Résumés are like email addresses: You gotta have one, even though it’s a professional relic that causes nothing but annoyance. Moreover, the résumé is the equivalent of a Hotmail account to the hiring industry. Some 75 percent of résumés won’t even experience human contact, and if yours even makes it through a round of bots and someone bothers to print it out, a hiring manager will handle it like a hot potato for a full six seconds before wadding it up and beaning their nearest coworker in the head with it (or, in modern workplaces, immediately closing the tab).
Naturally, most résumé advice is about helping you run that gauntlet so you make it to the six-second round of speed-applying, by mastering all the format and keyword stuff to advance to the next round. But let’s say you do, indeed, get that interview: Now what?
Certainly, a hiring honcho may check out LinkedIn (some 87 percent do) or social media (some 70 percent do) to vet through the process, but even so, how do you make the six seconds of résumé time count before someone’s eyes glaze over and they start looking for a paper-wad fight? One way is to look at why perfect résumés don’t get through. In one survey of managers who didn’t call back an otherwise perfect résumé, one big reason was that it lacked an X factor, or some standout, eye-catching detail that makes you seem not just like a person, but an appealing, qualified, extraordinary person they want to hire.
While this sounds simple, it’s much harder to figure out how to demonstrate it, and most people tend to rely on the obvious: listing personal hobbies or skills that aren’t necessarily relevant to the position. Of course, sometimes that does the trick, like if you beat a world record or carry a venomous snake handling license:
But it isn’t always the greatest idea. We learned that recently from career expert Amanda Augustine at TopResume, who explained that hiring managers may read into those personal hobbies in a way that works against you, so it’s better not to take your chances.
That doesn’t mean settle for a cookie-cutter CV, though. “A recent study by TopResume found that employers were most impressed with candidates whose resumes included a compelling career narrative and effectively highlighted their value,” Augustine writes. “In today’s job market, it’s not enough to simply list your work experience in chronological order. If you want to impress a hiring manager, your resume needs to tell the right story. It should present your qualifications in a way that speaks to the hiring manager’s needs, and proves these abilities with specific examples, quantifiable results, awards and case studies.”
Given that climate, we put the question to various hiring managers to find out what they look for in a candidate’s résumé to stand out from the perfectly perfect riffraff. Here’s what they told us.
“Evidence of teachability and resilience. I look for evidence of ongoing self-improvement (training, education, etc.). Resilience more likely comes through in a cover letter.” —Robert, Higher Education
“Length of service at previous jobs (if applicable; not for an entry-level position). I want someone who will stick around, not someone who changes jobs frequently. Music publishing. Administration. It can take quite awhile to train and get someone up to speed, and I hate to spend the time just to turn around and have to do it all over again.” —Carrie, Music Publishing
“Nothing, really. In my industry at least, personal interview, body of work to review, reputation are far more important. Résumé is a (mostly garbage) early-process filter.” —Chris, Networking/IT
“I care about length of time at previous jobs — hiring someone who changes jobs frequently is a huge red flag.” —Susan, Events/Marketing
“A CV/résumé should tell a story. I want to see how the career has developed and how the candidate has grown within each role they’ve had. Achievements are more impressive than responsibilities (though they should mention both). A note on longevity within roles: Job-hopping is now pretty common for millennials, and I find that employers care about it less and less in a candidate’s past. I hire within the tech and VC sectors and jumpiness in a CV is no deterrent to having a first conversation.” —Rachel, Tech/VC Sector
“I’m looking for people who effectively communicate a responsibility that they had with a previous job that aligns with the gig they’re applying for and, ideally, something impressive about how they approached that responsibility. Bonus points if they back it up with some kind of data point. Also don’t really care about tenure.” —Lance, Tech/VC Sector
Keep in mind that the X-factor could be anything, and could be different depending on the manager and the industry, of course. And while it’s tough to figure out the idiosyncrasies of a manager, you could at least informally poll people in your desired industry to see what types of skills stand out for the position, and try to highlight whatever special skills you have that intersect well with the job at hand and align with a company’s mission. (Just don’t fill it with pointless white text to try to game the system.) Venomous snake handling is great, of course, if you’re applying to work at a circus, pet store or Pentecostal church. And if that’s the case, go ahead, knock ’em dead.