Harrison Careers

What makes a résumé stand out from the crowd?

At Harrison Careers, I get asked almost daily by clients and prospective clients how to make their résumés stand out from all the other thousands of applications that employers receive. I have looked at tens of thousands of résumés in my time – at Harrison Careers and while I was recruiting for the Goldman Sachs Equities Division. Believe me – I have seen some fantastic résumés… and, sadly, some not-so-fantastic ones.

I always want to give my clients great résumé advice – however, I’m not an expert in résumé writing. So I spoke to Claire Crichton, who is. Claire runs RésuméRebrand – a company that I consistently recommend to my clients, because I know they produce some of the best résumés out there (and that’s what my clients need). I asked Claire to give us her “top tips” to make sure that your résumé ticks all the right boxes.

PH: So, Claire, I guess the first question is, how much time a recruiter/potential employer will spend looking at a candidate’s résumé? How much time do my clients have to make the right impression?

CC: Well, it’s certainly arguable, but the general consensus is that they will scan a résumé, note the specifics (current employer, job title, length of employment, education) and make a “yes or no” decision within about 20 seconds.

PH: Wow! Seriously, 20 seconds?!

CC: Yup! Worse still, applications submitted online go through electronic “Applicant Tracking Systems”, which pre-filter résumés, scanning them for key words and phrases, and mathematically scoring them for relevance. Only the résumés that pass this automatic screening even make it through to the human review stage!

PH: Interesting. So what this means for my clients is that they really do have less than 20 seconds to make an impact?

CC: That’s right! However, if they follow some, fairly basic, rules of thumb, your clients can maximize their chances of beating the ‘bots AND making a good first impression on the recruiter. Want me to dish?!

PH: Yes please! First of all, how long should a résumé be?

CC: Traditionally, we’ve been told that résumés should be 1-pagers, but times are changing – as everything becomes increasingly digitized, you only have to scroll further down to read additional content, so it’s not a big deal if your résumé runs to 2 pages. That said – DON’T fill your résumé with “fluff” to make it longer, and DON’T let it exceed 2 pages (for the vast majority of professional roles – medical or governmental roles, for example, may have different content requirements).

PH: Got it. What about presentation? I hate it when I see a résumé that looks messy.

CC:  Oh my goodness – this!! Why make it hard for the reader to find the information they need?! If a résumé is poorly laid out or contains obvious errors (spelling or grammar), the candidate is asking to be dismissed outright, before the reader even gets to any of the content. Use a professional font like Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri or Cambria (nothing too funky!), at least 10pt in size. Bullet points should be 2 lines, max. Make sure the document has consistent formatting and spacing. And of course – proofread it! Check, check and check again – then ask someone you trust to check it over for you!

PH: Good advice! Another thing I often see in a résumé is the career objective, “Seeking a role in XYZ”. Is that appropriate in a professional résumé?

CC: Nope! Don’t waste precious space setting your career goals out in your résumé – they can be explained in your cover letter. However, one thing I always advise clients is to include a brief “headline” at the top of their résumé – this concise statement of skills/experience should clearly communicate who you are and what your strengths are. This is your “hook” to make the recruiter want to read on!

PH: That makes sense – it’s the candidate’s chance to introduce themselves, like their “elevator pitch”! Now, probably the most important thing in a résumé is the work experience section, right?

CC: For sure. This is incredibly important because it positions you as someone who has relevant experience for the job you’re applying to. Jobs should be listed in reverse chronological order starting with the current position – but don’t go back too far; focus on providing details for the last 10 years.

Don’t write a boring “job description” explaining the little details of your everyday responsibilities. Instead, give examples of your professional achievements, backing them up with figures where possible, to demonstrate your results.

Each bullet point should be carefully crafted to highlight your transferable skills, like teamwork, leadership, analytical skills, technical knowledge etc.

If you can include industry or role-specific keywords, so much the better (this is another tool to help you “beat the bots”!), BUT make sure that a layperson could understand what you’re saying. My rule of thumb is, “Could my grandmother understand this?!” which means cut the jargon, give proper context to what you did, and focus on results. The easier you make things for the reader, the greater your chance of success.

PH: Got it! But presumably education is almost as important – particularly for entry-level candidates? How should that be presented?

CH: Absolutely! Again, the candidate’s Education should be listed in reverse chronological order (so Masters, then Bachelors, then High School). Our objective here is to show potential employers how smart the candidate is – so we should definitely include degree classifications/awards/class rankings etc. if they present the candidate in a favorable light. However don’t include too much here, in case it detracts from the main issue – to show the reader how smart you are! Anything else that you’d like to showcase (e.g. Class President) should be in the Other Data section at the end of the résumé.

PH: Wait, what should go in the Other Data section?

CC: Ah, the humble little “Other Data” section! Recruiters typically want to figure out what kind of a person you are, so they’ll often look at this section first. This is your opportunity to highlight important things like technical skills, membership of professional organizations, and language skills (please only include languages if you are fluent or could at least confidently conduct business in them – honestly, no one cares if you took high school French but could barely use it to order a croissant in Paris!). This section also gives you an opportunity to talk a little bit about you, the person – if you have some interesting hobbies, you should consider including them here. Maybe it will pique the curiosity of the reader or give an “ice-breaker” at interview. Keep it SHORT though! Too much information here and you’ll risk coming across as self-absorbed.

PH: Ha! So there’s my chance to talk about my kite-surfing obsession! Hey, something else just occurred to me – do employers look on other platforms to back up what a candidate claims in their résumé?

CC: YES!  Actually, this point is incredibly important – I’m constantly preaching consistency across all platforms. I recently read a statistic that over 69% of employers have rejected candidates based on their social media! So make SURE that your social media and online footprint will make a positive impact on a recruiter! That means cleaning up your public Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media pages, ensuring that they portray you in a positive light. LinkedIn is an increasingly powerful recruitment tool, so take a look at your LinkedIn profile, and be sure that it conveys the same overall story as your résumé – the platforms should work in tandem to present your “public face”.

PH: Makes total sense. Well, thanks, Claire, for sharing your time and expertise with us!


Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope this has helped give you a few ideas on how to get your résumé into shape for this recruiting season! If you want a fresh perspective on it, email Claire. Maybe I’ll ask her to chat to us soon about cover letters, personal statements, LinkedIn profiles…

And as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts or comments, so drop me an email!