I know the answer you are thinking: not much at all, unless of course you are an applicant tracking system with powerful keyword searching functionality. However, believe it or not, a study from theladders.com has confirmed that far from needing 4 or 5 minutes to scan a resume (which many of the recruiter test subjects estimated), recruiters were actually spending just 6 seconds to make the initial fit-no-fit decision.
Of course, there are many recruiters out there who have the luxury of having 4 or 5 minutes to assess a resume, but many others will be time pressurized and overwhelmed with applicants, many of which they know will not be a match for the job. Many rely on this superficial first round speed sift to eliminate time wasters and quickly ring-fence promising applicants.
Of course, the truth is that there will be a lot of collateral damage from using this 6 second scan, (meaning talent may be lost in the first round), but it is an unavoidable reality for many, and recruiters simply have to make do. So, what useful information can be uncovered in a superficial 6 second scan that jettisons ill fitting applicants and leaves most of the quality intact? I have outlined a few below:
There are several signs of job advert spamming that I think can be spotted in a split second by scanning your email inbox, and the most surefire sign of that for me is an application submitted within hours of the job being posted and one that doesn’t contain a cover letter, especially if asked for. It’s very likely that this is a spam application where the applicant has probably not looked much beyond the job description when applying for the role. There is a small chance of fit, and this resume may be safely passed over.
If you are really focused on attention to detail, thoroughness and rule following, include specific application instructions in the job description, such as they must start the email, subject header with a particular code word. If they fail to follow these criteria, you’d have to be concerned whether they were the right fit.
These two types of inbox screening can help you sift a large proportion of time wasters within 2 or 3 seconds, probably allowing you a little extra time to scan the resume.
So, what can you uncover within the resume itself? Resumes that are well structured, with clearly delineated sections, and which make appropriate use of bold headings and indents, short sentences and bullet points indicate that the candidate understands the importance of presentation and that they may have a more organized mind. (Even if it was prepared by a resume writer, it at least shows they understand the importance of presentation and readability and that they know their own limitations). A cluttered or less clear resume, which can be judged in a 2-second glance is most likely a ‘no fit.’
While the summary section is important, TheLadders study showed that recruiters focus in on current and previous job title/position and employment dates during the crucial 6 seconds. So, if job titles don’t match your position on offer and dates are a little wonky, the candidate is clearly a weaker match and ready for your maybe or reject pile.
As well as relevancy, you’ll be looking for signs of dynamism and effectiveness, which could be concise sentences starting with actions words like, created, improved, increased, and with numbers, dollar values or percentages associated.
You may also spot typos, (although you might not come across one in a 6 second scan) but they can be an indication of carelessness, not using a spell-checker, being a bad speller etc., and if you have a zero-tolerance policy of spelling and grammar, this is also a great second scan criterion.
So, as you can see, it is possible (although not advised) for recruiters to make a superficial but partially meaningful assessment of resumes within 6 seconds.