8 things recruiters look for — aside from your job experience

by Jess Ryan
May 16, 2016

If you’re currently looking for a new job, you probably already know recruiters are going to be looking at your application package, including the experience on your resume and the format of your cover letter. But they’re trying to get a sense of who you really are — not just which boxes you check from the job description. We found eight key elements recruiters seek out on candidates' applications:


Customizing resumes and cover letters to fit each role at each company is a common practice recruiters look for, but candidates don’t often follow.

Sara Roohparvar, Staffing Sourcer for Solidfire said candidates stand out “when you can tell that a candidate has taken the time to read the description, learn about the company and include a personal message indicating where their interests lie — highlighting specific points instead of a generic ‘objective’ where they just plug in a company name.”

Clear communication of past experience

Work experience is obviously important to include on a resume. But a company name, job title and messy bulleted list of tasks doesn’t do much to help a recruiter choose to hire a candidate.

“We want to see a correlation of the responsibilities, yes, but how the candidate used those things in their prior experience is much more important,” said Mark Schaffer, Corporate Recruiter for HomeAdvisor. “Having word soup is nice, but only in a manner that explains how they used those things in their past roles.”

Career progression

Lately, as more “kids these days” enter the workforce, job hopping has become more common. For many of us, that seems like a death sentence for our careers — but it doesn’t have to be.

“Okay, you hopped around a bit — explain why,” said Nick Larche, Recruiter for ShopAtHome.com. “Were you not challenged enough? Were you on contract? Did your most recent job align with your passion or leverage your strengths?”

Even if you’re hopping around, though, you’ll still need to demonstrate professional growth over time.

“Good candidates will have a resume with their work experience,” said Schaffer. “Great candidates will have a resume of their experience, but also included would be areas in which they are professionally developing and portraying how they are consistently trying to be better.”

Action words

“What I don’t think people expect me to look for — that I do — is the action words they put on their resume,” said Missy Waggoner, Head of Engineering Recruitment for Apptio. “I want to see words like ‘lead,’ ‘design,’ ‘deliver’ and ‘impact’ written in relation to their previous roles and projects.”

Too often, resumes say things like “worked on,” “did” or “had to.” Employers are definitely looking at those words — so be sure to spruce them up.

The “why”

Job seeking can be a soul-crushing experience, and sometimes it’s hard to keep your motivations top-of-mind. But when it comes to writing your resume, confidence and clarity are key.

“Recruiters look for candidates who know what they have to offer and have a clear understanding of how their skills will mesh with the company they are interviewing with,” said Karen Stafford, Lead Recruiter for SolidFire.

“I” vs. “We”

By now we all know having a real job is like having an endless string of group projects to work on. And while it’s important to showcase your collaboration skills and team spirit, recruiters are looking to hire you — not your former coworkers.

“I have always thought being a team player and giving credit to others was important,” said Waggoner. “However, as I have become more seasoned in my career, I look more for the individual impact that a person has and what they were responsible for. I look for more ‘I’ statements, but I also look to see if there is collaboration and cross functional work. There is a fine balance that someone has to have.”

Use of space and organization

Larche said candidates should pay attention to how they organize their resume to make sure it’s an optimal experience for the recruiter (“RX — Recruiter Experience. Consider the phrase coined,” said Larche with a smile).

“A lot of résumés list everything and say nothing,” he said. “Some résumés list very little, but believe they say enough. There is an art in striking the balance between the two, and some résumés are very creative in doing just that.”

Old-school advice has led many of us to believe our resumes should be structured chronologically and include everything, including our GPA — but that’s simply not the case anymore.

“Organize the resume in a logical way that demonstrates and highlights the experience most clearly,” said Morgan Ganz, Recruiter for SolidFire.

Personal info

“If you’re a recruiter, people expect the worst from you," said Larche. “They expect you to spend 5-8 seconds on their resume.” But, in reality, he said recruiters are actually looking for “every indication that you have a brain, that you’re human, and that you have the capacity to advance the business.”

Adding a bit of personal flair to your resume helps display the human element you bring to the table.

“I look for hobbies and interests on resumes,” said Stafford. “It gives me an idea of what motivates them.”

And being more personal in your application can even lead to some interesting conversations.

Schaffer said he looks for whether a candidate’s college degree is relevant or completely irrelevant to the role they’re applying for. “Their degree program may not matter, but if it’s very different, it can lead to really interesting conversations.”


Ready to spruce up that resume? View hundreds of open local startup jobs here.

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