Six seconds.

That’s how long conventional wisdom says recruiters will take to look at your painstakingly crafted résumé. So how do you break through the clutter and stand out among the bottomless stack of applications?

We asked our network of recruiters, career advisors and HR personnel to weigh in on what employers want — and how you can let them know you’re the person they should hire.

Target, Target, Target

Do more than write a résumé that lists every job and skill you’ve ever had or demonstrated. Know how your experience directly relates to the job to which you’re applying. “I can tell when someone has just blasted out a résumé without a thoughtful approach,” says Elizabeth Nichols, director of talent acquisition at Aspen Heights, a national builder of student housing. “Instead of three or four pages for a very experienced adult or graduate student, two very concisely written pages of relevant skills and experience is attractive.”


From the first email to the last interview, every step of the job application process involves communication of some sort. And it’s crucial to do so clearly, confidently and authentically, says Dameka Redic, senior recruiter at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Everyone can “look great on paper, but candidates always have a competitive edge if they are their authentic selves when engaging employers,” she says. “How do they communicate? What is their personality? How do they think and solve problems? No one else can duplicate those qualities.” Remember, adds Redic, the résumé is what may get you the interview, but it’s the interview that will get you the job.

Do Your Homework

It takes a lot of time to research prospective employers and tailor each résumé and cover letter to a particular job. Do you really need to? Absolutely, says Juanita Baldwin, recruitment and internship coordinator at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. “Candidates stand out when they take the initiative to check out our website and do their homework before submitting an application — and definitely before they interview,” she says. “Successful candidates will ask smart questions about our business model, our mission and goals, and the challenges we face. That’s the mark of a true leader — not someone who professes to know all the answers, but someone who knows what questions to ask.”

Connect Your Past to Your Future

Balance thoughtful questions with opportunities to share what you’ve accomplished at previous jobs and how that will be an asset in a new position. “I look for candidates who can make their current career relevant to the job they are applying for,” says Nichols. “Even if they are in a career transition, they need to demonstrate how their transferable skills make them qualified for the job.” You have to be able to show an employer why you want this job at this company, adds Andrew Harper, employer relations coordinator at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. “It’s not about why the opportunity is so great for you; it’s about why you are a great match for them.”

Know the Magic Words

No, there aren’t really magic words that will make your résumé levitate (or at least rise to the top of the pile), but highlighting certain areas of expertise will put you one step ahead. Demonstrate initiative, accountability, adaptability and a strong work ethic, says Baldwin. “To be competitive in the job market, be sensitive to how you are branding yourself. Be very self-aware, and be able to tell your story in a compelling and authentic fashion,” she says. “Invariably, these are the qualities that help candidates land a job.”

Stacia Hernstrom MLA '05 is a writer for St. Edward's University.

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