Let's not pretend that hiring managers are looking at job sites searching for the right candidate for their open position. I've yet to meet one that does in the past 15 years. What's more likely is that there's some recruiter, either internal to the company or external and marketing to the company, as a middle man. With that understanding, I'm not concerned with how recruiters screen candidates. I'm concerned with what a hiring manager does once a handful of resumes have made it past the gatekeepers.
There are lots of articles out there about how to structure your resume to make it past the keyword scanners and recruiters. The reality is that every recruiter I've worked with is only marginally better than the scanner software, i.e. they don't really know what I'm looking for either. They rely on the same keywords as the software. So, let's assume that you have already passed the first hurdle, and your resume is being forwarded on to the hiring manager.
Manager Resume Screening
Keep in mind that the hiring manager for the job you want probably doesn't have any training in how to hire employees (and neither do I). He's probably just relying on experience and instinct. That said, I've seen hiring managers screen resumes in different ways, but I'll focus on the method I know best--my way. Before I get there though, here are the styles I've observed:
Make someone else do it: These are the managers with an assistant or staff that they trust more than the recruiter. They will task that person with determining who actually gets an interview and then take over from there.
I need to know every detail: These managers are so worried about hiring the wrong person that they study resumes inside and out searching for the clues that reveal the perfect candidate. It's hard to get an interview with this manager at all.
Do they have the skills and will they fit: This style is somewhere between the other two. This manager will skim the resumes to see if the recruiter caught the right skills for the job. Next, she just looks for obvious errors and formatting. If the resume is sloppy or hard to read, then it goes in the recycle bin.
I tend toward that last style. If you want me to pick your resume out of the pile, you'll need the following:
Skills: There's just no getting around having the skills required for the job. I'm looking for the keywords that indicate you have the right skills. By the way, that doesn't mean you can stuff your resume with keywords and get it past me. What it means is that if I'm looking for someone with SQL query writing skills, putting SQL in your skills section is not enough. I actually skip the skills section if there is one on a resume. I want to see something like data analysis, or wrote queries for ad-hoc reports. The first example is an empty claim, but the next ones indicate that you used the skill.
Format: Believe it or not, the format matters. That doesn't mean that I expect everyone to use the same format, but it does mean that I expect you can find out more the resume to bean neat and have some white space so it's more readable. Search for resume format do's and don'ts and you'll see what I mean. I would rather skim a resume that's three pages long and formatted well than the same content on two pages with narrow margins and wall-to-wall text. Those dense, poorly formatted resumes go to the bottom of the pile and sometimes don't even get read because the format makes it hard.
Grammar/Spelling: Some managers are grammar Nazi's, but I don't think most are. I don't think I would want to work for one anyway, unless the job is a copy editor. That said, I would expect the grammar to be well formed--at least as well as this article, which definitely has grammar errors in it. Spelling should be obvious, but misspelled words will put your resume in the recycle bin immediately. Most jobs I have experience with require attention to detail that means obvious grammar and spelling errors are unacceptable. If there are obvious errors, the resume hits the recycle bin, even if you were the best candidate out there.
Nailing the interview is probably the hardest thing to do. That's because managers are so varied and look for so many different things it's hard to prepare for all of them. Regardless, there are some keys to making the best impression:
Dress/Grooming: Let's face it, there's a lot of research indicating that attractive, well groomed people are more likely to get hired and get paid more. So you're not Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, neither am I. However, just wearing interview appropriate attire, brushing your teeth, and taking a shower will go a long way. When choosing between two qualified candidates, I have never chosen the one who showed up to the interview looking disheveled or smelling bad. If you can't take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of the tasks required for the job?
Research: If you go to an interview cold without knowing about the company, then you're not getting the job. You must do more than read the job description. Be prepared to ask questions about the company and the day-to-day responsibilities of the position. No matter what your job situation, this preparation pays off. The hiring manager should be selling you the job as much as you're selling your ability to do the job. Asking questions might lead to the conclusion that you don't even want the job, but will definitely show the hiring manager that you care and can do your own research.
Preparation: Know your resume backwards and forwards. If you get a hiring manager that is in the "I need to know every detail" school of practice, they she'll want to trip you up, so you better be able to defend your claim that you wrote proposals reviewed by the CEO. It's also good practice because you can tie behavioral interview questions back to your resume easily.
Attitude: This one is tricky and requires reading the interviewer. You need to present yourself as confident, but not arrogant. Just where that line is depends on the interviewer. Learn about body language, and read what's going on.
Know that if you have made it to the interview, then the hiring manager probably already believes that you have the requisite skills for the job, and what you're really doing is selling you fit with the company and the team you would be working with. People tend to think that their skills are enough, but the hiring managers I know don't see it that way. They value fit over skills. What do I mean by that? Well, if the team has a collaborative culture that jokes around as much as they work, but you don't present a sense of humor in the interview, then you'll be passed over for another candidate with a personality that more closely fits with the team. On the flip side, if you're joking in the interview, but the team is very formal, you won't be placed there either. While it sounds like you can't win, this is actually a good thing. Remember how the hiring manager is selling you the company and position as much as you're selling your skills? Well, fit goes both ways too. If you're a formal person that likes 9 to 5 work that stays at work, then would you want to work for someone or with a team that expects happy hours several times a week and comes to work in costume on Halloween?
While I don't have all the answers for what every hiring manager is looking for, I do believe that each applicant can use these tips to land the interview, and have a positive interview experience. If the experience is positive, then you're that much more likely to move to the top of the hiring manager's list.