Job Search

What Really Happens When Recruiters Read Your Resume (and how to make sure you pass the test)

read resume 6 seconds

There’s a famous statistic that gives hiring managers and human resources professionals a bad rap; your resume will be judged in 6 seconds.

This number fluctuates depending on who you hear it from. Some will say 10 seconds, others less than 6. Hiring managers and hr professionals will likely tell you at least 1-2 minutes. And it’s no surprise why your resume will not get the attention it deserves – every job opening can generate hundreds of applications.

Part of the reason that the amount of time spent is so low is an unfortunate one; out of the hundreds of resumes received, only a very small percentage of those applicants are truly a proper fit for the role, leaving the reader with an itchy trigger finger to fire resumes into the discard pile and move on to the next one as fast as possible. This makes getting an interview even more difficult for those seeking a career transition and need just a little more time to demonstrate they are more than capable of handling the job.

Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the odds are not in your favor unless you can communicate your value in a matter of seconds.

So in order to beat the 6 second clock, what magic pixie dust do you need to sprinkle on your resume to make it stand out? (please do not send your resume in a bag full of glitter to their HQ)

Here are the elements of the resume that a reader’s eye will jump to, usually in the following sequence:

  1. Your Name – This is only natural since we are conditioned to read from top to bottom. And almost every resume begins with a centered, bolded name. Does this have relevance to your eligibility to get called for an interview? No – unless they will recognize your name because you: 1. Already work at the company and are seeking a move within, or; 2. They are already in your network, or; 3. You have been recommended for the role or have networked your way in. So while it may not have the greatest bearing on your resume, make sure it is easily located. *Side note about bullet points 1, 2, and 3 – if you have an ‘in’ with the hiring manager, your only action shouldn’t be to apply and wait – follow up A.S.A.P!
  2. Your Most Recent Employer and Job Title – Here is where the reader is looking for relevancy and fit. If your current or most recent job title doesn’t logically progress or relate to the role you applied for, your chances just got shot. For example, if you are punching above your weight and applying for a role that is 2, 3, 4 steps above you, the reader will stop and move on to the next one. It makes sense for a Sr. Manager to apply for a Director role or even another Sr. Manager role. Next, they are also looking at your job function. Are you in marketing and applying for a marketing role? Or are you in a completely different area? This is a challenge for career changers, so for tips on this section, read this article. They are also looking at your current or most recent employer. This will clue them in on the scope of the work you have done – as well as the industry.

    –At this point, approximately 1 to 2 seconds have elapsed–

  3. Current Role, and First Bullet Points – Assuming they are still reading, here is where the bulk of time will be spent. The reader will likely review only the first couple of bullet points and scan for achievements. This is why we always advocate bullet points with metrics as opposed to blocks of text.

    To illustrate this point, here’s a challenge. Start this video and see which example grabs more attention within 4 seconds.

    –3 to 4 more seconds have elapsed–

  4. Sweeping Glance Down – That’s right. The reader is about to make one giant eye movement downwards to glance at all other job titles and companies and even the years at each role to look for gaps in employment. If you have some metrics and interesting roles or employers, the reader has a reason to slow down and take a deeper look. Otherwise, they keep moving along.

    –1 to 2 more seconds have elapsed–

  5. Education – Assuming your resume is in reverse chronological order with education at the bottom (as opposed to the top, which is more common for those who are recent grads), this will be last in the order. Make your university bold so it is quickly found and keep your degree next to it, not aligned on the opposite side of the page.


Seems unfair, right? It is.

So what are the key takeaways to consider when writing and submitting your resume?

  • Make. Everything. Extremely. Easy. To. Read
  • Use bullet points, not paragraphs when describing your accomplishments
  • Metrics are easier to read than text. And when you give the reader a nice, fat, quantified achievement – they will slow down. It’s these moments on a resume that will catch the reader’s attention and make them curious to read more.
  • Career Changer? Be prepared for a hefty amount of networking. If a company has very specific needs, they will look for a conventional resume for the field. To prove you can handle the job, you’ll need an ‘in’ to make sure your resume gets the proper review.

About the Author

Ivy Exec is the premier resource for professionals seeking career advancement. Whether you are on the job, or looking for your next one - Ivy Exec has the tools you need.