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Resume Science Part 2: The Six Second Rule


In the first in our resume series, we explored the three things your resume needs to accomplish. Today we are going to explore how your resume needs to pass the six second rule.

What is the six second rule? The average time your resume will be reviewed is six seconds. After those six seconds, your resume will get categorized into the yes, no, or maybe pile for a given job. The goal is to get into the yes pile as quickly as possible. The resumes in the yes pile are the ones who get calls about the position you are applying for. The rest go back into the black hole of the applicant tracking system, never to be seen again.

While each recruiter might be looking for different things in a resume and their eyes might flow differently across the paper, we’ll discuss what we look for in both general and specific terms in those six seconds. (If you want the TLDR version, skip to the end).

In general terms – we are looking for if the person’s experience, education and skill set is a match for the position, either ready to promote into a role or has the experience to do the job already. This knocks out most applicants. They are either blatantly not qualified for the job or their resume does not reflect why they are. Your resume is to relate HOW you are qualified to do the job in very clear and concise language. The important information needs to be easy to find and stand out. Education, systems knowledge, relevant skills & experience should not be a version of “Where’s Waldo.” If it is, it will get passed over quickly.

Once we see a resume has the basic qualifications for a position, we look for other differentiators or knock outs. Differentiators might be good schools, rapid promotions, and quantifiable success. What we hope to see is a pattern of success and career progression – that shows the experience or potential to do the job. We look to understand the scope of your role beyond the job title (titles are fluid from company to company). We look for some degree of job continuity. We also look for any “sizzle” that might be relevant to a client company. It could be significant accomplishments, specific projects like an ERP implementation, or something else that makes them exceptional.

Knock outs might be sizable and unexplained gaps in your work history. Life happens, we get that. If you took time off due to a family illness or spent a while unemployed, that is ok – just explain it without going into too much detail. Other knock outs might be a pattern of either being too job hoppy (a - definition that varies by career path and industry) or the converse, being too static in your career. Again, we know that things happen that are beyond a candidates’ control – so if your job moved to Mexico after six months or was acquired and changed names a brief explanation is ok. Your resume is also an example of your attention to detail – typos, grammatical errors or blatant misrepresentations will get you gunned out pretty quickly.

It’s important to remember that your resume is NOT your autobiography. It is a summary of why you are a fit for a position. The goal is to get you to the interview, not get you the job.

OK, now for the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” Section, the stuff we look at and the stuff we don’t.

The stuff we look for in order:

  1. Name & location

  2. Executive summary

  3. Your current job and accomplishments

  4. Education, training, and professional certifications – if relevant to our client

  5. Career progression, tenure at each job, and accomplishments

  6. Previous employers – some companies have reputations for hiring good employees. If you made the cut for them, it will be to your advantage now.

  7. Gaps in employment

  8. Any awards or other differentiators

The stuff we find irrelevant and a waste of space:

  1. The Objective (we get it, your objective is to find a new job…)

  2. Too much detail on early career stuff. That first job out of college twenty years ago is not worth five bullet points of accomplishments. Use the space on your resume to cover the last 10 years.

  3. Hobbies, interests, or personal stuff like family or marital status, unless extremely relevant to the job.

  4. Community involvement unless it’s relevant to a company, in line with your professional skills, and recent. We don’t care if you spent a shift at a food bank seven years ago.

  5. Side-hustles or home businesses that might be considered a distraction to an employer.

  6. References or “references upon request” - its OK to have a separate sheet and provide if asked. Do not put it on your resume.

Thanks for reading. We’ll have another post about resume formats in a few weeks. If you have specific questions about resumes or yours particularly, we’d love to hear from you.

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