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.
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.
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.”