What Recruiters & Hiring Officials Really Want

By Tracy Laswell Williams, CPRW, President, CAREERMagic

A survey of HR managers and recruiters on resumes and related issues
by Tracy Laswell Williams, JCTC, CPRW

As the moderator of an HR / Recruiter Panel Discussion at the 1999 Professional Association of Resume Writers' convention, I learned that professional resume consultants, just like job seekers have plenty of questions than ever when it comes to the “receiving end” of our finely crafted job search documents.

As a follow-up to this informative discussion, I decided to survey yet another panel of experts. In November of 1999, I e-mailed a group of 40 hiring officials with ten key questions. Respondents included recruiters and private HR consultants, as well as HR managers representing the financial industry, the computer/engineering/technical recruiting fields, a regional public utilities provider, a major marketing firm, and a mountain ski resort.

Important Disclaimer ~ please note: hiring an employee is a highly complex human event with a great deal of variability from one case to the next. What works for one individual, corporate culture, industry, and geographic location may not work for another. The opinions offered by this small sample of hiring officials are not meant to represent the “one right way” of doing things. Instead, think of this survey as a learning tool, and continue to ask questions throughout each job search you conduct to gauge the effectiveness of various techniques.

Here are the results of the survey (totals of more than 100% indicate multiple answers).

1. Preferred length of a resume:

a) one page 20%
  b) two pages  30%
  c) depends on level of the position 60%
  d) no preference 0%

Specific comments from respondents:
“One or two pages is fine, but no longer.”
“Two pages, but can be longer if the third page is a skill summary, appendix, or something other than pure text.”

Conclusion: It depends, but most would like the resume to be kept to two pages. Note: I assumed in the case of answer c that a higher-level position indicated a more in-depth resume. None of the respondents queried me on this, so I'm going to keep assuming that.

2. Resume Style/Format:

a) traditional "reverse chronological" listing of jobs without an objective or summary 40%
  b) functional “skills-based” presentation with jobs listed briefly 10%
  c) some combination of the above 50%
  d) no preference 0%

Conclusion: The functional approach is out. Most hiring officials like a combination or traditional approach.

3. Resume Paper:

a) white paper only 50%
  b) scannable only 20%
  c) pastels (cream/grey) 0%
  d) no preference 40%

Conclusion: No one seems to care much about paper. Save yourself some money.

4. Preferred method of receiving resumes:

a) by US mail 10%
  b) by e-mail (Word attachment) 60%
  c) by e-mail (text in e-mail message body) 20%
  d) by fax  10%
  e) no preference 20%

Conclusion: Although most respondents say they like resumes by e-mail, it’s probably still a good idea to ask which file format is preferred. Save your stamps!

5. Cover letters:

a) no cover letter necessary 20%
  b) personalized cover letters only 60%
  c) form letters acceptable 20%
  d) no preference 10%

Specific comments:
"I like to read cover letters, and in general, don't receive many. I don't care if it is a form letter, as long as it is not OBVIOUS that it is a form letter. "Dear Sir" is not very smart…"

Conclusion: While it seems to be fading in importance, it's still a good idea to write a great cover letter.

6. How many years of related background do you like to see reflected on a resume?

a) 0-5 years 30%
  b) 6-10 years 40%
  c) 11-20 years  10%
  d) 20+ years 20%

Specific comments:
“Depends on position requirements.”
“Depends on the position. Some do not require any related experience. Others require up to 10 years of related experience.”

Conclusion: It depends on the position. Is there an echo in here? Was that a dumb question? A lot of us wanted to know...

7. How long does your company typically retain information on candidates?

a) 0-1 month 0%
  b) 1-3 months 0%
  c) 3-6 months 30%
  d) 7+ months 70%

Conclusion: Our work seems to have quite a long shelf life. Use this information to sell updates and to encourage clients whose job searches aren’t progressing quickly.

8. Does your company use scanning/database systems to manage resumes?

a) Yes 50%
  b) No 50%

Conclusion: I almost wish I worked in scanning/database systems sales!

9. How many people are involved in a hiring decision in your firm / your clients’ firms?

Answers: Varies, 1-3, 6-7, 2-4, 3, 2-3, 2-4, 2, 5-6, 3-8.
Conclusion: The mathematical average I came up with is 3.95. I admit it, this was a stretch of my math skills, but I’m pretty sure I did it correctly (91 divided by 23).

10.  What do you wish job seekers would do differently when applying to your company?
  • "Since I travel a lot, it is helpful for the candidate to follow up with a phone call or e-mail to ensure that his/her resume has been received."
  • "Send a cover letter. Tell me what they REALLY want to do. Follow up by phone or e-mail. Let me know when they have found a position and are no longer available."
  • "I would like them all to be really definite about what they do and don't want to do in their job/career. Don't be wishy-washy! New grads are the worst offenders in this respect. If you just want to start at the bottom and eventually work your way up in the sales, or marketing or finance or IT or whatever field, say so!"
  • "Research the company."
  • "Detailed resumes, with dates and CURRENT information."
  • "Not call more than once to follow up on their resume and be willing to discuss and be honest about their salary earnings and expectations."
The final analysis: A surefire way to be effective in a job search is to ask the hiring managers or recruiters what they want to see, how they want to see it, and how often you can follow up. Then deliver!

© 1999-2003 Tracy Laswell Williams. All rights reserved.

Tracy Laswell Williams
Tracy Laswell Williams is an accredited resume writer and career consultant who works with a diverse client base nationwide. She built her company CAREERMagic five years ago on the premise that "great minds think differently." Visit the company website at career-magic.com.