Who Is Reading Your Resume? Understanding Your Audience


Specialising in resume writing at Wordsmith Consultants, I spend much of my time helping new graduates and early level professionals fix up their resumes. Since each resume needs to be unique, some of the challenges are client-specific but there are also a number of common techniques and solutions, which add immediate value.

Minimum Standards

This should be obvious; it is obvious and yet in almost every resume that crosses my desk, I find spelling and grammatical errors. When you’re early in your career, employers have almost nothing to go on to assess your potential so they look for things like attention-to-detail to figure out how you’ll approach your new job. You might be applying for a job where it makes no difference whatsoever whether or not you can spell the word ‘liaise’ but if you spell it incorrectly in your application, you look careless – and that matters.

One useful bit of advice I often give my clients is to write in language that feels comfortable. Using words incorrectly is a much bigger problem than using simple language. If you can’t explain exactly what a word means or wouldn’t feel comfortable using the word in your interview, don’t put it in your resume.

Know your Audience

Your resume is going to be read by different audiences and each is looking for something different. We’ll take them one by one.

The Recruiter

Imagine you’ve been tasked by a company to find 10 suitable candidates for an internship program, with only 2 places available. You have a candidate pool of 500 new graduates to choose from. How do you go about it? Well, in the first place, you’re not going to read 500 resumes in detail. Recruiters, especially at new graduate level, are typically working to some sort of checklist. This might involve looking at qualifications and grades or number of years’ work experience to narrow down the list. Make sure this information is easy to find. Use headings for each section of your resume. Consider having a summary on the front page. Only then, will recruiters look at value-add information, such internships, volunteer work, university awards and so on.

The Employer

On the other hand, imagine you’re a Human Resources Manager, looking to add a new graduate to your team. Perhaps you’re aware that the Team Manager is very busy and won’t have time to micromanage someone new. Perhaps you know that the previous intern was nervous about talking to clients. How do you recruit someone appropriate? You’ll see immediately that the checklist approach is not going to work here. Yes, you might quickly check that the candidates have the minimum qualifications and skills but what then? How do you assess for character and culture fit?

This is where the personal profile section becomes vital. Always introduce yourself in a resume. There is no point writing a Career Objective if you’re just going to write something like ‘My career objective is to work for a good company and do my job to the best of my ability’. What does that say except ‘I am no different to any of the other candidates who said the same thing.’ Instead, use this space to tell them something specific about you. Even if it’s something that rules you out of some jobs, it’s valuable if it jumps you to the top of the pile for others. For new graduate resumes one of the biggest risks is getting lost in the pack.   Where do you see yourself long-term; what parts of your studies did you love the most; what sort of environments do you thrive in. Basically: what is unique about you?

Bear in mind that resumes need to be credible. A smart HR Manager can smell a fabrication a mile off. If you say that you have had a lifelong commitment to a particular social cause but have no evidence of volunteer work in the area that’s going to look made up; if you say you can work effectively without supervision but your worst grade was in an individual project or research assignment, that won’t be credible either. It’s not true that everyone lies on their resume and, in fact, doing so sets you up for early career failure.

Keyword Searches

It is increasingly common for resumes to go through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These work a lot like a simple version of the google webpage algorithm, searching resumes for keywords and coming back to the recruiter with a relevance score as well as a basic overview of things like number of years’ experience. Passing these systems is not hard but it is worth thinking about ensuring that relevant keywords, such technical and professional skills required for the job show up in resume a few times. This sort of keyword-optimised writing will also work well if you copy the content up to your LinkedIn profile.

Leveling Up

The advanced level is where it may be helpful to get advice from a professional or at least a personal contact with experience in your field. There are too many techniques to cover in one blog post but a good place to start is to remember that a resume is not just an admin document but also a marketing opportunity.

This means that instead of just a list of everything you’ve ever done a resume should be a sales pitch. Start with the most important reasons to hire you and work backwards. Start with your profile and then either your education or work experience, depending on which will best help you stand out. Imagine you are stuck in an elevator with the Head of HR for just 30 seconds – what would you tell them about yourself? That’s your front page.

Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.

By Gub McNicoll

By Gub McNicoll

Director of Wordsmith Consultants

Gub McNicoll is the Director of Wordsmith Consultants, a professional writing business, specialising in high-performing resumes, portfolio websites and professional branding.