What to Look for on a Resume

Hiring manager reviews job applicant's resume at her desk

Many job seekers look for things to include in a resume (and what not to include), but when it comes to the employer’s perspective, there’s not a whole lot out there. Knowing what to look for in a resume as a hiring manager is extremely important. But too many articles bypass this or just give the same advice repeatedly.

As a professional staffing and recruiting firm, knowing precisely what matters on a resume and what to look for in a potential candidate is essential to what we do. Our team at 4 Corner Resources (4CR) is dedicated to helping large and small businesses find the best candidates to be valuable resources and partners for our clients. Because of our years of experience and the knowledge we’ve learned over the past 16 years, we put together this article about what to look for in a resume.

What Matters on a Resume 

Education and qualifications

The first thing you should look for in a resume is the candidate’s education and qualifications. Though this may seem obvious, and not all jobs require a degree or certain qualifications, it should be the first thing you run through. Look at the type of qualifications that your potential candidate may list. Are there any special certifications that they have? Have they desired to continue their education through online programs or other education? Someone who has undergone special training, especially within your industry, is often better and more of a go-getter than someone who hasn’t tried to continue their education.


This is where you’ll probably focus the bulk of your attention. A candidate’s prior experience is a strong indicator of their preparedness for your role and their ability to succeed. In the experience section, you’re looking for a few things. 

First, is the candidate’s experience relevant to this job? Previous tenure in similar job titles is great but not necessarily a requirement. The key is that the skills they’ve had to use and the duties they’ve performed are applicable to the job for which they’re applying. 

Next, look for quantifiable achievements. The strongest candidates are those who can demonstrate a proven track record. Performance numbers, customer satisfaction ratings, positive client feedback, and successful leadership experience tell you that this person can achieve results. 

Finally, you want to scan for advancement. The perfect experience section makes envisioning a candidate’s career trajectory easy. For example, maybe they moved from marketing coordinator to account executive to account manager. This shows clear progression. You won’t always find such a clear-cut path of advancement, but you at least want to make sure they haven’t been stagnant. If their resume makes it hard to understand the path they’ve taken, this is something worth asking about in an interview.


Skills are among the most influential factors in a new hire’s success. You need someone who either A) already has the skills you require or B) is capable of learning them. Either way, the resume will give you clues. 

Before you begin scanning resumes, refer back to the job description to refresh your understanding of the core skill requirements. Most roles have three to five minimum qualifications. To get the green light, a candidate’s resume should either explicitly list these skills (like in a dedicated skills section) or show the roles within their experience section that they possess these capabilities. Make a note of any skills that are missing so you can inquire about them in an interview. If a candidate seems over-qualified in terms of their skill set, that may also be worth asking about. 

Also, keep an eye out for soft skills that will add value to this position. For example, maybe being organized isn’t a core requirement but would greatly benefit the person in the role. 

Organization, functionality, and formatting

An amazing resume should effectively tell a narrative of the candidate’s professional history and experience. According to a CareerBuilder¹ survey, job candidates frequently have less than one minute to grab a hiring manager’s attention. The survey reports that two in five spend less than one minute reading a resume, and 19% of hiring managers spend less than 30 seconds doing so. This means that a job seeker’s resume needs to be written in a way that communicates the most relevant information quickly without making the hiring manager search for it.

A resume showcasing how a candidate knows how to write a resume that effectively presents their narrative is a strong indicator of a potentially valuable employee who can advocate for your company.

When reviewing resumes as a hiring manager, ask yourself:

  • Is each candidate’s resume organized and coherent?
  • Do they tell an engaging story?
  • Does the candidate provide an executive summary instead of an objective statement?
  • Is the content scannable? Do they use bulleted lists instead of massive paragraphs?
  • Is the content concise and honest, or is it full of fluff?
  • Is the content readable, or is it riddled with typos and misspellings?
  • Does the applicant use engaging action verbs?
  • Is everything crammed together on a page, or does it include sufficient white space?
  • Do they provide up-to-date contact information?

Results and achievements

While showcasing all of their skills, experience, and expertise is essential, a candidate needs to go beyond including a simple laundry list of responsibilities and skills. They also need to demonstrate success and achievements through examples of their work initiatives. Not only does this mean they should have ample experience in the field they’re applying for, but it also means that they should be successful in the field. They don’t need to have tons of awards, but a few simple stats while doing their past jobs can help to really set them apart. For example:

  • A marketing manager who provides statistics of successful campaign outcomes that resulted in increased customer engagement, leads, and conversions demonstrates the value they can bring to your business.
  • A chief financial officer (CFO) who demonstrates how they increased their company’s profitability — such as including an example of how they increased profitability by X% due to reducing operating costs by X% — will be significantly more attractive than one who only provides general statements about their work.

These numbers and statistics help to paint a more vivid picture of a candidate’s abilities and value than a simple list of skills and responsibilities ever could. Knowing what makes a good resume can help you separate top-tier candidates from run-of-the-mill applicants.

Tailored resume to your industry

When reviewing resumes, pay attention to how they are written. For example, when looking at a specific resume, does the applicant come across as generic in their approach — writing content that could have been written for various companies or jobs — or do they use language and examples specific to your organization or position? Do they use industry-related keywords or key phrases from your job description? And, do they speak to your organization’s goals, needs, and culture?

Though many resumes will look similar when an applicant applies, an amazing resume is tailored to each specific job application. It should demonstrate that the applicant took the time to research and learn about your company. As a hiring manager, look for specific keywords within their resume that could relate to your industry.

Related: How to Write a Job Description to Attract Top Candidates

No red flags

Carefully reviewing a resume is more than knowing what makes a good resume; it’s also essential for you to “read between the lines” of the provided information to identify any worrisome (or missing) information.

Related: The Top Resume Red Flags

A few of the biggest red flags to keep an eye out for are egregious spelling and grammar errors,  unexplained employment gaps, and multiple short stints at different companies back to back. Pay attention to anything that jumps out as especially strange, like the use of images.   

Relevant information

Does the job applicant include information that is irrelevant to the position? This could be citing “captain of the high school volleyball team” as one of their accomplishments when they are in their mid-30s. If a candidate does not have any recent accolades or achievements, that is a major red flag.

Appropriate contact information

Email is an essential method of communication in the business world. How applicants present themselves is exceedingly important because they will represent your business if you hire them. If they use an email address such as “ironmanwannabe@gmail.com” or “partyanimal@yahoo.com,” it is a warning sign that they may not be the candidate you want representing your company.


This component is the trickiest of all to identify with a candidate’s resume alone. After all, there’s a reason we conduct interviews instead of merely relying on a piece of paper to judge applicants. Still, you can gain some clues about a candidate’s personal characteristics and values from their resume.

Look at their word choices. Are they bold or subtle? Complex or simple? What about the tone–does it read as confident and enthusiastic, or is it dull and unexciting? As an example, consider these two lines from a resume detailing a candidate’s experience:

  • Performed administrative duties, including communicating with customers, scheduling meetings, and organizing files
  • Excelled at administrative tasks by providing thorough customer communications, managing calendars for a 12-person team, and instituting a user-friendly filing system

These two lines describe essentially the same duties, but the candidates come across much differently. Use the resume to help you decide whether a candidate might have the personality traits and enthusiasm level that are aligned with your culture.  

Work With Recruiters Who Know What to Look for on a Resume

As part of an award-winning staffing and recruiting firm, our team is dedicated to connecting our clients with the best candidates and vice versa. When reviewing resumes, we evaluate everything from each applicant’s specific knowledge and skills, to their level of experience and career progression, to how their values align with each client’s company culture. With each job candidate, our technical recruiters provide job candidate feedback to help them learn and grow as professionals.

With a 92% client retention rate after placing more than 5,200 candidates with our clients, we have a proven record of success helping businesses of all sizes, including Fortune 500 companies. This can help you rest assured that your company’s recruiting and staffing needs are in the best hands with our staffing professionals.

To speak with one of our technical recruiters by contacting us today!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn