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What Employers Really Want in a Resume

What do employers want to see in a resume? The following statistics reflect feedback from companies that responded to a survey sent to employers listed in the book The 100 Best Companies to Work For (Plume, 1994).

Although not statistically significant, responses are generally consistent with and support accepted job search protocol. This information is intended as a guide for resume preparation; use common sense and good judgment in applying survey results to your situation.


Applicants with 15 to 30 years of experience should list only the last 10 to 15 years on their resumes.

35 percent agree, 65 percent disagree

If salary history is requested in a job announcement and an applicant does NOT include it, but is otherwise qualified, the applicant would still be called for an interview.

85 percent agree, 15 percent disagree

If a bachelor's degree is requested in a job announcement and an applicant does not have a degree, but is otherwise qualified, the applicant would still be called for an interview.

39 percent agree, 61 percent disagree

If an applicant has valid reasons for gaps between employers or "job hopping" (for example, downsized, spouse relocated, career on hold to raise children), the applicant should briefly list these reasons on the resume.

74 percent agree, 26 percent disagree

When listing personal strengths on the resume, the applicant should also include a statement that shows evidence of the trait (for instance, the trait "committed" should be followed with a statement such as "frequently volunteered extended hours to meet critical project deadlines").

72 percent agree, 28 percent disagree

Thorough descriptions of past job responsibilities should always be included.

48 percent agree, 52 percent disagree

Verifiable accomplishments should always be included.

88 percent agree, 12 percent disagree

Military service and honors should always be included.

79 percent agree, 21 percent disagree

A separate list of references should also be included with the initial application materials.

19 percent agree, 81 percent disagree

A resume that is poorly organized or has typos will eliminate an otherwise qualified applicant.

82 percent agree, 18 percent disagree

Tasteful use of spot color or a small graphic related to the industry can enhance the applicant's resume.

39 percent agree, 61 percent disagree

A resume should always contain evidence that the applicant can make your company stronger (in other words, more competitive, more profitable, smoother functioning).

75 percent agree, 25 percent disagree

If an applicant started a new job in the past two months, but found the job was not what it was represented to be and is therefore looking for another position, the applicant should include this recent job on the resume.

85 percent agree, 15 percent disagree

Paper color should always be white or off-white.

70 percent agree, 30 percent disagree

The length of a resume should be:

12 percent one page, never longer
67 percent kept to one or two pages
21 percent as long as needed to convey the applicant's qualifications

What are the most important elements you look for in an applicant?

  • Directly related experience

  • Accomplishments

  • Evidence of leadership skills

  • Communication skills (clear, concise)

  • Work ethic (hard worker, loyalty, good attitude)

  • Education

  • Initiative

  • Team orientation

  • Good fit with the company

  • Job stability
Excerpted from "Resume Magic: Trade Secrets of a Professional Resume Writer" (JIST Publishing, 2007) by Susan Britton Whitcomb. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company