As if competing with hundreds and appeasing the ATS gods isn’t challenging enough, job-seekers are faced with yet another resume-writing hurdle known as the 6-second test. If you’ve spent any amount of time online looking for resume-writing help, there’s a good chance you know about this bewildering phenomena referred to as the 6-second-scan. Some have a hard time wrapping their heads around how a recruiter or hiring manager can learn anything in six seconds. And with that puzzling perplexity looming over their heads, it can be utterly frustrating to pour hours and hours of grueling work into writing an ATS-friendly resume only to have it merely glanced at by the humans. After all, it’s the humans who decide who to call in for an interview, so let’s look at why your hard work gets only a cursory glance and how to give the human eyeballs what they’re looking for in just 6 seconds.
What The Heck Do They Want?
If a human is looking at your resume – even if it’s only a quick 6-second skim, it’s because you did a good enough job with keywords to get your resume past the ATS. That’s a great thing, and a big hurdle cleared. However, for the human, keywords alone aren’t enough. Recruiters and hiring managers look for information, and it requires only a 6-second scan of your resume to see, or not see, what they’re looking for. So, what are they looking for?
1. Logical Format
Its format is the first thing that could make or break your resume. Recruiters and hiring managers are insanely busy people. None will waste a single second of their limited time searching a resume for the information they’re looking for. They want your resume’s information laid-out logically, which means chronologically. It is by far the most preferred format among recruiters because it allows them to see what they want to see, quickly. Formatting your resume chronologically means listing your work history in reverse chronological order, with your current or most recent work experience first, working backwards to your oldest. Don’t go back more than 15 years unless you held an early position for a long time – five or more years. In that early position, if the work you did is not relevant to the position you’re applying for now, that’s okay. Include the work experience to show you put in a number of years in a different field earlier in your career. If the work you did in that early role isn’t relevant to the position you’re applying for, or doesn’t provide any real value, don’t list your accomplishments. Just give the position title, the company, and the to/from dates, and leave it at that:
Research Assistant | Canada Institute of Behavioral Science | 1997 to 2004
It speaks for itself. If the position is for a Certified Accountant and you’ve been doing bookkeeping, don’t make the mistake of thinking your skills are “close enough”. Recruiters #1 complaint is that applicants either don’t read the posting requirements closely, or, they read the requirements (so they can pepper the ad’s keywords throughout their resumes), but don’t have the specific experience the job posting clearly asked for. I can attest to that. On more than one occasion, after turning my brain inside-out trying to figure out how to make a client’s completely irrelevant skills and experience match the job posting’s requirements, I’ve had to finally admit defeat and advise the client to find a different job posting. It’s the same advise I’m giving you. Don’t waste your time writing a resume and applying for a position for which your experience isn’t relevant.
3. Qualifications & Education
If the position requires a degree in finance and you have a certificate in bookkeeping, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment if, again, you think it’s close enough. Here’s what you have to remember: the recruiter will receive hundreds of resumes for the position, many presenting the precise qualifications and education she’s looking for. She’s not desperate for viable candidates and won’t waste a second scanning a resume that doesn’t meet the basic qualifications and education requirements. Pay attention to the posting. Sometimes you’ll see: IT Technology Diploma or equivalent relevant work experience. If your work experience meets the “equivalent/relevant” requirement, make sure you highlight it in your resume’s Qualifications section (located in the top one-third), where she can see it a glance.
4. Employment Stability
The recruiter looks for the number of years applicants’ spent in each work experience they listed, and, the number of gaps in employment. These are two very distinct sets of circumstances. When an applicant’s resume lists eight jobs in ten years, even if they were back-to-back, and even if the work was relevant to the position being applied for, there’s a good chance the resume will get side-lined. It’s called job-hopping and, unfortunately, it’s a red flag. Then, there are gaps. Gaps are not always a bad thing and recruiters know there could be any number of rational reasons for employment gaps. But, unless you explain your employment gaps in your cover letter, the recruiter won’t know what to make of it and likely pass you by. Your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to explain you took a career break to travel, or to raise children, or to try self-employment – whatever the opportunity was. Even if your employment gaps were periods where you just didn’t feel like working, use the cover letter to address gaps in a positive light. Hitch-hiking across the country and making it back home alive is a feat requiring resourcefulness and no small amount of interpersonal skill. Learning how to do basic car repair, or to design and develop websites and apps – just about anything self-taught, shows interest, drive, persistence, and all kinds of soft skills that will shed a bright light as opposed to the dark glare of an unexplained period of unemployment.
5. Laundry Lists
These notorious time-wasters are actually probably the first thing that will get your resume overlooked. Laundry lists stand out like a sore thumb and recruiters abhor them. No one is interested in long lists saying what your duties were and what you were responsible for – it tells recruiters nothing. You have to describe your work accomplishments and/or achievements, and here’s the thing, this should be the easiest thing in the world to do because these are the things you did to perform your work.
So, there it is. That’s how recruiters scan resumes in 6 seconds to find what they’re looking for. Now that you know, go take a look at your latest resume. Is it:
- Logically formatted, i.e.: chronologically
- Relevant to the job posting
- Highlighting qualifications and/or education the ad specifies
- Addressing employment gaps (in the cover letter)
- Showing accomplishments instead of laundry lists
Want to find out how to write a really KILLER resume? Grab your FREE copy of HOW TO WRITE A KILLER RESUME! It gives you access to the Resume Format Template that both ATSs and humans love and is full of examples showing you how to avoid laundry lists and write descriptive work accomplishments that pack a punch. It comes with a full resume and cover letter example that will inspire you to write your own killer resume!
Terri is an expert resume-writer and a pretty good job coach. During her 30 years in the conventional work force, Terri was fired from 11 jobs, got laid off from 2 jobs, quit 3 jobs, sued 1 employer (successfully), made another cry, and wrote over 100 resumes for herself alone! Since embracing the good old “take this job and shove it” attitude, Terri decided to put all of her shitty “workin’ for the man” experiences and life-lessons to good use, and thus was born www.goresumepro.ca/blog. Enjoy!