Ready, Set, Make an Impression in Six Seconds

By Joe Grimm

A study by the careers site The Ladders uses eye-track technology, the same kind used to check newspaper readability, to tell us what recruiters do with resumes.

The headline is that, on average, recruiters decide within 6 seconds whether a resume passes or fails. Six seconds.

This tells us that our resumes must be extremely clear and that we cannot afford distractions like photos or logos that bite into our six seconds. Any distraction or confusion could be costly. Organization, then, is key to writing an effective resume.

If your resume survives the 6-second acid test, the recruiter may spend four or five minutes with it. But you won’t get there, even if you’re a good candidate, if your message is shrouded.

What are recruiters looking for in those six seconds? The Ladders study tells us recruiters are looking for six things:

Name
Current title and company
Previous title and company
Start and end dates of current job
Start and end dates of previous job
Education

If the resume passes that cursory check, the recruiter starts scanning for key words based on the opening. It would be wise to tailor the resume to display skills mentioned in the posting.

Display them where? A heat map of the word-track behavior shows that recruiters start at the upper left, scan about halfway down the page and then, if there is something enticing at the upper right, as is the case with a two-column resume, they will glance up there. The bottom comes last.

A photo, logo or icon could disrupt this pattern and waste time. Bold or italic type highlights the nuggets.

The standard form of bold-facing job titles, employers and dates makes sense. Objective lines and address at the top of the page do not.

The report is written to tout The Ladders’ resume rewriting service and to put down a primary online competitor, LinkedIn, but if you can ignore the sales job, there is some valuable information in the study.


Joe Grimm, a consultant and adjunct faculty member of the Freedom Forum Diversity Institute, recruited for the Detroit Free Press, Knight Ridder and Gannett from 1990 until 2008. He now teaches at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He has run the JobsPage journalism careers site at www.jobspage.com since 1996. Questions about careers? E-mail Joe for an answer.

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