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Research suggests that a typical recruiter will scan a résumé looking for key words. (Josh Rinehults/Josh Rinehults)
Research suggests that a typical recruiter will scan a résumé looking for key words. (Josh Rinehults/Josh Rinehults)

job search

Your résumé has just seconds to make its mark Add to ...

Last week, the job search site TheLadders.com, released research showing that recruiters only spend an average of 6.25 seconds looking at a candidate’s résumé before deciding whether he or she is a fit for a job.

The study also shows that recruiters spend 80 per cent of that six seconds looking at just six things:

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- Name - Current title/company - Previous title/company - Previous position, start and end dates - Current position, start and end dates - Education TheLadders used eye-tracking software to study the behaviour of 30 recruiters over a 10-week period, to see how they read résumés.

The study subjects spent the remaining 20 per cent of their résumé-scanning time looking for keywords that matched the open position. But while they read keywords, according to the study, recruiters based their decisions on those six pieces of data.

As with many studies by outfits in the career business, TheLadders’ findings conclude that job seekers should buy one of its wares – professional résumé rewriting. The study also claims that when asked to rank résumés, recruiters gave professionally rewritten ones a 60 per cent higher score than amateur résumés. The recruiters surveyed said the professionally written samples were 40 per cent better organized and readable than those written by applicants themselves.

The study also compared Ladders résumés with LinkedIn profiles, and found that Ladders résumés were 55 per cent easier for recruiters to read, because they don’t have distracting commercials and photographs. According to TheLadders’ data, if a résumé has a picture, recruiters spend 19 per cent of their six seconds fixated on the photo, rather than looking at candidates’ qualifications or experience. TheLadders also pronounced LinkedIn bios full of “clutter that reduced recruiters’ ability to process the profile.”

My take on the new research: It’s a useful reminder about how important it is for résumés to be clearly laid out and crisply written. But I think it’s usually a mistake to hand your résumé over to someone else to write, especially if a steep fee is involved. While working on another résumé-writing story, I interviewed New York career coach Jim Borland, who advised never to let someone else write your résumé, because once you get to the interview stage, it will be clear that the résumé language is not yours. As for layout, there are plenty of great samples online, and it’s easy enough to copy a clean design from one of those. I do think career coaches can be helpful, but as coaches and editors, not résumé writers.

I also disagree about LinkedIn. From my reporting, it’s clear that recruiters are using the site more, not less, and that means they are finding a way to scan the information quickly and efficiently. I’d say comparing a LinkedIn profile with a résumé is a red herring. Recruiters and hiring managers will look at both. It would be a mistake to focus on your résumé and ignore your LinkedIn profile.

When it comes to keywords, I’ve written before about searching for job listings online, and then working keywords into your previous job descriptions or mission statement. I do think it’s helpful to have a short but specific summary at the top of a résumé, which emphasizes accomplishments, with numbers if possible (“In the second half of 2011, I exceeded monthly sales targets by an average of 40 per cent.”) .

The most challenging part of writing a good résumé and LinkedIn profile is making them tell an interesting story about yourself that the reader wants to take in. If you are looking for a job, a recruiter is not your only audience. Most people find jobs not through recruiters but through people they know. When that happens, the résumé reader is already predisposed to want to absorb the information, and will likely spend more than 6.25 seconds reading.

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