How to beat the six second resume scan

I am sure you have heard that you have six seconds to make an impact with your resume. Some say it is ten seconds, some twenty. The key point is it is a very short time. You have to grab and hold attention fast. Recruiters are busy, busy people and they do not carefully read every word of every resume. They do a quick first scan of all of the documents to pick out the ones that fit their needs. Bear in mind that if you do not pass this first scan, you are out. So how do you adapt your resume to stay in the game?

We asked eight senior recruiters how they scan resumes to create their ‘long-list’ of suitable applicants for further consideration. Their answers were remarkably consistent. Here's what they had to say:

1. Give me a clean easy read

Recruiters don’t have time to search for information. They need to easily find your name, titles, companies, start and end dates, education and contact details. This means the layout of your resume needs to be clear, neat and logical to allow them to pick out the relevant details at speed - and short! Anything over three pages will probably end up in the ’too hard’ basket.

2. Grab my attention on the front page

You need to get all of the key information on to the first page so that it can be found quickly and easily. That means a summary of why you fit plus the key points that make it clear you are suitable. For an experienced person, get your relevant current job title on the first page. For a graduate, your Qualifications and Education will be key.

3. Be a match for location

This one is a bit tough, but if you are from Perth and the job is in Sydney, you will probably not pass the six second scan. Unless you are an absolutely stunning match for a difficult to fill job you are unlikely to get past this. If you are aiming to relocate, stating that fact might increase your chances.

4. Come from a related job, industry and function.

Recruiters are looking for as close a fit as possible. Proof of success in the same industry trumps proof of success in a different industry however similar the function. If you’ve worked in the same industry and function make sure you make that fact very clear. If you worked in a different industry or function you will have to work harder to establish a fit. Recruiters will look for a match between your job title and the position in question.

5. Have a profile that’s a perfect match for the job

You need an eye-poppingly strong candidate profile right at the top of the first page. This is a 2 - 4 line summary that shows how well you fit the needs of the job. So make sure you modify your profile (keeping it true to your experience of course) for each job application you make.

6. Highlight your fit to the job

Use a bulleted summary list to back up your profile with more reasons why you fit the job. It is absolutely essential that this summary is unique to each application. Pick out only points that match you to the job. There is no point wasting precious seconds with irrelevant information in this space even if you are proud of it.

7. Does the content back it all up?

We’re probably at the end of 6 seconds now. But if you’ve made it this far the recruiter will probably read on. A strong profile needs to be backed up by a strong summary. In turn a strong summary needs to be backed up by a strong career history. Don't bore them with your job descriptions - they want to know what you can do. Pick achievements from each past job that match the skills required in the target job. In 5 - 6 bullets, summarise the achievements and quantify them. Remove everything that is not relevant to the target job.

That’s it in a nutshell. It probably took you longer than 6 seconds to read this in which case you know what you’re up against. 

So to be in with a chance of success - apply to relevant jobs, create an easy to read resume and write your profile, summary and career achievements as a response to the target job. The more you do this the more likely you are to make it into the short list.

We have more related resume tips in this post. As always, we welcome your thought and comments.

For more information or help

See our Resume Writing Services page, call us on 1300 97 87 66 or email us for more information. We will be pleased to help.

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