How to Make Your Resume Last Longer Than 6 Seconds

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This should cheer you up: You spend days, weeks, maybe even months working on your resume, fiddling with fonts and wording and getting it into perfect shape for your dream job. Then a recruiter looks at it for mere seconds and tosses it. (We’re not joking about mere seconds.)

According to a study released this week by TheLadders, an online job-matching service, recruiters spend an average of six seconds reviewing an individual resume. The standard thought was that recruiters spent at least several minutes on each CV. Nope.

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TheLadders used a scientific technique called “eye tracking” that analyzed how long 30 professional recruiters reviewed candidate profiles and resumes, and what those recruiters focused on.

“They’re looking for job hoppers, minimum education requirements and a candidate’s steady career progression,” says Will Evans, TheLadders’ head of user experience and the man behind the study. “It’s a snap decision.”

So if you’re a job-seeker, it’s incredibly important to make those few seconds count. Below are six tips from Evans for each precious second a recruiter spends with your resume.

1. Don’t be Creative

This is not the time to get fancy. You want potential employers to get the most information from your resume as quickly as possible. Your resume should follow a standard hierarchy that all recruiters are used to looking at. “Recruiters develop this mental model that allows them to extract the most important bits,” says Evans. So make sure these six items are easily digestible: your name, your current title and company, your previous title and company, your previous position start and end dates, your current position start and end dates, and education.

2. Put Your Expertise and Skills at the Top

These are the things that you’ll ultimately be bringing to any new employer, so make sure they’re near the top where a recruiter can easily see them. Use action verbs when describing your accomplishments and back it up with quantitative data when you can. For example, say that you increased sales by 30%, or that decisions you made led to a 150% decrease in operational costs. This is the area where you should feel free to go in depth.

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3. Don’t Make it Too Long

Some say you don’t want to go past one page, but there’s no real harm in going to two pages – especially if you’re older and have much more experience than a kid just coming out of college. Include as much as you can without making your resume appear cluttered.

4. Ditch the Photos

“If you only have six seconds, you don’t want them distracted,” Evans says. So get rid of any photos you may have attached to your resume, and don’t try any video gimmicks. It’ll come off as, well, a gimmick. “You don’t want people focused on your face and not your skills,” he says.

5. Don’t Focus on Your Personal Achievements

It’s great that you’ve played the tuba since high school and that you ran a 10K last fall. But don’t spend too much time playing up your more personal info. That sort of light-hearted information is likely to come up in face-to-face interviews anyways.

6. Have it Professionally Made

You might be able to skip the first five steps if you follow this one. “I believe there are three things you don’t want to do on your own,” says Evans. “Don’t do your own taxes, don’t write your own will, and don’t do your own resume.” You may want to write the first draft, but consider taking it to a professional for the final touches. While (not surprisingly) TheLadders has resume writing services, there are many others, including Resumes Planet and Your Resume Partners. These services start as low as around $50 and can go as high as a couple hundred. But for around $100 you can generally get a quality edit and even an entire resume written up for you.