IT Employment

What recruiters see in the first six seconds of looking at your resume

A new study shows that job recruiters give resumes only a six-second perusal. Here's what they look at.

You know know how you spent all that time perfecting your resume, mulling over the use of one word over another or whether to mention your proficiency at croquet?

In research that is both compelling and extremely depressing, it seems that it may not matter. According to TheLadders research, recruiters spend an average of "six seconds before they make the initial 'fit or no fit' decision" on candidates. The study used an eye-tracking technique on 30 professional recruiters,  examining their eye movements during a 10-week period , to record what each subject focused on and for how long when looking at a piece of information.

What did they 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. And that's it.

Of course, this doesn't take into account resumes that have already been through an automatic resume scanner, which looks exclusively for keywords.

Business Insider offers an illustration of the heat map of recruiters' eye movements.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

39 comments
karinsgall
karinsgall

I am a technical writer and instructional designer by trade. I once went to an interview where where a hostile person (in a panel interview) asked me what I thought my English degree and writing skills had to do with the online instructional design job for which I was interviewing. I had already decided that I didn't want the job because of some of the dumb answers I got from them, so I said as nicely as I could that writing and grammar is an important facet of any online training or website, etc. Some shops can't afford QA/proofreaders so it is important to hire people that can write. Duh! But I used to hire technical writers and people are often shocked that I wanted the candidates to actually have writing degrees or that they could demonstrate experience.

markc555
markc555

In the UK, Recruiters/Rrecruitment Consultants have terrible reputation for being a parasitic waste of space... even worse than (Real) Estate Agents! Remember though their actual job, the bit they get paid on, is solely to place someone in a position, so who can blame them for going for the most obvious candidate/s. Interviewing with an RC is usually hilarious as they invariably have little or no idea what they're talking about :)

JamesRL
JamesRL

I've hired dozens of people in the last ten years. On the occasions when I've had a big stack of resumes, I'd say I spend about 30 seconds on each resume for a first pass. But that gets me down to about 25% of the resumes usually. Those whose jobs skills line up with what we are looking for. Then I take that stack, and give them each a thorough cover to cover make notes in the margins review. That more thorough review might take 2-5 minutes per, but it helps me decide which candidates to interview, and might even prompt me for some questions to ask. I have even pre screened. If someone looks over qualified, I might ask them about that on the phone before we go through a full interview. At one point in time, I had to review 200 resumes to find 4-6 candidates to interview. So yes, having a good resume does matter. At 30 seconds per resume, it would take me just over an hour and a half to do a first pass, and an average 2-3 hours to do a second pass.

Anton Avila
Anton Avila

... then you're 'Doing It Wrong'(TM). This is not to say that some of us will depend at some stage on the typical recruitment process involving an applicaiton to an advertised role, but 80% placements are either done internally or via referral. This means you need to form a network, and learn to use it. The old addage of "It's not what you know, it's who you know" holds truer than ever. Often it'll be less of a case of how many years you've spent in the industry and more of a case of "Does anyone here know you?", "Can we trust you?", "Do we like you?", "Will you fit in here?" and "Can you be trusted to not be a complete imbecile?" - the proof in that pudding is the staggering disproportion of roles placed internally or by referral.

Professor8
Professor8

Well, the US STEM workers (including US citizen and UK citizen computer wranglers) have known for over a decade, the "recruiters"/HR clones have known for at least 8 years, the hiring managers have known for over a decade about these dysfunctionalities in recruiting and placement. The HR trade publications have long had articles about how much everyone hates these candidate/talent management systems, and about clueless, non-conscientious "recruiters" who have no reading comprehension or knowledge of the tools and "skills" of the STEM occupations (for that matter, even among "us", the "IT" folks don't quite understand the software product people and vice versa, and those don't quite understand the game programmers because we've each got our different names for certain things, and different meanings for the same terms in some cases...). But, the executives seem to love these dysfunctionalities. They seem to believe they're "efficient" and "modern". Yet they complain of "talent shortages" and use that to lobby for more cheap, pliant foreign labor with flexible/questionable ethics. They refuse to reform these "great new efficient" processes, and fail or refuse to connect them with the dysfunctionalities in the STEM (and other) job markets. And they continue to encourage their HR clones to do things in these dysfunctional, non-conscientious ways with these dysfunctional tools, whining all the while. (Reminds me of the joke, the punch-line of which is, "So, stop hitting yourself with the hammer.")

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Evidence that they actually look at them is a bit thin, in my experience.

budly
budly

You know know how you spent all that time perfecting your resume, mulling over the use of one word over another or whether to mention your proficiency at croquet?

grnbomber33
grnbomber33

This touches on something I have noticed for some time, that America, ostensibly under the stewardship of professionals in various fields of economics, administration, law and medicine, is in the shape it is in because those professionals have collectively let us down. These professionials, that we all have been taught at one time, or another, to look up to, the pinnacles of their chosen fields, naturally assuming that they are constantly striving to streamline their respective professions to provide better ROI to their customers, whomever that might be, and to constantly improve the profession. We are in the mess we are in, because the opposite seems to have transpired. We have put too much faith where it doesn't belong. Obviously, the wrong people are hiring all the wrong people; ones that will take advantage, retard progress, increase complexity, etc. Give me a motivated amateur anytime. I would be happy if we did away with the concept of professions and professionals, and left the professing to professors. HR needs a way to find good PEOPLE, ones who are bright, morally and ethically sound, empathic towards other human beings, conscientious workers (although temperament often dictates the efficiency and pace at which they will perform certain jobs and thus be a "hard worker"). Sure, qualifications and some experience are nice, but they are not as important as acquring and retaining the right person. It's not scientific, but if you are the right person looking for the right person, read the whole resume (be functional), and go with the vibe for your interview choice. That's how you find good PEOPLE for any job. The stat sheet has let us down and so have most professionals in this country. The machine is currently broken. Let's not replace with same parts that break.

fhrivers
fhrivers

Most of them have a key/buzzword cheat sheet that they compare the resume with. If the buzzword isn't on the resume, they toss it in the trash. I mean, why bother becoming knowledgeable on the positions you're representing when you're most likely in between jobs and looking for a job in the field you went to school for.

fjr2000
fjr2000

I am in the same position as Nomad. 20 years in and damn sick of telling college grads whats wrong with the server they are working on. Remember the DL360s and 380s? If you pulled the server too far out of the rack, the chasis would twist, unseating the fan assembly, tripping the safety catch on the server, rendering it inoperable. I watched 3 college grads and an MCSE stand there for almost an hour, call in HP technical services only to have ME tell him to check the fan assembly and the memory card seating which fixed the issue. I love computers, but there are some things they can not do! God I hope this changes one day!

rackerman
rackerman

Is this what's called the "blind eye" approach? All responders especially "Nothing New" have hit the nail on the head. The more things change, the more they stay the same. This is a known process for failure, thus increaseing cost in recruiting, onboarding, and mis-matching the candidate to the role, then repeating this flawed process over and over. I think if you add up the cost of this flawed process, and multiply it by the number of businesses that use it, we could take a stab at our country's budget deficit

Ryamhcap
Ryamhcap

Computer scanning I can work with, but computer dictated salaries! I was recently recruited by a major contracting firm in the Washington DC area. When I inquired about the low salary, HR told me that a computer model determines the pay scale. I couldn't argue with the computer and they said they had no control over the figure. This approach eliminated any salary negotiation. I was left with either take it or leave it. There is little choice if you want to work. But it does not buy long term loyalty. I now have a new job.

nomad_tech
nomad_tech

It's frustrating that those who couldn't do the job, are the authority to decide who is qualified to do so. I have been in the IT business for over 20 years, without college, or maintaining current certifications, and I'm as good if not better than those with all the right shingles. But try to convey that to someone from a big college alumni with zero ability to match a candidate with a job beyond one's education.

codepoke
codepoke

We see clearly how visual organization might get you through the 1st round, and if we fail at that the rest is useless. Still, we need to win every round, or the rest is useless. I'm not sure I'd throw out the fine-tooth comb stuff; there may be a baby in that bathwater.

ittechexec
ittechexec

Corporate HR people do the same thing as recruiters. If you use a recruiter that specializes in your field (for IT, get a technical recruiter), they'll spend a bit more than 6 seconds, but certainly not long enough to read your whole resume. You must format the resume in a manner that clearly communicates your message or "brand" while providing some real meat to back it up, even if they don't really get into those details until later on. Here's a video on the strategy behind the format of a technical resume http://www.ittechexec.com/IT-resume-samples.html

Mike.Sandy
Mike.Sandy

On the rare occasion I bring the first resume a potential employer sees from me, I see the entire process described above. A quick glance for the very basics. The format has got to be an easy scan and read of the information they seek. Which means generous white space and fonts that set that info apart. My title, company, location and date is on one line above my achievements there and set off in bold, all caps and slightly different font. Now if I just had skills someone wanted....... =(

jdudeck
jdudeck

Seems to me if you are going through a recruiter that you your chances aren't what they should be. You need to find other ways into the job you want.

Gisabun
Gisabun

My CV has no date [i.e. April 2012] - just the year for all jobs, education, etc. Would this be rejected? Not defending recruiters [and mostly bad habits] but they sometimes have to go through hundreds of CVs just to narrow down to maybe a dozen. On the other hand, It is probably the hardest to decide or pick with the requirements needed but not everyone has them all [or almost all]. I know VMweare Workstation but not VMware ESXi. Sorry. No job. And yet they are similar. Sorry. Exchange 2000 is too old. Still waiting for the first job posting requiring Windows 8 support - before it's released! [it will happen!]

cbstryker
cbstryker

So in other words most companies are likely filled with employees that aren't the best person for the job.

jdcnservices
jdcnservices

It used to be that the "who you know" would be a recruiter. They used to be the ones who knew the inside track. Nowadays, the turnover rate is so high that there isn't any time for them to establish a relationship with their peers in the companies hiring. It also used to be that they knew how to identify the right candidates for a slot. I agree with the comments that they know less about IT sometimes than the Hr rep at the company doing the hiring. It's a shame, but all recruiters do these days is weed out candidates. That doesn't always mean weeding out the right ones, however.

JimBeethe
JimBeethe

Oh how I agree with mostly everything I have read in this thread... However "gmbomber.." the first and most difficult obstacle is to "RECOGNIZE THAT THE MACHINE IS BROKEN"... okay, 2nd step - "Everyone ADMITTING IT" is also pretty difficult too... Because we Americans are on a flash-bang immediate response, must have answer within 2 to 3 seconds or we are off somewhere else...

MyopicOne
MyopicOne

Hope you told them that their computer model is wrong. GIGO...

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

You have to get through the gatekeeper first.

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

The problem is that (in Toronto anyway) most of the IT recruiters aren't any more skilled than a non-iT recruiter. I was told by a senior recruiter that the average experience of a recruiter in IT was less than six months. My experience agrees with that evaluation.

Professor8
Professor8

What other ways? Many of the advice spewers suggest impossible things for bright, knowledgeable, experienced, creative but destitute job seekers, things like going to networking events, or simple going about to various other professional events to network. Without wheels, cheap fuel, cheap airline tickets, cheap event entry to the events... it aint happening! And then there's the occupy way: going to the execs' homes and offices to badger them... until the police come to drag you away. A good, competent, conscientious, "pro-active" head-hunter has always had the best results for me. It's too bad they're extinct, replaced by these willfully clueless "recruiters".

sissy sue
sissy sue

I've been a contractor for nearly 24 years, and I've had some great gigs (and some duds as well). By and large, recruiters have been very good for me.

Professor8
Professor8

My reading of Toni's blurb was that I must remove all dates from my resume, immediately... and did so... along with the usual periodic tidying.

magic8ball
magic8ball

In 2007 the employer was looking for 5 years SQL 2005 experience.

GSystems
GSystems

The more I see and hear this claim, the more I believe that they're not looking for the best fit for the job... Why? Well..."the best fit" stays at the job and threatens the status quo...

Slayer_
Slayer_

Although maybe in this case, the bad fit employees start with the recruiters.

ittechexec
ittechexec

Just like in any other role, you have good and you have bad. IT recruiters are not different. Some "fall" into the job and others really do have a good technical foundation themselves. If you decide to use an IT recruiters, I recommend qualifying them first. Plus, there's no rule that you can only contact one recruiter. Remember, they don't "work" for you, they work for the company doing the hiring. So each recruiter is going to have a set of corporations they tend to recruit for.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and rejected for a spurious reason that obviously wasn't ajnything to do with your age. You could of course smear anti wrinkle cream on, wear a vibrant wig and poke huge holes in your ear lobes in an effort to get a job. :D

smumani
smumani

If you do, recruiters are likely to think you are hiding something so will most likely reject resumes.

Professor8
Professor8

So, you've provided yet another example of ridiculous "requirements" from 2 POV. They're demanding a particular brand-name and version, a well as demanding an unreasonable amount of experience with that version. OTOH, SQL has been around since about 1980. If you've picked up a little data-base analysis and/or design, a little about common tuning strategies, have some familiarity with report generation and with some of the common issues, you could do the work on any brand of RDBMS, with just a few hours of experimentation to ferret out which of the variants this particular brand and version uses at certain fairly well known points... or just figure them out as the work actually requires you to touch the variant details and thus spread it over a few days. Yet, they claim, "Oh, no, you couldn't possibly be able to be productive within 2 months without 5 years of experience with this specific set-up. This requires extensive detailed knowledge. You need to 'hit the ground running' and you couldnt' possibly do that... But I just can't understand why we can't seem to find any 'qualified' candidates willing to work 80 hours/week for $20/hour and no over-time pay. This req has been open for months and months." Pffff!

interpoI
interpoI

I've been using windows 11 and i.e. 15 for 3 years now. Office 2024 too lol

magic8ball
magic8ball

To that particular job. Maybe I should have and asked them how they expect someone to have 5 years of experience on a two year old technology. But that would have just wasted everyones time. Would have been funny to see the look on their face though.

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