Between September 2013 and 2014, Scott Bacon worked as a recruiter for Google in its network operations division. He was responsible for recruiting people to work as software and network engineers, but also in marketing and other areas. The year Bacon was there, he says that Google received about 3 million resumes.
"That’s how much interest Google attracts," says Bacon. Unfortunately, those interested don’t always have the skills necessary to clear the first hurdle: crafting a quality resume. Now a senior talent advocate at Hired, a marketplace for highly skilled tech talent to find jobs, Bacon asserts: "It’s a widely cited statistic that [recruiters] give resumes six seconds' worth of viewing to make sure all is in line."
What can land a resume in the discard pile ranges from improper formatting to incorrect grammar and spelling. "Google applicants run the gamut, from very professional to people who couldn’t string together a full sentence," Bacon observes. We sat down with him recently to get an expert’s opinion on worst practices. Here’s what he told us.
Formatting is more important that you know. Since they are only glancing at your resume for six seconds, it’s crucial to have your work history displayed in a way that will keep the attention of the recruiter. Cluttering a page with big blocks of single-spaced copy is a definite don’t.
Bacon says for English-speaking candidates and recruiters, put the most pertinent information near the top left corner of the page, because that is where the eye goes to first. Name and contact info are best placed here. Put the companies you worked for, title, and dates to the right. "I love seeing dates close to the top," says Bacon.
Center your skill sets and use a bullet point to explain what a company does so the recruiter can have an understanding of where you worked and where your interest lies. "If that doesn’t entice a recruiter to continue to read, it probably wasn’t a fit," he says.
"These are a bit old school and are generally pretty generic," Bacon explains. He believes they’re also typically too focused on what the candidate wants for themselves instead of what they can do for the company to which they’re applying.
On the flip side, crafting a too-specific statement could disqualify you for a potential dream job. While he was at Google, Bacon discovered that recruiters passed a good resume on to other departments if the job the candidate applied for didn’t work out. Place too much emphasis on one job with an overarching statement, and they will be less inclined to consider you for another role.
Instead, Bacon suggests pulling together a skill bucket with six to 10 proficiencies that you can speak about during an interview. The idea is also to help push your resume through auto-filtering tools that even some top companies (not Google) use to winnow down the applicant pool.
Mentioning every job you’ve ever had is not a good thing. "Focus only on the positions that are relevant to the one for which you are applying," says Bacon, "and don’t include entry-level jobs like cashier or barista that aren’t applicable." This also goes for experience that's more than a decade old—even if it did give you relevant skills. For those, company, job title, and date is sufficient, he says.
There are always those jobs that have nothing absolutely to do with what you are currently applying for that, if listed, could act as an icebreaker. Bacon was a jazz musician for five years, so he includes a blurb about that when he’s writing his own resume. "It is helpful to launch into conversation with a stranger," says Bacon. However, senior executives should proceed with caution, since their positions require them to put their best foot forward and everything must be tight, he says.
"You should be tailoring each one you send out," says Bacon, by highlighting the transferable skills and using the words and phrases that are specific to that industry. Unless you’re a new grad, he says, recruiters will assume that you are going after a job in which you have experience, so make standing out your primary goal.
This also goes for the thank-you notes you send after interviewing.
When you just list responsibilities, your resume starts to sound like a job description, and that’s no way for an employer to tell how well you actually did in that position. "A good rule of thumb," says Bacon, is to "use one line for responsibilities, two lines for accomplishments." That might include hitting certain metrics or listing special projects.
These set you apart from everyone else, because they demonstrate your ability to succeed, he says.
"References available upon request" is useless and obvious. Employers know to ask, regardless of the role. Adding references almost looks like you don’t have enough work history and have to pad with people who can vouch for you.
The same advice applies to listing things like Microsoft Office Suite proficiency, which is a generally expected skill for any job seeker hoping to work in a white-collar profession.
Using jargon and buzzwords is a pet peeve of most people, including recruiters. "The two words that almost cause me to disregard a resume are synergy and dynamic," Bacon says. Maybe they were useful once upon a time, he says, "but they are now so drenched in corporate group speak [that it makes you sound like] you are trying to appeal to some cultural amalgam of people that don’t exist at a company."
Match the jargon on the job description, but go no further than that, he says. But even then, you run the risk of being tagged only to what is listed in the job description, and that can work against you. If you are so compelled, you can bust out the buzzwords during the interview itself, just be sure you can actually speak to what’s behind the buzz so you don’t baffle a recruiter.
Finally, says Bacon, one of the best things you can do in this stage of a job search is to make friends with the recruiter. Working at Google, he routinely dealt with 30-35 people per day, even though only 7% of applicants made it past the initial stage.
Hiring goals need to be met, he points out, so when recruiters receive a message from a candidate asking how best to increase their chances of making it through the application process, they are going to take the time to help.
Working on behalf of the hiring manager, recruiters know what specific skills or traits that person is looking for, and can lend a hand to tailor a resume to better fit those needs. "There is no one size fits all," he underscores, but working with a recruiter can help make a resume particularly appealing.