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What Recruiters Look for in Résumés

In our quest to understand what the people responsible for recruiting look for when evaluating the CVs of young professionals, the TWA Soft Skills team conducted a survey among recruiters, human resources advisors, and managers.

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Writing a CV, also known as “résumé” in North America, has been traced back to traveling workers looking to introduce themselves to the local lords back in the 16th century (National Career Service, 2018). CV stands for Curriculum Vitae, which is Latin for “your story.” In time, this practice became widespread to such an extreme that by the 1950s a job applicant without a CV was unconceivable.  This makes sense. If you think about it, how would a person looking to recruit the right candidate be able to compare between job seekers?

The digital revolution enabled by the internet has massively democratized job opportunities. Various positions became easy to search, and anyone (literally speaking) can apply to available job openings. Even if the mechanics of recruitment are now mostly automatized, the CV continues to be the first passport to employment.  

There is a vast amount of information available online on how to write a good  CV. Some articles such as this one from Oxford Dictionaries are must-reads; there are other sources that are at best contradictory, and at worse would shut down any opportunity. This is why personal judgement and an objective third party opinion can never be underestimated.

In our quest to understand what the people responsible for recruiting look for when evaluating the CVs of young professionals, the TWA Soft Skills team conducted a survey among recruiters, human resources (HR) advisors, and managers from US, Canada, Azerbaijan, and Malaysia.

Figure 1 shows a geographical distribution of the participants. We surveyed people from various parts of the world to understand how the requirements change in different countries.

Fig 1—Distribution of survey participants by country.


The survey had 7 questions: four had short- or long-answer options and 3 had suggested answer choices. Below you can find the most relevant anonymous answers that we hope will help you when editing your CV.

Analysis of Survey Results

How many pages should a CV have?

72% of respondents agreed that it should be limited in pages

  • 43% voted for a 2-page format
  • 14% emphasized that it should have just 1 or 2 pages
  • 14% stated 2–4 pages as an appropriate size for a CV including a cover letter

Only 29% typed “No limit” as their answer.
Things that should be avoided in a CV:

Almost a half of the respondents indicated that applicants should be careful about not making grammar errors and spelling mistakes. Participants also recommended not to add too much information in a résumé  (e.g., marital status or candidate’s photo). Among other comments were “to avoid lying about your skills” and “to be aware of a disorganized CV.”

What was the most original CV you have ever encountered?

Some of the more creative examples of CVs included documentary style videos to summarize their working history into a short biography film. Another participant mentioned a CV created by an applicant in a form of monologue. Several HR specialists emphasized that they still prefer a PDF as an ideal format for the CV, but it should summarize applicant’s education, experience, and extracurricular activities.

How do you feel about adding a photo to the CV?

While the vast majority of them (57%) stated that it is okay not to add a photo, since “it is about candidate’s qualifications rather than his/her appearance,” the remaining 29% (respondents from Malaysia) recommended having a professional headshot.

The most common mistakes found on candidates’ CVs:

  • 71% of participants marked “Grammar Errors” and “Inappropriate Email Address”
  • The second choice was “Mistypes” (e.g., switching letters)
  • 43% of the participants voted for “Wrong Company Name”
  • In the last place, “Poor Structure” was noted as the ultimate cause of a résumé's shortcoming.

The latest trends in CV creation:

The majority of respondents (5 out of 7) had a positive opinion about using a special app or websites to create a high-quality vita, while two felt neutral. Recrtuiters do not mind using a non-Word format for creating résumés. In case of security concerns, LaTeX can serve as a good option to protect personal information from public consumption through websites and apps. Only one respondent felt enthusiastic to use icons in a résumé.

The last item was an open, “what-if” question about tips that HR professionals would give to a hypothetical candidate to consider in a CV. One respondent recommended YPs to “keep creativity, but maintain professionalism,” while another noted that “a CV is such a small part of a total workforce package you have to consider […].” Few also recommended to carefully review the résumé before submission, to avoid putting extra-long sentences in it, and just keeping it “simple, precise, and eye-catching.”

Recommendations for Young Professionals

Based on the survey answers, here are several tips on how to write a unique and attractive résumé:

  • HR professionals do not have the time to spend much more than few minutes to screen every received résumé. Therefore, a 1–2-page format is the appropriate choice (the limit can be increased up to 2–4 pages when including a covering letter). Some information can be presented using diagrams, bar, or pie charts. Don’t be scared to show your creativity and design skills.
  • Many HR specialists feel okay to review CVs without a candidate’s photo. But in some countries in Asia it can be impolite to submit a CV without it (as well as without applicant’s date of birth and other personal info). Therefore, if you decide to apply for job positions abroad, check carefully what to include in your CV based on the social norms of the country of interest.
  • Ask someone to proofread your résumé. Sometimes we are not able to see the mistypes or heavily used phrases, while others can easily spot them. Be careful with the prospective employer’s company name.
  • If HR personnel are open to discussing why they did not choose your résumé for the next round of recruiting, this would be a powerful tool for improvement. Feedback is important, so ask for it at every opportunity.

Radmila Mandzhieva is a recent master’s degree graduate of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology with 1 year of work experience. Her interests include pore-scale modeling and digital rock analysis, as well as enhanced oil recovery methods and reservoir simulation. An active SPE member, she was the director of the SPE Trondheim Section in 2015–2016. She likes traveling and volunteering work.

Renato Rios is a senior drilling engineer at Lloyds Register and specializes in deepwater drilling. He is a native Ecuadorean and has worked in different drilling, completions, and workover projects around the world, onshore and offshore. Rios has over 10 years of experience in well construction, project management, procurement, and high-performance team building in complex exploration and development projects. He holds a PMP Certification and is currently working toward an MSc in oil and gas engineering at Robert Gordon University.