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Are Headhunters Calling You . . . Or Ignoring You?

Ex-Recruiter Reveals Secrets to Gaining Headhunter's Attention

In my former life as a recruiter (also affectionately referred to as "headhunter"), I received hundreds of resumes a week from all parts of the country. The statement that a person's resume gets a 15-second read is not far from the truth. In fact, 15 seconds is a generous assumption. In reality, a resume must capture the recruiter's attention in the first five seconds to avoid the round file. Candidates can greatly improve their chance of catching the recruiter's attention by following three simple rules:

  1. Use the correct format
  2. Include plenty of quantifiable accomplishments
  3. Sprinkle liberally with appropriate keywords.

The first rule, use of correct format, is crucial. There is one, and only one, proper resume format for recruiters -- chronological. Recruiters do not have time or patience to figure out the complexities of a functional resume. To recruiters, time is money. A second danger of using a functional resume is that recruiters automatically assume the candidate is attempting to hide something. This assumption is universal. No job-seeker on earth can hide unpleasant facts within a functional resume. Recruiters are trained from the start to pick up on any possible "red flags" that identify the job seeker as an undesirable candidate.

The second rule, use of quantifiable accomplishments, is essential in helping the recruiter see you as money in his or her pocket. Remember this point; you will only capture a headhunter's attention when he or she sees you in terms of commission potential. Since recruiters earn their fee by providing better candidates than their competition, your resume should shout "ACCOMPLISHMENTS." Quantifiable accomplishments are most convincing when connected to bottom-line results: revenue earned, money saved, market share increased, costs cut, or time saved. This type of information gives recruiters selling points to market you to their clients and more quickly put you in front of employers.

The third rule, liberal use of keywords, is important not only in the short term, but also leads to future opportunity. At any given time a recruiter may have 10 to 100 specific positions to fill. Recruiters categorize their positions by qualifications identified by keywords. When reading resumes, the recruiter scans for those keywords. Recruiters may be so tuned into finding specific words that they are oblivious to anything else in the resume except keywords.

The best way to ensure your resume is filled with keywords is to scour job postings of target positions and identify keywords of qualifications. Find the most commonly used keywords in 12 or more target postings and use those words as the language of your resume. For future use, recruiters save resumes in candidate-tracking databases to sort later by keywords. If your resume does not have the correct keywords, it may never be seen by human eyes. Correct choice of words means that your resume will get recruiter attention every time he queries by keywords contained in your resume.

Once your resume is showcased in the proper format, packed with quantifiable accomplishments and strong keywords, be sure to follow proper etiquette in contacting recruiters and headhunters. The most effective initial contact is through email. Recruiters spend 80 percent of their time proactively calling prospective candidates and employers. They do not appreciate spending phone time with unsolicited callers. Once a recruiter has your resume he or she will call you if interested in you. It does no good to call asking if he or she has received your resume. You risk ticking him or her off permanently.

When emailing your resume to recruiters, it's best to send it as both a Word attachment as well as in ASCII (plain text) format in the body of the email. This procedure allows the recruiter to access your information in the quickest manner and contact you sooner.

Recruiters and headhunters can be a tremendous resource to your job-search efforts. They are privy to a great number of opportunities in the hidden job market. They are experts at presenting candidates' best selling points. They also act as go-between for candidate and employer, allowing the candidate to learn important employer feedback. Designing your resume with recruiters in mind is an important first step toward building relationships with influential recruiters who have the power to introduce you to your next boss.

- Deborah Walker

Deborah Walker is a Certified Career Management Coach. Her expertise includes resume writing and career coaching. She holds membership in the National Resume Writer's Association. As a former headhunter, her advice comes from an insider's prospective based on years working with HR professionals and corporate hiring managers. Visit Deb on the Web. Or email her for a free resume critique/price quote at