How recruiters look at your resume

In a study by TheLadders (of n equals 30), recruiters looked at resumes and make some judgments. During evaluations, eye tracking software was employed, and they found that the recruiters spent about six seconds on a resume looking for six main things: name, current company and title, previous company and title, previous position start and end dates, current position start and end dates, and education. After that, it was a crapshoot.

Beyond these six data points, recruiters did little more than scan for keywords to match the open position, which amounted to a very cursory “pattern matching” activity. Because decisions were based mostly on the six pieces of data listed above, an individual resume’s detail and explanatory copy became filler and had little to no impact on the initial decision making. In fact, the study’s eye tracking technology shows that recruiters spent about 6 seconds on their initial “fit/no fit” decision.

If I ever have to submit a resume, I’m just going to put those six things as bullets and then the rest will all be keywords in small, light print. It’ll be like job search SEO.

Update: I’ve been told that TheLadder’s reputation might be less than savory, and a quick search shows some in agreement, so it might be wise to sidestep the service. Instead, go with my awesome six-bullet advice and you’re gold.

[via @alexlundry]


  • Typo – education => eduction.

  • The combination of resumes and eye-tracking technology was a nice hook that pulled me to read the full report, so thanks, but I found the full report lacking useful information and containing a soft peddle for a resume re-writing service.

    Nathan, I would think we ought to be less interested in knowing the average scan length (6 seconds for all sampled resumes) and more interested in knowing the variance and probability distribution (bounded by 0, so not normal) that best describes observed scan lengths associated with ‘clean AND relevant’ resumes. Which resumes were scanned for 30 seconds? Why? Which resumes survived a keyword search (SOP in large HR depts.) and were passed forward for human inspection? Prior experience tells me that resumes are ditched – regardless of qualification – when the first typo is discovered, so including ‘dirty’ or ‘unfiltered’ resumes in the sample pool will draw the average scan length closer to the zero limit and muddle any attempt to evaluate the influence of good cartographic design on resume layout success.

  • Is the eye tracking software Tobii?

  • On a slightly related side-note, here is a list of the best and worst jobs of 2012.
    Note that Mathematician is the #10 best job!

    The bar-lines for the first job (Software Engineer) in this job report really doesn’t make much sense to me and it appears to be an error… or they have a really weird way of making a chart.

  • Haha. It’s like CRO for your resume. I love it. Great post! Thanks for sharing this information.

  • An interesting study, no doubt. Being a Recruiter myself, I can verify that the FIRST things a Recruiter looks at are the name, title and dates of employment. These are the most relevant bits of information for their immediate need. A GOOD recruiter will then read the resume. At any given time, a Recruiter who is working for a solid company/recruiting firm could have 20 – 40 jobs that they are working on. Again, if said Recruiter is working for a good firm, his/her Account Manager would be selling in certain sections of their industry. In other words, even if the resume I am looking at isn’t a fit for the job I am currently working on, it would be counterproductive not to read the ENTIRE resume to make sure the candidate isn’t a fit for another position.

    Additionally, my company likes to take an alternative stance when it comes to recruiting. Rather than being reactive to our clients’ positions, we like to be proactive. If I see a candidate with a solid background and skills that might be applicable to one of my clients, I call them, screen them, ask them if I can proactively send their resume to a few of my clients to try to drum up some activity, and then take it from there. It is simply not possible to generate any or all of that activity without thoroughly reading the resume.

    Just a thought from a lowly recruiter! :)

    • I like your style – a fresh, honest and respectable approach to serving the needs of both your clients and those who turn to you for assistance in securing a position. Thank you for actually taking the time to still be a human being. Keep up your good work. I am sure the people you work for are all the better because of your attitude.

  • It seems that in the left image a section of white space is one of the four most important locations on the resume. So either the sights on the tracking technology are off by a few inches, or recruiters are staring at blank portions of the resume for some undisclosed reason. What are the possibilities?
    1) The recruiter is resting his/her eye during the grueling reading.
    2) The recruiter is pretending to read the resume while thinking about the boy in cubicle 7.
    3) The whole heat map validity is questionable.

    • Denis Kaufman April 12, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Interesting observation. A few years ago, I was a DoD Civilian with a USAF officer working for me. I was responsible for writing the officer’s evaluation and when I turned in my draft to a USAF Colonel to get his feedback (when civilians rate military officers, it is always a good idea to get feedback from a senior service rep so you don’t inadvertently derail someone’s career) I was admonished abut the amount of “white space” I left in the evaluation. He explained that “white space” draws the eyes, and the reader’s attention to the words right around it. Apparently when officer evaluations are screened for promotion boards, each evaluation gets only a few seconds scrutiny, and “white space” breaks the screeners’ pace and routine; thus it is undesirable. While I personally think that the solution is to allow more time to screen the evaluations — particularly when you think of what rides on promotion decisions — the phenomenon of how we look at object like pages of text is interesting.

  • If people are not passively recruiting and contacting you based on your LinkedIn profile alone, then your resume is probably not worth reading — people with world-class skills are contacted constantly by recruiters regardless of whether they are working or not — spend your time learning new hard-core skills rather than spinning your resume — world-class skills will land you the job you want every time…

  • David Schwarz April 12, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    This is an interesting study. However, I think it reinforces the notion that your CV alone will get you the job you want. Of course a poor CV (typos and poor grammar etc) may prevent you from getting you a job. I am also concerned that this study lump all ‘recruiters’ together in the same basket. As an executive recruiter I read every word of every CV and provide feedback to my client and candidate based upon their application.

  • Great piece with a good dialogue in the comments. I’m a recruiter as well and agree 100% with the 6 second time frame. Imagine recruiters as 2nd grade teachers, Harley Davidson mechanics, pest control people, or dentists. When a professional has laid their eyes on hundreds or thousands of examples pertaining to their craft, they get really, really good at getting a sense of the task at hand very quickly.
    As recruiters, we need to get through a lot of profiles and resumes for each search. We keep track of the criteria in our heads for the most part, and do a quick once over of each resume to get that sense. If the role requires 5+ years of experience, pays $85k, is located in Dallas, and visa sponsorship is not an option for the client, then our scan will look quickly for location, current title (looking for any hint of being over/under qualified), total years of experience (using this example, if the resume shows 10+ years then we’re likely out of salary range), and how long the person has been in the U.S. Even a novice could scan for those things in 10 seconds, and within that time we’re deciding whether or not to invest an additional amount of time on that resume or profile.
    I’ve simplified the process a great deal and as Amy Jacques pointed out, it behooves us to consider every possible opportunity for each candidate as we make our way through our searches. That’s where our experience comes in to play to make that once-over view a meaningful appraisal.
    And for Denis’ comment, I am a huge proponent of ample white space on a resume to help guide the eye and get the gist of the background quickly. Resumes without white space overwhelm the reader with a demand for a higher commitment level than quick-hitting bullet points.
    Ok, stepping off the soap box now!

  • n = 30 is a very small study… not statistically valid in the world of real science.

    Having said that, I don’t disagree that many recruiters skim – how could you not when you are faced with the same information day in, day out? Everyone’s a team player, they all learn quickly, they all work safely… i agree with the idea of addressing the six key points and removing some of the repetitive fluffly stuff that resume writing services seem to think will get people the job.

  • First thing looked by recruiters will be your resume, so look at the aspects which are making your resume attractive, don’t try fancy things as you will be in big trouble after getting caught in a mistake in resume. Mention your work experience and expertize so as to provide complete information to the recruiter.
    It will be good for you to mention only those aspects of skills which can be answered without any doubt, interviewer will try to know everything about your mentioned areas of skills, and that should be revised well before facing the interview.