What Do Employers Really Want?


I’ve written about how to not get the job, what clothes to wear to networking events, and personal branding, but I recently had the opportunity to participate in applicant screenings and interviews and understand what employers really want. While my previous tips on professionalism hold true, here are just a few more tweaks that could mean the difference between the “yes” pile or the “almost” pile.

Be Brief

While you might feel like your resume is the platform to describe every detail of your work experience, it’s not. That’s called an interview. Human Resources screens dozens of applications everyday. Do the screeners a kindness and state your skills as briefly as possible. And words aren’t the only thing that matter–guide the reader through your resume by paying special attention to your layout. Incorporate the following:

  • Bullet points. See what I did there? Bullet points say, “Hey, look at me! I’m important.”
  • Consistency. Don’t distract your reader with mismatched fonts and inconsistent layout. Choosing an outline style with consistent font, weights, and visual elements keeps the focus on you.
    • White space. See what I did there, again? White space directs attention to the true focal point. So start thinking of your resume as a piece of art. It doesn’t have to be a Picasso or a Warhol, but is it pleasing to look at? Or are your eyes crying for a place to rest?

Your resume is a marketing piece. Make it enticing to read and appealing to view.

Be Relevant

I’m about to get controversial–and I’m not a hiring expert–so take or leave this advice: If you have enough relevant work experience, don’t start your resume with your educational background. I mean, are you applying for college or are you applying for a job? Two reasons:

  1. Sure, it’s important to be educated and your commitment to a 4-year degree makes a great statement about your drive and your ambition, but leading with education places too much significance on having a degree, and not enough on your experience. Which leads me to reason #2. . .
  2. Perhaps you’ve been fortunate to work some great internships or field projects, but more often than not, educational experience brings theoretic skills to the table. Employers want relevant skills and real results. Lead with real experience.

Be You

The applications that stand out are sprinkled with personality. Don’t be afraid to take a risk and use unconventional descriptions. Do you consider yourself a word nerd, a tech genius, a financial wizard? Say so, then deliver. My resume says “I eat tight deadlines for breakfast.” Guess what my new office mates remember about me?

Look, there’s no doubt that job searching stinks, but if I could offer any encouragement, it’s this: competition is stiff. If you weren’t called or you didn’t make it past the first round of interviews, it isn’t necessarily because you weren’t great. It just means one of the other applicant’s skill sets more closely aligned with the job description.

The difference between the “yes” and the “almost” pile is often razor thin. So do your best to make your resume sharp.


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