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The initial resume sniff test, why your resume is being declined

Resume sniff test

Is your resume failing the resume sniff test?

Top 5 reasons your resume doesn’t pass the first sniff test

Have you turned in your resume and not heard back from the hiring company? Yes, unemployment numbers are high, but we know that recruiters and hiring managers have a resume sniff test. Resumes will immediately be passed over for a few specific reasons. When we say immediately, we mean within seconds. We also have a solution for you that will keep the recruiters and hiring manager engaged on your resume and generate the callback.   

Before we go into these reasons and solutions, let’s provide a little background. Recruiters are your gatekeepers. Yes, some companies use software to screen your resume, but a properly written resume will solve for that. The first emotional screening of your resume will be the result of a recruiter or hiring manager. This is where most applicants are denied.

Walk in the recruiter shoes

Try to put yourself into the shoes of a recruiter. Most candidates don’t realize that recruiters are really busy. Recruiters are working to fill more positions than the one you applied for. In many cases, they could be working to fill 10, 15 or 20 positions. In a conservative example, if the job posting receives 10 applicants a day, a recruiter with 10 open headcounts would receive 100 resumes a day. If they have 15 positions, this number jumps to 150 resumes a day. 

Recruiters need to schedule interviews, host candidates, meet with managers, hold interviews, and create various reports. After this, recruiters and hiring managers don’t have much time left to review resumes. There is very little time left to review resumes after these other time-sensitive tasks are completed.

What little time that is left in a day to review resumes is used as efficiently as possible. The methodology that most recruiters fall into is not intentional. 

Two constraints on recruiters that lead to a quick review

  1. Time constraints (explained above)
  2. Quality of the resumes to be reviewed (explained below)

The presentation quality of the resumes is the majority of what drives a recruiter to decline a resume within seconds.

Put yourself in the mindset of a recruiter. Imagine you want to set your best friend up on a date. You know your best friend is looking for a specific set of qualities in a future mate. If your best friend is active, loves sports, and loves to cook, you are not going to set them up with someone who likes spend time indoors, doesn’t care about sports and isn’t into food. Your friend has a specific set of needs and as their recruiter, you need to fill these needs. If you find a candidate that meets all three but dresses like a slob, has bad breath, or is always an hour late, you are probably going to pass. They didn’t pass the “sniff test”.  Even though your resume may read as being perfectly qualified, it may not be passing the resume sniff test.

Be the recruiter

You know what your friend is looking for. Recruiters know what they are looking for. They are looking for a candidate who gives them confidence that will be successful years after the interview.  Recruiters are not looking for “close” or “maybe”. They do not want a pissed off or heart-broken manager on their hands 3 months after the start date.    

Your resume is only going to receive a few seconds of overview. When your resume passes the sniff test, the reader will spend a few minutes digging deeper into the details. But we need to pass the initial resume screen first.

So how does the resume pass the screen test?

1. Typos

If there is a single typo on a resume, we can assume we will be declined. The assumption is that if there is a typo on a document as important as a resume, there will be typos in the work if hired.

2. Not clear that the candidate is qualified

Many resumes list contact information at the top and then job history and/or education directly below. With this format, it is hard to tell exactly who the candidate is. The reader needs to decipher the accomplishments on the resume which may or may not be related to the job description.

Recruiters have 150 resumes a day to review and just don’t have time to go through a resume with a fine-tooth comb trying to figure out if a candidate is qualified. Having a few short sentences that explain exactly who you are at the top of your document will make it easy for the reader to determine you are qualified.

3. Formatting

There is nothing worse than reviewing a resume that isn’t balanced. Subconsciously it will make the reader feel “off”. Resumes that are centered top to bottom, with even margins on the left and right are just easier on the eyes.

4. Crowed or cluttered, the resume is hard to digest

Resumes that list every accomplishment on their resume end up squeezing more information onto a page than the page was designed for. The information that matters will answers bullets in the job description in an obvious fashion. Increasing the font size and the use of spacing will make accomplishments easier to recognize.

5. Accomplishments are in paragraph form vs. bullets

If we have 7 accomplishments we want to list under a particular job, they will be easier to read in bullet form. Seven accomplishments squeezed into a paragraph will just blend into each other.


You can be the most qualified candidate and not receive an interview based on the above parameters.


To this end, I and a good friend/co-founder have created a tool that will solve all of the above. With unemployment so high in a post COVID world, we are making the suite of tools at completely free to anyone that is interested. Our automated tools will guide you through the resume and cover letter writing process. provides a free resume builder tool that will:

  1. Check your spelling
  2. Prompt you for a description of exactly who you are so your skills are easily identifiable.
  3. Perfectly format your data. With our various templates, your data won’t look lopsided.
  4. Give you the ability to the amount of content on a page by Increase the spacing and font size in each section. This includes adjustments to your header, footer, and margins.
  5. Formats your document to give you the ability to show your accomplishments in bullet form.

Free access to all resume and cover letter writing tools

Here is the link for access to the CareerTracker tools. These tools are completely 100% free to use in our post COVID environment. With so many folks unemployed, wants to give back. No credit card needed and all of the premium resume building tools are available.

Build a resume that will not only pass the sniff test, but will land you the interview.

Good luck,



nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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