How to Make Sure Your Resume Does Not Get Thrown in the Trash

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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For almost two years, I was the gatekeeper of two organizations. This meant that I was the one who reviewed applicants resumes, determined who was worthy of being interviewed, and then screened the applicants with the most potential through a phone interview.

In this role, I reviewed hundreds if not thousands of resumes and performed hundreds of phone interviews. And, in the process, figuratively throwing most resumes into the trash.

In this article, I want to help you please and get past the organizational gatekeepers, so that you can land more job interviews and give yourself more job opportunities to select from. Specifically, I am going to cover two main topics: first, who is your audience when you write your resume?; and second, how do you please that audience?

Who is Your Audience?

The first step in effective communication, of any sort, is to understand your audience.

So, when you are writing a resume, who is your audience?

Hopefully, your resume will have multiple audiences that will include an HR manager, a hiring manager, and possibly a hiring committee or potential colleagues. But, I use the term “hopefully” because that is usually only if you make it past an organizational gatekeeper. And, that can be a big “if.”

An organizational gatekeeper is usually an HR employee that has been tasked with reviewing resumes and determining whom among the usually 100+ resumes gets to move forward in the hiring process, which usually involves a screening interview with the gatekeeper.

Since your only shot at landing a job with an organization is by first pleasing the organizational gatekeeper, I believe that you should see them as your primary audience when writing your resume.

Acknowledging this, there are a few things you need to understand about these organizational gatekeepers that affect your resume writing:

  • They are generally entry-level employees that may not know anything about the position that you are applying for

  • Because they look through dozens of resumes at a time, they are only able to spend about 30-60 seconds on each resume

  • With the repetition that comes with looking over resumes, and because many candidates seem to be of similar quality, they become willing to throw out a resume if you violate common resume-writing “codes” or “standards” (often seeing you as lacking attention to detail)

This suggests that your primary job when writing a resume is to make a good impression on organizational gatekeepers. Let me give you three tips on how you can do that.

How Do You Please Organizational Gatekeepers?

1. Make your resume easy to scan

There are a few things you can do to ensure this is the case.

First, unless you have over 15 years of experience, keep your resume to one page. Since the resume reader only spends 30-60 seconds on a resume, they do not want to have to flip to or scroll to a second page. That offends them.

Second, make sure your resume presents its sections in the order the resume reader is used to seeing them. This means your resume should generally be structured as follows: education, experience, and a section devoted to skills, awards, volunteerism, etc. (Although exceptions can be made on rare occasions). Also, it means that your education and experiences should be presented in order from most recent to least recent.

Third, make sure your resume has a proper balance of white to black space on the page. If you hold your resume back such that you can’t read the words, do you see big boxes of black text? If so, your resume is going to be difficult to scan and will turn the resume reader off.

2. Avoid jargon and abbreviations

You should assume that the organizational gatekeeper does not know anything about the position that you are applying for. Thus, you should avoid using any position-related jargon and abbreviations. In other words, if your mom or partner can’t understand or recognize it, don’t put it in your resume. A common exception could include certain certifications that may be necessary qualifications for the position.

3. Don’t make common resume mistakes

Most resume mistakes deal with formatting. Here are where most resume writers goof up:

  • Section headings are not clear or aligned

  • Dates associated with education and experience are misaligned

  • Periods are put at the end of bullet points (your bullet points are statements, not sentences, thus they do not require periods)

  • Fonts are of the wrong size or type (be conservative and keep them between 10-12 points for regular text and 12-14 for heading text)


Of course, there is more to resume writing than this, but what has been presented is the basics. First, you have first got to know your audience: organizational gatekeepers. Then, you have got to know how to please them in order for you to proceed in the hiring process.

Knowing this information and executing on it, will help ensure that your resume is “really good.” But unfortunately, having a “really good” resume may not make you “stand out,” as my experience has taught me that:

  • 40% of resumes are sub-par

  • 50% of resumes are really good

  • Only 10% of resumes (or less) STAND OUT

So, what is presented here will prevent your resume from immediately being thrown out. But, it also won’t ensure you get the interview.

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