What Makes a Good Job Candidate? A Recruiter Answers This Question

I recently had the opportunity to ask Dave Benach, a recruiter, about how candidates for freelance or contract work can stand out from the pack when responding to job ads. He was extremely generous about sharing what he knows and gave me enough information for two posts! In this first one, Dave shares his thoughts about how to write a resume that makes the recruiter or hiring manager want to take the next step and get in touch with you.
After reading his thoughts, I’ve put “update/edit resume” on my To Do list.
Dave’s response to the question, “What makes a good job candidate?” is as follows:

First and foremost, a great candidate with an underwhelming (a euphemism for “crappy”) resume will never even get up to bat, and therefore will never have a chance to show a potential client how great they truly are. So, let’s focus on the resume first.

A resume is ultimately nothing more than a big carrot, and should be designed and written to entice the reader into calling you. It’s no secret that hiring managers and recruiters are overwhelmed with applicants, especially under current market conditions, and it’s not their responsibility to derive the nuanced details of your background by reading between the lines. It’s YOUR job to ensure there is nothing that stands out as a big waving red flag. These include:

  • Spelling errors

Do NOT rely on spell check; proof-read. You’re a writer, there should be NO excuse for poor grammar or incorrect spelling. One particular pet peeve: make absolutely sure to double check the accuracy of brand names. If you worked on a brand, you better know how to spell it! (JC Penney, not JC Penny; Barclays, not Barclay’s – yes, I’m that anal.)

  • Odd/non-functional design

Your resume should get me the information I need as quickly and directly as possible. Please do not include background images, graphical elements or crazy illegible fonts. Keep in mind that most resumes get read on-screen these days, so use a basic system font that’s cross-platform.

  • Check your page breaks

It’s shocking how many resumes I see that have full pages of white space, either in the middle of a resume, or on the tail end. Nothing screams “lacks attention to detail” like that!

  • Chronology

Check your timeline to make sure it matches up. Most folks have done a mix of FT and contract work, so some overlap is expected. I usually recommend bulking freelance work together under a specific “Freelance” header. That way it doesn’t end up looking too choppy.

  • Formatting

Since I’m reviewing resumes for writers, I expect you to be able to lay out information clearly and cleanly. If your resume looks haphazard, sloppy, and hastily done, it will create serious doubts about your abilities to manage the volume of info I need you to handle.

Now, let’s chat about some things you absolutely want to do with your resume:

  • Use action verbs. Action verbs such as “initiated”, “concepted”, and “created” speak far more to your ownership of your role that phrases like “was responsible for”.
  • Don’t tell me, show me, i.e. focus on accomplishments: each and everyone of us is tasked with adding value in our jobs. For some it’s easy to quantify; sales people are directly responsible for revenue, for example. For writers, it might be a bit more nebulous, so spend some time thinking about where you made a difference – Did your marketing copy generate $125K in additional sales? Did your blog post get 50K page views in week one? Did your event promotion poster result in a 30% attendance increase over last year? You’ve just added value.
  • Name drop: it’s crass, people loathe to do it, but the resume is where you want to name drop like your life depends on it. Have you worked with large brands? Tell me! Show me that someone trusted you with a budget to deliver for a world-famous client!  Once again: as a hiring manager I’ve got tons of resumes on my desk, so it’s your job as an applicant to capture my interest. Trust me, a line on a resume that reads: “pitched, concepted and wrote ad copy for Coca Cola’s 2008 Beijing Olympics digital & viral campaigns” will pique my interest more than “2008 – responsible for ideating and creating interactive advertising for a large soft drink brand.”

Dave Benach currently works as a recruiter in the advertising and marketing industry. In his spare time, he’s learning what it means to be an Internet publisher. You can read up on his efforts at www.bmwtuner.net.






3 responses
  1. Lisa Avatar

    wow… this kinda threw me. Yes, I have a one-page, carefully crafted resume. But the most recent “job” entry is “freelance writer/consultant” with a little para about the breadth of my work.

    To me, that means I can “recreate” myself for every potential client, focusing in specifically on areas of expertise that are most relevant.

    Meanwhile, I have a portfolio website (www.lisarudy.com) where I keep detailed, good-looking stuff about me, my clients, my projects, etc. I link to my site in every cover letter, I have the website in my email signature, and, of course, my URL is front and center on my resume.

    Do people actually read it?? Most of the time – assuming they like my cover note. But if I had just one resume with a whole list of credits, the resume would be ten pages of very mixed titles of everything from grant proposals to planetarium scripts – not, I think, a very effective sales tool!


  2. Jonathan Cohen Avatar

    I definitely agree about the accomplishments section. Prospects may care that you did X, but they’ll certainly care much more if you did X and it had positive, measurable result Y for the company. This usually only works where you have worked in places that grant you sufficient autonomy to pursue special projects.

    I must say, though, that “concepted” is a horrible word. Even if recruiters like it. 🙂 It’s like “impactful”; I get a little shudder of revulsion every time I see it in print or online.

  3. Dave Avatar

    Lisa, you’re absolutely right: a laundry list of your clients would not be effective either. If you do indeed have experience with a large variety of clients, you might want to consider extending your brief paragraph by listing out your experience by business category. For example:

    Financial services: Wells Fargo, Visa, IndyMac
    Consumer Packaged Goods: General Mills, Mrs. Fields, PepsiCo

    Regarding “concepted”: keep in mind that I do a lot of recruiting for advertising type roles, where junior copywriters aspire to be in the “big idea” seat. That’s where campaign concepts are generated, versus the tactical execution work a lot of the junior writers do. Feel free to adjust terminology to suit your needs & style 🙂

    BTW: cover letters/emails only get read second, -after- the resume. Yes, it’s backwards, but theme the breaks. Woo me with the facts, and then I might visit the note in which you tell me why you think you’re great!

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