How To Redesign Your Resume For A Recruiter’s 6-Second Attention Span

The average recruiter spends six seconds on your resume. So this is what you do.

It’s frightening. You’ll spend most of your waking life at a job, yet, according to a new study by TheLadders, the average recruiter spends just six seconds looking at your resume. By the end of that time, they’ll determine whether you’re "a fit" or a "no fit."

"The only research that had been done in this domain was self-reporting surveys, which simply was not good enough for us to understand what drives recruiters’ decision-making," Will Evans, Head of User Experience at TheLadders, tells Co.Design. So Evans led a study that followed 30 recruiters for 10 weeks. Or, more accurately, it followed just their eyes. Using eyetracking gear, Evans’ team measured what recruiters really see.

Click to zoom.

The result is this heat map tracking six seconds of someone’s attention span. (The darker the spot, the longer a recruiter’s eyes sat on that part of the page.) It’s absolutely jarring to see such a clinical view on resume analysis—a clinical view that Evans refers to simply as "a design problem." Namely, it’s up to job seekers to design a resume that can fit within what are now known restraints.

"Both resumes and online profiles should have a clear visual hierarchy, following a format that matches recruiters’ mental model," Evans advises. "To reduce the strain of visual complexity, focus on a balanced, grid-based design that gives affordance, has a natural rhythm, and tells a compelling story of steady progression in your career."

He recommends liberal use of both typography and white space to enable effortless scanning of titles, company names, and education. And that approach makes sense when you return to our trusty heat map. The hot spots are routinely those left-aligned bold headings, and the recruiter’s entire workflow just cruises through the left side of the page. Meanwhile, any big blocks of texts aren’t read whatsoever.

Click to zoom.

So don’t consider headings pedantic; consider them what Evans calls "quick bursts of information," or the type of information you can convey in a matter of moments. But at the same time, he also recommends to cut whatever you can.

"A resume is not the time to write a screenplay or jam every activity or responsibility you have ever done in your previous roles," writes Evans. "We firmly believe that a minimalist approach to the design that focuses on the most important data and removes all information that does not solve a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s need should be removed." This minimalist approach should be supported from content all the way through formatting. And that means something very strange: To stand out, you actually want your formatting to conform. Even clever infographics should be cut.

"Avoid unnecessary embellishment, or as Edward Tufte might call it, ‘chart junk.’ Visual elements that do not solve a recruiter’s need or goal should be removed," writes Evans. "This may be somewhat controversial, but we have proven data revealing that visual resumes, images, and infographics are not a good idea—at least not at the initial screening part in the process. Save those for the hiring manager when you can present your portfolio and showcase your design acumen."

[Hat tip: Business Insider]

[Image: Olaru Radian-Alexandru/Shutterstock]

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  • Russ Dotson

    This article is great.  However it fails to mention that in most cases, an applicant has to get past a *lot* of technology before a Recruiter will be spending any time scanning a resume.  The majority of Recruiters (both Corporate and Agency) use an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). They put their keywords into their search and look at the resumes that are returned.  An informed candidate will find a happy medium between readability and "Resume Optimization" so that they come up in the search to begin with.

    Russ Dotson

  • lenientwhale

    Seems you don't *totally* agree. “This may be somewhat controversial, but we have proven data revealing that visual resumes, images, and infographics are not a good idea--at least not at the initial screening part in the process. Save those for the hiring manager when you can present your portfolio and showcase your design acumen.”

  • Ben Hofstetter

    Pretty interesting article and @AgingEngineerinAtlantas comment about the hidden text box is ingenious. I'd like to add that I hate when places only accept Word docs and not PDFs.

  • Sanjay Aggarwal

     This is a great article and as an experienced graduate recruiter / CV expert and career coach I can definitely back this up!

  • Amanda Wolfe

    I found this article very interesting for several reasons. One was some handy information gleaned after a third read-through. The rest of them are based upon the fact that, as a social-media and UI design professional trained to have a FOUR-second attention span (take THAT, HR), the entire experience from top of browser to comments has been... well, weird. Or, to use the much-despised term, ironic.

    First, the gigantic graphic at top takes up all the room above the fold. Second, there are no captions on the first heat map, so the 2012 ADHD quick-scan gave the first heat map zero context amid the article that I was speed-reading. Third, the layout of the article is guilty of exactly what it's railing against in resumes. No headers... nothing for the eye to land upon other than graphics with no captions. Fourth, it was an eight-step process just to log in here to write this comment... that kind of thing drives away healthy dialogue.

    Fifth, this commentary is already way too lengthy for the average user to read. I lost half of my potential readers at Sentence Two, and another 50% that wanted to jump on here just to call me a pompous jerk but got fed up while trying to log in. Am I a pompous jerk? Probably. But I'm a pompous jerk who can back up this critique.


  • Joshua Bennie

    Whilst I appreciate your viewpoint, I do find it redundant.

    Resume's have an inherent need to be quickly digestible as those receiving them are under duress to process as many as possible as efficiently as possible.

    This article is not a resume, it's an article. As such, it's your decision to read/not read it. Co.Design has nothing to gain by accommodating the "2012 ADHD heat-scan" as readers who approach the site in such a manner aren't likely to share content or click on advertisements.

  • robertgillespie

    If they have a 6 second attention span, why not just get ride of the typical BS descriptions and rethink the resume. This here is advice on doing the same thing over again, why not try something different instead. I think of my resume as an outline of my career, education and experience. I bank on having the chance to sell myself and the interviewer can use my resume as a guide for questions and the conversation.

  • Schetikos

    Robert, the short answer is HR professionals and hiring managers would not know what to do with a resume that actually met their inability to concentrate for more than 6 seconds.  Comments would be: "well, you need to be more specific"  or, "the resume is too high-level" what does that mean anyway?  Or, the client is going to want to see more details, so you need to "beef up" this section or emphasize this area.  

  • Robert Mayers

    Are the same results found for all recruiters for all industries? I would prefer more evidence.

  • Sam

    It'd be interesting to get linkages on resume viewing habits by recruiters and the successful recruit. Does an effective well designed resume end up delivering the job?

  • Evan Jacobs

    Interesting, but the UX is terrible. You have no idea what to click to make it advance...

  • Obenko

    Very nice - I will advise to my friends based on this information. Thank you, I aways thought there was a science behind it, but never saw the studies.