Resumes & Cover Letters

Grab recruiters’ attention with your resume

Written by Kate Lopaze

When you’re writing your resume, these days there are a number of different audiences to consider. There’s the hiring manager. There’s the robot resume scanner. And there’s another person altogether: the recruiter. The recruiter is a bit different because they’re focused on the bottom line from the start. Where a hiring manager wants to know how you’ll fit in as part of a team, the recruiter often just wants to make sure you meet the most important job description criteria, before passing you up to the next level or down to the reject pile.

So how do you get (and keep) the attention of a recruiter? Let’s look at what they look at first on resumes, to figure out how to apply that to your own.

The average recruiter spends six to ten seconds looking at a resume initially before deciding whether or not to move on to the next one. So you want to catch attention fast with strong keywords, placed strategically. If they don't see what they're looking for in their initial quick glance, you likely won't stand a chance. According to James Hu, founder and CEO of, the keyword technique that works for those automated Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) is also effective for human readers as well.

As part of that initial scan, recruiters are not looking for long-winded bullets about your third-most important responsibilities and achievements at X Corp. They’re looking for elements that stand out: headlines, bolded phrases, years. That means that your resume formatting just became even more important.

Your experience bullets are crucial for the deeper read, but when you’re hoping to grab attention right away, make sure you’re putting emphasis on the most important parts: company names, job titles, and the dates you were there. The recruiter is trying to put together an image of you as an applicant based on that quick skim, so the more you highlight the short, punchy, relevant details about your experience, the easier you make it for them to see how impressive your work history is.

This also means that a killer headline is a great way to maximize your resume for a quick recruiter read. The one-liner that sets your professional narrative should be one of the first thing the recruiter sees, and it should be both succinct and clear. Specificity is your friend here.

Good headline: “Innovative Problem Solver with More Than 5 Years’ Experience As a Window Washer”

Bad headline: “Detail-Oriented Go Getter”

The first headline tells the recruiter two crucial points about your resume: you solve problems, and you have a lot of work experience. The second headline is vague, and has no real substance. The recruiter’s eyes will glaze right over it.

Remember: you’ll have time later to wow a reader with your work experience bullet points, or a list of skills that make you perfect for the job. First, though, you need to lean in to human nature, and understand that short, powerful visual cues are the way to get a recruiter’s attention up front.

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