Stop Working on Your Resume, Says Research

A recent study by TheLadders suggests you should stop editing your resume as quickly as possible.

For their study, TheLadders asked recruiters to review a stack of resumes while connected to eye tracking software. Their data showed that recruiters spent just six seconds per resume before making a pass/fail decision. However, what they paid attention to was far more informative than their attention spans.

During the study, 80 percent of recruiters' attention was on the following items -- can you spot what they have in common?:

  • Name
  • Employer(s)
  • Job title(s)
  • Dates of employment
  • Education

Answer: These are all items job seekers can't change.

If recruiters spent 80 percent of six seconds (or 4.8 seconds) reviewing objective data job seekers can't change, they spent just 1.2 seconds per resume on information job seekers can control: namely, bullet points. In other words, nobody's reading your bullet points.

How can that be? Aren't accomplishments and responsibilities the reason why recruiters read resumes in the first place? Perhaps they are in theory, but not in practice.

Given the choice, recruiters prefer objective (black-and-white) data to the vagueness of bullet points. Largely, this emphasis helps them identify safe candidates. Safe candidates are ones that a recruiter's supervisor would never question, like those who have held this job before, worked for a competitor, or attended a prestigious college.

Safe candidates enable recruiters to get back to their "real" work (work that leads directly to raises, like hitting annual sales goals) as fast as possible. Therefore, safe candidates are the ones who get interviews.

Unfortunately, no amount of resume editing can turn you into a safe candidate if you are not one already. Resume typos will rule you out, but well-worded resumes never rule you in. The only way to become a safe candidate is to get an internal referral.

The futility of resume editing may seem like cause for despair, but I think it's cause for celebration. It turns out your resume can be "done" (100% error-free with correct biographical information) in several hours, freeing your time to build relationships instead. Such networking pays far greater dividends per hour than editing resumes (or cover letters, or job posting applications...).

Best of all, relationship-building doesn't require previous expertise, connections, or the ability to "sell yourself" - just a handful of minutes and (if you like) a good set of instructions.

So in summary, don't stress over your resume. Get it error-free, and then get networking!


Steve Dalton is the author of 'The 2-Hour Job Search' & career center programming director at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.