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Getting Past the 7-second Filter: How Employers Actually Read Your Resume

Updated: Oct 25



Six to seven seconds. According to a survey conducted by The Ladders a few years ago, that’s how much time your resume gets with recruiters or hiring managers.

Now take your resume and count to seven.

One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi, Four Mississippi, Five Mississippi, Six Mississippi, Seven Mississippi – DONE!

How far did you get?

You must be thinking that this is an incredibly short amount of time to read your resume from head to toe to understand your experience, skill-set and the value you can bring. True.

And that’s the thing - employers don’t read your resume. They scan it.

They open the document, spot the layout, find their way through looking only for relevant keywords in your employment history and make a decision. That’s it – that’s what gets absorbed in those few seconds they spend with your resume.

What’s more, that’s what your career depends on.

Knowing that, to make the most of this short time your resume will have to make the best impression, you should pay attention to the following things that are the most common deal-breakers in those six to seven seconds.

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1. LENGTH

A resume that is too long will end up in a ‘no’ file in the first second after employers open it.

They will open the document, notice 4+ pages and you’re out.

This instant filtering might be unfair, but the length of your resume is telling more than you’d expect.

The logic behind is this: if you can’t summarize relevant experience to one or two pages, employers will jump to the conclusion that you don’t understand what is actually important for the job and that you can’t see the forest for the trees. In 99% of cases, these are not characteristics they look for in their future employees.

As the most ‘black-or-white’ filter, this is the easiest criteria for them when making a hiring decision.

Luckily, we believe it’s the easiest one to fix. Just play around with the font size, size of margins and be critical of your content when deciding what's worth keeping - and you'll be able to fit everything in this limited amount of space.

2. FONT

If you have done the ‘seven Mississippi test’ at the beginning, you’ve noticed that in the given time you can’t actually read the whole content. Instead, you can only grasp some visual information.

The font style is the key visual information employers see the first second they open your resume.

Hard-to-read, cartoonish, odd or simply unprofessional will surely make you stand out from the crowd, but not in the way you’d like. They will immediately rule you out.

Keep the font style simple and professional. Also, keep it consistent throughout the document.

Select all in your document (CTRL + A for MS Office users and Command + A for Mac users) and change your font to Arial, Calibri, or Cambria. They will do the job.

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3. STRUCTURE

To make the most of the time employers spend scanning your resume, it must be easy for them to find their way through and spot relevant information about your experience and education.

A labyrinth-like resume with an unusual or illogical structure will put them off.

Stick to the most common structure employers are used to: chronological resume. Start with contact details and a tailored professional summary.

Then jump to the most important part of your resume – career history. List your jobs in reverse chronology, starting with the current/most recent one and going back to the past.

After this section, give information about your educational background.* End with additional skills, awards and recognitions, or extracurricular activities.

*Education should be at the top, before the work history, only if you are looking for entry-level jobs straight out of high school or college.

4. TEXT FORMATTING

Employers most likely won’t spend their time going through big chunks of text to find one piece of information they need.

So, instead of having blocks of text, use bullet points to improve readability (or more appropriately - ‘scanability’).

5. GENERIC CONTENT

Even those with an untrained eye can tell you that a resume that starts with the career objective ‘Looking for a challenging role to progress both professionally and personally’ has been sent to 10+ other employers.

If you are remotely interested in the job, that’s not the right way to start your introduction.

It doesn’t say anything about your skills, value you can bring to the employers or your motivation. Instead, tailor this short section to each job you apply for.

If you were looking for one thing that can have an instant and significant impact on your success in your job search, this is it.

PS The only thing employers consider worse or more annoying than generic content is a resume addressed to the wrong company. Always triple check the final version of your resume to avoid rookie mistakes like this.

OTHER QUICK FIXES:

  • Contact details: Make sure your email address sounds professional. Having an informal email address in the contact details is hurting your job search.

  • Dates of employment: Make sure you are using the consistent date form. If you have written the time-frame of your current/most recent job as ‘mm/yyyy – mm/yyyy’, keep this format throughout the document. It’s a small thing that tells a lot about your attention to detail.

  • Hobbies and interest: This is not a mandatory part of a resume. At the same time, it is the one that has ruined many careers right from the start. So, if all you have to include is ‘enjoy long walks, reading and socializing’ or 'winning a prize in a beer-drinking championship', take this section out completely.

  • Mistakes and typos: This is an obvious one, so we’ll just say – proofread multiple times before hitting ‘send’.

All those changes can be done in less than 30 minutes while skyrocketing your success in your job search.

Do you have any questions about your resume? Not sure how to format it to make it fit to two pages? We’d love to help you out! Send us a message. Or if you prefer having a chat, book a FREE conversation with our career coach and get all your questions answered in 30 minutes.


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