A while ago I came across a statistic claiming that recruiters spend an average of only six seconds reviewing an individual resume when screening job applicants.

6 seconds!?  Wow.  Doesn’t give you much time to impress them, huh?  Could this really be true?

Based on my personal experience in speaking with recruiters and hiring managers, I suspected that while six seconds might not be entirely accurate, there was probably an element of truth in this.  Most recruiters and employers receive literally hundreds of applications for a single advertised role.  Who has the time to carefully read through all of those?  Nobody, probably.  Even spending five minutes per resume can quickly add up to hours of work if you’ve received lots of applications.  As a quick example, 5 minutes spent reviewing 75 different job applications adds up to over 6 hours of work.

That’s six hours of work before the most time consuming activities associated with a recruitment process have even started – scheduling and conducting several rounds of interviews, negotiating salaries, arranging paperwork, contacting referees, and so on

The upshot of this?  There’s a pretty good chance that your resume really is being ‘scanned’ (rather than carefully reviewed) during the early stages of a recruitment process.

But only for six seconds?  Really?  I wondered whether this statistic was really accurate.

Being the evaluative psychologist that I am, I decided to track down the source of this six-second notion and see whether there was any truth in it.  It didn’t take me long to find the original report here.

Here’s what I discovered.  Yep, the research is definitely flawed in several ways, suggesting that some of the quoted statistics are not entirely reliable and accurate.  A little more research revealed that others have arrived at a similar conclusion.  It was also pretty obvious that the report was produced in part to market resume writing services, meaning that it definitely needed to be interpreted with a ‘grain of salt’.

But here’s the thing…

Despite all of this, the report still provided some interesting insights into the behaviour of recruiters when reviewing resumes and LinkedIn profiles. The researchers used “eye tracking” technology over a 10-week period to record and analyse the amount of time spent looking at different sections within resumes and LinkedIn profiles. They also looked at the overall time spent reviewing each source of information.

The findings?  Recruiters provided superior “usability” ratings to resumes that were evenly formatted and organised effectively, claiming that these were “clearer” and easier to read. Recruiters also spent longer reviewing certain sections of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, with other sections being largely overlooked.  Another interesting finding – eye tracking technology found that recruiters spent 19% of the total time spent on a LinkedIn profile looking at the candidate’s picture.  That statistic made me feel justified in insisting that my career coaching participants always have at least a half-decent, professional looking LinkedIn photo (probably the subject of another blog post).

So what does all of this mean for job seekers?

Well, whether it is 6 seconds or 6 minutes, chances are you will have very little time to convince busy recruiters and employers that you are a superstar candidate who will rock their world.

Having a well-written, carefully formatted, and organised resume will help. And having the most important, keyword-rich and job-relevant information upfront and on the first page – ‘above the fold’ if possible – will also help.  Taken together, these two small steps will significantly boost your chances of ensuring that anyone who is ‘scanning’ your resume sees the important stuff right away.

The key message here? Maybe it isn’t entirely accurate that recruiters spend only six seconds reviewing your resume.

But do yourself a favour and simply pretend that it’s true.  And make that 6 seconds really count.

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