What Recruiters Look At During The 6 Seconds They Spend On Your Resume

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Although we may never know why we didn’t get chosen for a job interview, a recent study is shedding some light on recruiters’ decision-making behavior. 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 a scientific technique called “eye tracking” on 30 professional recruiters and examined their eye movements during a 10-week period to “record and analyze where and how long someone focuses when digesting a piece of information or completing a task.

In the short time that they spend with your resume, the study showed recruiters will spend spent almost 80% of their resume review time on the following data points:

  • your name,
  • current title and company,
  • current position start and end dates,
  • previous title and company,
  • previous position start and end dates,
  • and education.

The two resumes below include a “heat map” of recruiters’ eye movements. The one on the right was looked at more thoroughly than the one of the left because of its clear and concise format:

Self-written resumé

Recruiters rated resumes with an obvious information hierarchy as “easier to read.” On a Likert scale of 1 to 7, self-written resumes (above left) averaged 3.9 versus 6.2 for the professionally rewritten resume (above right), a 60% increase. (Click the image to enlarge)

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.

With such critical time constraints, you should make it easier for recruiters to find pertinent information by creating a resume with a clear visual hierarchy and don’t include distracting visuals since “such visual elements reduced recruiters’ analytical capability and hampered decision-making” and kept them from “locating the most relevant information, like skills and experience.”

That profile photo isn’t helping

The study showed that recruiters who used the TheLadders candidate profiles (versus LinkedIn) experienced a significantly lower cognitive load. They were able to review key data points faster because TheLadders profiles were  55% easier to read than LinkedIn.
LinkedIn’s profiles had higher levels of visual complexity, and their ease of use suffered substantially as a result. Advertisements and “calls-to-action” created clutter that reduced recruiters’ ability to process the profiles. Finally, eye tracking-based “heat maps” of LinkedIn profiles showed that recruiters fixated for an average  19% of the total time spent  – on profile pictures, instead of examining other vital  candidate information.
Recruiters’ eyes, while reviewing LinkedIn profiles (above) fixated on strong visual  elements, spending  19% of their time looking at profile pictures .

Recruiters’ eyes, while reviewing LinkedIn profiles (above) fixated on strong visual elements, spending 19% of their time looking at profile pictures (Click the image to enlarge)

In contrast,  recruiters viewing TheLadders candidate profiles (below) reviewed more key  information in less time, a 55% improvement in readability over LinkedIn.

In contrast, recruiters viewing TheLadders candidate profiles (below) reviewed more key information in less time, a 55% improvement in readability over LinkedIn (Click the image to enlarge)

Key recommendations

Turn to a professional for resume rewrites;  insist on an organized layout and a strong visual hierarchy; and make sure online profiles are easy-to-read, without distracting visuals – that is, it makes sense to follow the style found on TheLadders.com.
In conclusion, consider the expression, “The eyes are the window to the soul.” In this case,  the eyes and eye-tracking technology have given us valuable insight – and valid data – about  recruiters’ behavior. While we may never be able to read recruiters’ minds, this study gives us a much clearer view of what they are thinking and how they make decisions.
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