Recruiters Tell All: Red Flags, Resumes and the 6-second Rule

This original article appeared on Employee Benefit News and is authored by Alyssa Place.

When Stacie Haller sees a resume pop up in her email, the clock starts ticking. 

“Recruiters are looking at 100 resumes at a time,” says Haller, chief career adviser at Resume Builder. “If I count one-Mississippi to six and you’re the 60th resume in my pile and you look like everyone else, I don’t want you.” 

It may sound harsh, but recruiters are now working harder than ever, fielding thousands of job applications for a single available role, learning new technology, and dealing with pushy employers who are stuck on hard-to-sell policies like return-to-office mandates. With tighter budgets and their own jobs on the line, recruiters are feeling the pressure, too. 

“It’s difficult for recruiters — there’s not a lot of hiring happening, and teams are getting cut. I’ve had recruiters themselves who have lost their jobs,” says HR consultant Jesse Meschuk. “If you’re still lucky enough to have a role as a recruiter, you have fewer resources and a smaller budget for the limited roles that you’re recruiting for. It’s really competitive.” 

For recruiters, 2024 is a continuation of the hiring roller coaster the workforce has been on over the last several years. With mass layoffs and economic uncertainty making organizations gun-shy around hiring, recruiters are looking at hundreds of resumes for very few roles. And what they’re seeing has revealed major skills and experience gaps that will be hard to fill. In fact, a lack of skilled workers could account for a talent shortage of more than 85 million workers worldwide by 2030, according to estimates by Korn Ferry. “There are a lot of recruiting tools that parse out the resumes and highlight, based on the qualifications you’ve listed, who you might want to look at,” Meschuk says. “But a big chunk of resumes are not meeting the job requirements.” 

Culling through the pile

That hasn’t stopped applicants from applying in droves: Job applications increased 16% in 2023, though job postings and hiring dropped 10% during that time, according to data from talent platform iCIMS. 

A 2024 report issued by Goldman Sachs reveals a gender retirement gap, as one in four women are set to retire with less than $50K.

But while the average job seeker spends around four hours applying to a single job, according to Adzuna, they may not be spending their time in the most productive way, recruiters say. Forty-four percent of hiring managers can tell when a cover letter is not customized to the role, while 49% will automatically dismiss a cover letter or resume with spelling errors, according to a survey from CareerBuilder. 

Haller says when she works with job seekers, she can spot the signs of a failed job search immediately. While she understands the frustration, applicants need to be better at highlighting their accomplishments, and make strategic choices around how they frame their work experience. 

“I’m hearing a lot of frustration, but often the minute I look at their resume, I know why they’re not getting hired,” Haller says. “The resume doesn’t highlight them, or has errors in it. It may list jobs from 30 years ago. There’s a million things getting in your way.” 

Haller’s top resume tips? Keep your resume clean and concise, and include numbers and qualifiers to prove that the work you’ve done in previous roles has made a difference to a company’s bottom line. And trim off jobs from decades ago — those skills are most likely outdated and will not sway a recruiter into thinking they’ve found a current fit for the role they’re filling. 

“People really think they can just slap together a resume, send it out and find a job. And unfortunately, it’s way more nuanced,” she says. “If you send out 20 resumes and you’re not getting a response, stop sending out that resume.” 

A tech takeover

A resume is the first introduction to a job candidate, and yet screening them is increasingly being offloaded by tech tools. Seventy-five percent of recruiters utilize applicant tracking systems, according to a survey by Jobscan, a resume optimization tool. But relying on technology alone could cut out the pivotal role the human experience plays in making a match.  

Samantha Bussard is so passionate about maintaining this high-level connection between a recruiter and applicant that she still reviews every resume that comes her way in her role as director of talent strategy at Compass Business Solutions. 

“I review every resume that comes across my desk in some way, shape, or form, because things are changing, but that human connection can’t be ignored,” she says. “But [to do that], I encourage my team of hiring managers to be super tight and consistent on how they calibrate what a successful candidate looks like.” 

For many recruiters, technology can and should be helping with this process, and Bussard has embraced tech tools to help her draft auto-responses to applications so candidates still feel seen and heard throughout the experience. Technology should be a bridge, and not a crutch. 

“We still have to prioritize the human element of the candidate experience,” Bussard says. “But that said, I rely heavily on technology to help me source from a wider pool of candidates, automate my scheduling, and eliminate unnecessary back-and-forth, so I can fill my time with those meaningful conversations.”

Bussard also uses generative AI to create interview questions, for example, but won’t then ask those same queries verbatim; instead, she’ll use technology as “a refinement tool” to support her goals. 

“I don’t ever say, ‘Hey, ChatGPT, build me a list of interview questions,’ and then just hand those off,” she says. “I’m looking for some themes or some keywords, and most often I’ve used them as a refinement tool. I have to know what I want the outcome to be in order to be able to use those tools to their best advantage.” 

Closing the deal

When recruiters find the right match, it may feel like the ball gets to stay in their court. But increasingly, candidates are becoming highly selective — and vocal — about what they expect from their future employer, and it could put a recruiter in a tough spot. 

“The recruiter works for the company, and the company is paying you to find some good talent and entice people for them,” Haller says. “They have to sell a story to candidates to get them to take the job. But candidates are getting pickier than they have been before.” 

This is especially true when it comes to remote work. Data from LinkedIn found that while just 15% of job postings on the site are for remote-only roles, those positions get 50% of the total job applicants on the site. When recruiters have to pitch candidates on a hybrid schedule, or mandate they return to the office, it’s often game-over, Meshchuk says. 

“A lot of employers are asking for four or five days a week, which is pretty difficult when you’re recruiting for roles,” he says. “People have gotten used to not having to be in a particular location and talent has dispersed a lot. You might be in a situation where the mandate is in office, but the talent isn’t really around the office, and now you have to work with management to help them understand the realities.” 

But this give-and-take between employers, recruiters and applicants is what keeps the job challenging and ultimately fulfilling for everyone, Bussard says. 

“Recruiting is the first line of defense to making sure that your culture is preserved, and there’s nothing more central to a company’s mission, vision and values than making sure that the people you hire are aligned to your organization,” she says. “The end product of that, when we do it right, is that we make an individual very happy with an opportunity that’s a good fit for them. And we make a company really happy and they have the ability to continue to grow. That’s when I get the most satisfaction out of my role, when I’m able to put those two puzzle pieces together and say we made a great match.”

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