions, you’ll likely be out of the hunt.

Accomplishments

Nicholas Felix/peopleimages.com/Adobe businessman standing with arms crossed

Shining a spotlight on your professional accomplishments is a great way to grab a recruiter’s attention. You don’t need to detail every facet of your previous positions, but highlight milestones you hit or metrics you had a hand in improving.

Tooting your own horn here is a good thing. For example, if you oversaw a team that increased its sales numbers by 30% under your leadership, let future employers know that fact.

Don’t undersell. Don’t oversell. And don’t ever lie.

Career progress

nenetus/Adobe businesswoman listening to her partner

Your resume tells a story, and you’re the main character. A resume should show off how you’ve progressed over the years, why you’re ready for the next big career adventure, and how valuable you are.

Note the key responsibilities of each job you’ve held, not just the tasks you performed. And make sure anything you mention is relevant to the job for which you're applying.

Your new employer should look at your resume and see a pretty clear upward path in terms of increased responsibilities and loftier job titles.

Clear, correct writing

Gorodenkoff/Adobe hands of a female specialist working on laptop

Few things say “I’m not serious about this job” more than spelling and grammar errors in a resume or application.

Your writing needs to be clear and error-free. Typos or other sloppy mistakes are a red flag for employers, especially since being a good communicator is almost always a required skill for open positions.

There's no shortage of apps with spelling and grammar checks baked in. There are also browser extensions and third-party programs you can look into.

Having a friend or family member review your resume is also a good idea.

Color

Vector/Adobe resume layout with blue accents

This might sound wild, but it’s perfectly acceptable to spice up your resume with some colors, as long as you don’t go overboard. Highlighting text in a specific color can help pull a recruiter’s eye toward important, standout information while preventing things from getting lost in the text.

When it comes to which colors are OK, think high-contrast, but nothing obnoxious. Shades of gray or blue in the background tend to be the safest choices.

Formatting/layout

ResumePage/Adobe minimal resume with cover letter layout clean template

This one should be obvious: Your resume needs to be easy to read. More often than not, that means keeping things simple and straightforward when it comes to formatting and layout. That way, important information can be gleaned at a glance.

Chronological formatting — your contact information, summary, a list of your job experiences from most recent to least recent, skills, and education — remains the reliable standard.

However, newer members of the workforce who don’t have much of a job history might prefer a functional resume instead where the focus is on applicable skills.

Pro tip: When looking for a job, try to find one that helps your career grow and boosts your salary. Don’t be shy about negotiating for more money. Being well-paid can help you pay off debts and build up savings fast.

Keywords

rh2010/Adobe doctor reading resume for job hiring in the hospital

Recruiters don’t spend much time looking at resumes — only about seven seconds, according to Ladders. That doesn’t give job applicants long to make an impression.

Recruiters skim to find keywords that match what is in the posted job description. Thus, you need to make sure those keywords are part of your application.

When you’re writing your resume, check your wording against your potential employer’s. For example, if they say they’re seeking someone skilled in Excel, don’t write “Microsoft 365.” Be specific.

Just make sure you’re not mindlessly cramming your resume with keywords. Work them into the text in a natural way.

Length

fizkes/Adobe businesswoman reading post letter

Bigger isn’t always better. Between the volume of applications a hiring manager receives and their own looming deadlines, you’ve got a small window to get their attention. A resume that requires hiring managers to flip through multiple pages doesn’t do you any favors.

One page is ideal. Two is fine if your resume is all killer, no filler. But remember that you aren’t competing to write the great American novel. Be concise. Edit down your resume as if your livelihood depends on it since it just might.

Summary

Liubomir/Adobe gray-haired businessman working at a computer

After your contact information, the first thing a recruiter or hiring manager is going to see is your summary. This gives you a chance to make a first impression.

Keep your summary between three and five sentences that sell you as an employee. Introduce yourself. Highlight your experience and what you’ve focused your career on. Tell the employer what you can do for them.

Bottom line

Chinnapong/Adobe happy businessman relaxing in a hotel room

Whether you’re advancing your career or just getting started, job applications hold the same importance. Before anything happens in person, they’re how an employer first “meets” you.

Recruiters and hiring managers can get a good sense of who a potential employee is by merely scanning a resume. That, in fact, is precisely their job.

If you follow these tips, you’ll make your application more attractive. If you can wow an employer in writing, you’ll be one step closer to landing the interview and getting a great job that will advance your career and boost your bank account. Good luck out there.

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Author Details

Will Vitka Will Vitka is a D.C. area reporter and writer. He previously worked for WTOP, The New York Post, Stuff Magazine, and CBS News.