Corporate recruiters spend four to five minutes carefully scrutinizing every resume that hits their desk — at least, that’s what they say. But when jobs site TheLadders set up eye-tracking software to record recruiters’ behavior, they found that headhunters spend a stunning six seconds on their initial evaluation of a resume. Here are mistakes to avoid in order to make those seconds count.
Your whole life story. “All they’re looking at in the beginning is a couple of primary things,” says John Challenger, CEO of executive search firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. A hiring manager wants to know what your last couple of jobs were, when you worked there and if the skills you acquired fit with the position they’re trying to fill, so that’s what you need your resume to communicate — not your life story. Challenger also suggests having a second, more detailed resumé you can hand a hiring manager that gets more into the nitty-gritty once you land the interview.
A data dump. Dense blocks of text are the kiss of death. “The layout of the content is just as important as the actual content,” says TheLadders’ job search expert Amanda Augustine. “White space does rule.” In the eye-tracking experiment, TheLadders found that recruiters look more intently at uncluttered, well-organized resumes and online profiles. Use a bold font to delineate different parts of your resume, and use bullet points sparingly. “It’s not a laundry list — it’s a a piece of marketing material,” she says.
Pictures. If your resume or profile on a site like LinkedIn has your photo, a recruiter isn’t going to spend any longer looking at it. Instead, they’ll just spend valuable seconds — 19% of those six seconds, TheLadders found — looking at the picture instead of reading what they need to find out about you. “And no crazy fonts, colors, anything that’s going to distract them from the content,” Augustine says.
Disorganized information. TheLadders found that when recruiters look at a badly organized resume, their gaze hops all over the place rather than focusing on the important parts. “Recruiters are expecting a clear visual hierarchy,” Augustine says. She advises putting your work experience towards the top, above your education, in reverse chronological order, with your most recent or current position first. It’s up to you if you want to include the months or just the years of your employment, she says. Emphasize the past five or 10 years; beyond that, you’re getting into ancient history. Save that kind of detail for the interview.
Bland language. Recruiters want to know if you’re going to be a good fit for the job. The shorthand they use for this is by looking for keywords in your resume that match their job description. “An individual resume’s detail and explanatory copy became filler and had little to no impact on the initial decision making,” TheLadders report says. So make sure those keywords are in there — use the original job posting for reference to see what terminology they use, Challenger suggests.