While the job market remains competitive, employers often receive many more applications for jobs than they have time to give the attention they may deserve. As a coping mechanism, recruiters have developed the ability to filter through resumes and divide them into a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ pile incredibly quickly. If you want to make the cut, the information they’ll be looking for first has to be easy to find in the initial scan.

Our research shows that recruiters spend an average of fewer than 11 seconds scanning your resume for information before deciding whether you are a potential fit or not for the job they’re filling.

If you make it into the potential hire pile, then they may take a closer look at the details. However, if your resume doesn’t make it through that first few second scan, your chances are sunk. Using detailed web analytics our team has tracked where recruiters focused their attention in those crucial first seconds, and how they filter the results to their resume searches.

Nearly 80 per cent of resumes don’t make the first cut. Employers shortlist an average of two out of every ten resumes viewed. This corresponds with our recent candidate survey where most people (65 per cent) say that they applied to 10 opportunities before being hired for their most recent job.

The information recruiters scan for first:
  • Your name
  • Your current job title and employer
  • The start and end dates of your current job
  • Your previous employer and job title
  • The start and end dates of your previous job
  • Your location

In that first glance, everything else on your resume is just extra information that employers may or may not read over for keywords related to the skills they’re looking for. Only the resumes who pass this first impression are evaluated in greater detail later.

Note that level of education doesn’t make the cut. The vast majority of their searches are keyword based, and only one per cent of keyword searches are related to degree type or specific education.

For what they actually do search for, see: The exact resume keywords employers search for by industry.

Employers have numerous options for filtering the millions of resumes on Workopolis. They search candidates by skillset, experience, location, previous employers, and even how recently a resume was updated, all much more than they scan for level of education.

How to make each one of those ten seconds count

The best way to pass the resume first impression test is to make it effortless for employers to find the information that matters most to them. Have a clearly laid out document with bolded job titles in reverse chronological order. Use plenty of white space and have Work History, Education, and Skills sections plainly marked.

List your work history in reverse chronological order with company names, job titles, and dates of employment clearly indicated.

Have a section outlining your skills in bullet points. You’ll want to have the relevant keywords included for resume search engines and applicant tracking systems, and these are the next things recruiters look for if there’s time left in their first scan.

Use short sentences and paragraphs with bulleted lists for maximum readability. It’s harder to find information quickly in large blocks of text. When an employer has many resumes to go through, if you make it difficult for them to locate the information they’re looking for, there is a good chance they’ll simply move on to the next resume.

Like it or not, the point of the initial quick survey of the resume is to filter out candidates who don’t seem like a good fit, and to narrow down the potential candidate pool to the few who receive a closer read and potentially an interview. Understanding what employers are looking for, and making that information easier to find are quick and easy ways to improve your chances of being selected.

And speed really matters when have fewer than 11 seconds to make an impression.