The ONLY 3 Things I Look for On a Resume

The best skills to put on a resume

I’ve hired hundreds of people over the years. All roles, all levels, all skillsets,. I’ve been interviewing and hiring candidates for nearly 25 years. The one thing that hasn’t changed in all that time, is the hiring manager never has enough time to properly review your resume. Even if i’m hiring for an executive leadership position, more times than not, I’m doing a quick scan of the resume. So, when I get asked the question about the best skills to put on a resume, I tend to answer it in the same way every time.

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The best skills to put on a resume – context setting

What are the best skills to put on a resume? Is this even the right question? I mean, how much can a hiring manager really discern about a candidate’s skills in a 30 second resume scan? Does it even matter? Are there other resume attributes that matter more? 

In my experience, you can actually tell quite a bit about a candidate in a 30 second resume scan. Not everything, but enough to make a judgment call as to whether or not you want to proceed to the interview stage, and what types of probing questions you want to ask. But, what I’m looking for as I scan your CV in lightening speed might surprise you. Skills are certainly part of it, but they’re not everything.

The best skills to put on a resume – what the hiring manager is really looking for

1. Accomplishments

Way too many resumes focus on activities instead of accomplishments. I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a resume closely enough even to notice what activities a candidate performed at the various jobs listed. That is something we’ll cover during the interview process. In a 30 second resume scan, I’m really not looking for what you did, but what impact you had. My eyes are darting up and down your resume looking for some sign that you made a positive, measurable impact at each company you’ve worked for.

  • Promotions
  • Awards
  • Beating targets

These are the things I’m scanning for. There is no stronger predictor of future success, in my experience, than if a candidate was promoted at one or more jobs on her resume. It’s the ultimate reference. So if you were promoted, you need to highlight it. If you don’t have a bunch of promotions you need to find things to highlight all the same. Did you win something? Did you overachieve? The best skills to put on a resume aren’t necessarily skills per se, they’re accomplishments. Find a few accomplishments at every job you’ve held and make that stand out on your resume.

2. Duration with Companies

When I’m scanning a resume, another thing I’m looking for is how long you lasted with the various companies you’ve worked for. In particular I’m looking for opportunities to disqualify candidates who have had more than 2 or 3 jobs that lasted less than 2 years. I realize this is not a perfect science. I’ve actually got two jobs on my resume with relatively short tenures. But in a quick resume scan, this is what I’m looking for. In my experience, candidates who don’t last very long at companies aren’t worth taking a gamble on unless there are some other overwhelmingly positive attributes about them. And at the early stages of the process, when I’m really looking to weed out candidates, this is a pretty reliable way to cut the field down.

This is a tough one for job seekers because you can’t really do anything to change the past. What you can do is approach the design and content of your resume in a way that mitigates the issue. If you’ve got a few short stints on your career timeline but two of them were due to broad layoffs due to restructuring or acquisitions, call it out. If you got recruited out of a company for an amazing new opportunity and you made a judgment call to leave early, call that out too.  The important thing is to know that many hiring managers, like me, are looking specifically for this when scanning your resume, so you need to tweak it accordingly. Focus a little less on the best skills to put on a resume and a bit more on how to show your career timeline in a way that makes you seem reliable and committed.

3. Commitment to Excellence

This one may seem a bit more obscure than the first two, but its super important to me. Ultimately we all want to build teams consisting of people who are committed to excellence. Not every employee will be a so-called “A player” or “unicorn” or “high po” but every employee must be committed to being the best version of themselves possible. I want every member of my team striving for greatness. And you’d be surprised what the resume can tell you about a person’s mindset in that regard.

The first thing I look for on a resume that reveals to me whether or not a candidate is committed to pursuing excellence is the design. When the candidate put this resume together, was he set on creating the best resume possible or was he just trying to get a resume done? Is there something unique or special about the resume and its design that shows this candidate wants to be great? Has the candidate taken special care to make it amazing?

And on the flip side, I also look for things like typos and spelling and formatting mistakes. Even in executive resumes. If a candidate sends a resume to me that isn’t well edited, that’s enough for me to disqualify them immediately.

If you want a beautifully designed resume template, you can download mine here.

4. Key skills and expertise

It is important to consider the best skills to put on a resume. However, it’s as much about placement on the resume as it is about the skills themselves. My recommendation is to create a key skills/expertise section right on the first page of your resume so it really stands out. You can’t expect the hiring manager to sift through your entire resume to find what key skills you have. They need to pop off the page. See the expertise section in the example below from my favorite resume template.

Once you have a section for your skills to stand out, you need to make sure the skills you choose align with the skills required in the job description. When I’m working on my resume, I literally pull words from the job description to use in my skills/expertise section. That way a recruiter, hiring manager, or applicant tracking system can find them easily and map them directly to the skills required for the job. That’s what matters in a world where people don’t have a ton of time to spend reading your resume – make them stand out, and select skills that directly map to the job description.

The best skills to put on a resume – final thoughts

For the job seekers out there, I hope these points can help you as you fine tune your resume. It doesn’t always seem fair that a hiring manager will only scan your resume for 30 seconds, but its the reality we have to work with. And it has huge bearing on what you focus on and how you choose the best skills to put on a resume. Structuring your resume with an understanding that it will only be scanned quickly is your best weapon to differentiate yourself and get into the later stages of the hiring process. You must design your resume to outperform your competitors in a 30 second scan.

I built my resume this way. If you want to grab my resume template in an easy to edit Microsoft Word format, you can find it here.

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