Does your resume pass the 6-second skim test?

Recent studies report that on the first pass through resumes, recruiters spend an average of 6 seconds per resume! Stop and truly think about that for a second. 6 seconds. You’ve spent about that much time on this article, and you’re only three lines in! Suffice to say, 6 seconds is not much time. It’s a skim, and a pretty short one at that.

You might be thinking, ‘If they’re only spending 6 seconds on my resume, why should I bother putting in so much effort? It’s not like the hiring manager is going to notice.’ There’s a very important reason: the skim test is just the first round of cuts. If your resume makes it into the ‘yes’ pile after the skim test, the hiring manager is going to pick it up a second time to read in more detail. This is when the true evaluation of your qualifications begins.

The challenge becomes writing a resume that’s capable of passing the skim test, but also holds up to deeper analysis. These resume tips will help you make it past the brutally short first round of resume eliminations and a deep resume read.

resume skim test writing resume tips

1. use bullets and headers to separate information

Large paragraphs are harder for the human eye to process quickly. Separate sections on your resume with short, clear subheads (i.e. job experience, achievements, certifications, education) that clearly communicate what information will follow. Wherever possible, use bulleted lists to communicate your responsibilities, skills and other information.

2. optimize space on the top half of the first page

The first half page is where your strongest qualifications should go. Whether this is your last role, a list of key skills and certifications, whatever information is most likely to make recruiters want to read more should be front-loaded on your resume. There’s no point in hiding your best skills on the last page as a ‘closer’; chances are the recruiter won’t even make it that far if you don’t hook them earlier.

3. eliminate unnecessary information

Sometimes it can feel like more is more when it comes to a resume. After all, isn’t it better to show off all your experience? Having 5 different jobs must show you’re more qualified than someone who only has 2, right? Not necessarily. Especially if those roles aren’t relevant to the one you’re applying for. It can seem counter-intuitive to cut information from your resume, but it’s necessary if it’s not relevant. Here are some things that should be eliminated from your resume:

  • High school education, unless it’s your highest level of education. If you have a post-secondary degree, it’s assumed you graduated high school.
  • Any achievements or accomplishments dating back to your high school days. Yes, your mom was really proud when you brought home that track and field trophy in 10th grade. Employers aren’t your mom. They want to know about your current qualifications. Resorting to including high school achievements on your resume makes it seem like you don’t have any more recent ones.
  • Jobs irrelevant to the role you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for marketing jobs, communications, PR and marketing roles should be included. Your college job as a camp counsellor should not.
  • Outdated volunteering or community experience. Volunteering experience older than a few years seems like resume filler, especially if you haven’t followed it up with more recent volunteering.
  • Personal information including but not limited to: your hobbies, interests, political leanings, and personal opinions or thoughts. Your resume should be a professional document highlighting why you’re right for the role you applied to.

4. keep your resume on one page

We’ve said it before (see: 6 things awesome resumes have in common) and we’ll say it again: if at all possible, your resume should be one page. Two, if you absolutely must. There is absolutely no reason for your resume to be any longer. If your resume is stretching onto 3 pages, it’s a sure sign it’s bloated with outdated or unnecessary information. If your resume is longer than 3 pages, get out the scissors, because it’s time to start cutting! Take a look at the bullets above for some thoughts on what should be cut first!

5. use simple, clean formatting

You would not believe some of the ‘creative’ resumes out there. Yes, we all want to stand out. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do that. If you’re creatively inclined, reach for the stars! If you’ve never graduated past stick figure designs, you’re probably better off sticking to a simple, clean format. What does this entail, you ask?

  • An easy-to-read font. Serif or sans serif fonts are both fine and a 12 point size is ideal. Not sure if it’s easy to read? When in doubt ask for a second opinion.
  • Avoid at all costs: handwriting fonts, cursive fonts, and other decorative fonts. (And in case you were wondering, yes, Comic Sans falls into this category!)
  • Do not use drop shadows, glow fonts, bevels or other font stylization.
  • Use one or two accent colours at most. Rainbows are for My Little Pony, not your resume.
  • Include white space to ensure your resume isn’t overcrowded and difficult to read.
  • Do not include images. Images are distracting and take up valuable space. This includes a headshot of yourself. You may think you look great, but you never know what a recruiter sees. Hiring managers are not legally allowed to judge you for any reason beyond your merit for the job. Don’t give them an added way to evaluate you if you don’t have to.

Still not sure if your resume fits the bill? There are plenty of pre-made resume templates out there to help you get started.

6. eliminate space wasters

Space wasters are anything that fills up space but communicates very little of value to hiring managers and recruiters. Things like:

  • An objective statement – hiring managers know you want to be hired. There’s no point in figuring out a creative, non-self-serving way to say this. Unless you’ve got something truly revolutionary to say, skip it.
  • References upon request – this should be a given. Everyone is expected to have references. If the hiring manager wants to contact them, they’ll ask.
  • A personal bio – A short (one paragraph) professional bio is fine. A bio that’s all about you – your hobbies, your interests, and your personal life is probably a no-go.
  • Microsoft office proficiency – Everyone (and we do mean everyone) who’s ever owned a computer claims to be proficient in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Don’t include this proficiency unless it’s truly relevant to the job.
  • Listing generic soft skills – Some of the many examples of this include hard-working, responsible, organized, team-player, etc. Yes, these are great skills to have, but they can sound disingenuous when listed on a resume. Show rather than tell. Use your achievements to showcase these skills in a more authentic way.

When you only have 6 seconds to make an impression, prioritizing key information is essential. A carefully crafted resume that’s equally as capable of communicating information at a glance as it is communicating the depth and breadth of your skills is an invaluable tool that can make or break your job search.

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