Jobfully Blog

What Does Your Resume Convey in 6 Seconds?

Today our guest blogger is Matt Youngquist. Matt is the President of Career Horizons, serving Northwest individuals and organizations dealing with the unique challenges of job hunting and employment transition.  Matt is a recognized expert in the field of career coaching, job hunting, and professional employment counseling.  You can follow him on Twitter @mattyoungquist.

Resume angst.  It’s a very real thing and the majority of job hunters I meet seem to suffer from it.  There just aren’t many people you’ll meet who will stand behind their resume 100% and say “I think my resume is terrific, sums up my qualifications beautifully, and is a piece I’m highly confident in sending out to potential employers.”

This reality was confirmed further by the fact that no fewer than 10 clients of mine sent me an article last week, while I was out of town, discussing the latest study on resume effectiveness.  This article really seemed to hit a nerve with many people, as it claimed that psychologists have now pegged the “yes, interview” or “no, don’t interview” decision for any given candidate to be based on a mere six seconds of resume scanning.  They then discuss which elements of one’s resume are most important, based on colorful heat maps that show the tracked eye moments of 30 recruiting professionals who were asked to review two sample resumes.

Here’s an article outlining the full study, in case you missed it:

Business Insider Article: How Recruiters See Your Resume

On one hand, I’m glad that various organizations are starting to apply some scientific rigor to the job-seeking process, since it’s a field that hasn’t received all that much attention by researchers to date — and is one that millions of Americans have a lot riding on. On the other hand, as some of the folks who commented on the article pointed out here, you could literally drive a truck through the scientific validity of the study.  Unless they’re holding out on the full details of the experiment, some of the conclusions reached seemed completely speculative as to why recruiters appeared to prefer the resume on the right versus the one on the left.  While the empirical results may be accurate, there didn’t seem to be much basis for concluding “causation” of any kind, at least based on the information presented.

But let’s not judge too harshly.  Just because this study wasn’t held to impeccable double-blind standards doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain some important and useful nuggets of truth.  So what are the real takeaways from an article like this?  What useful tips might an earnest job hunter derive from this study on how resumes are reviewed?

As always, I’d welcome your opinions on the subject, but the biggest “aha” I took away from things was related to the following conclusion shared in the article:

“In the short time that they spend with your resume, the study showed recruiters will look at your name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education.”

Now this statement may be of little interest to non-resume-writing-wonks out there, but to me, it validates something I’ve been pointing out to people for years.  Which is that your resume’s ability to land you interviews is going to be based primarily on where you’ve worked, what titles you’ve held, and for how long — versus the “copywriting” or “formatting” elements of the piece that so many people get unduly focused on.In other words, while it certainly helps to make your resume look pretty and to work in some important keywords throughout the piece, these approaches aren’t usually going to overcome a lack of directly comparable work history to the target job in question.  Especially not in this economy.  If interested, you’ll find an article of mine from two years ago here, touching on this issue, as well as a career poll I ran here that shows most people really are much more interested in the “facts” on a resume, versus the fluff.

In closing, I’m certainly not suggesting that resumes AREN’T a critical piece of the job hunting process.  They are.  And you definitely want to work hard on yours and even solicit professional help, at times, if you’re struggling with how best to capture your credentials on paper.  But at the same time, in the spirit of keeping things real, it’s misleading to think that you’re going to see a big uptick in your interview rate simply by sending out resumes, whether of the professionally-produced variety or otherwise, unless your employment history is already correlated to a strong degree with the given job opportunity you’re pursuing.

In many cases, and as we’ve discussed frequently in this blog, if you don’t have the perfect pedigree for a given career path on paper you’ll need to shift gears, go underground, and concentrate more on opening doors via relationships and other methods.  Resumes are too constrained by nature to provide high hopes of success in transferring skills from one type of role to another.  As this study seems to suggest, fairly or unfairly, there’s just not a lot of “thinking outside the box” that’s likely to occur in a six-second scan!

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