Gone in Six Seconds: Why I Passed on Your Resume

Danielle Krause

Executive Recruiter at Randstad

Gone in Six Seconds: Why I Passed on Your Resume

Feb 11, 2015

That’s right: I only spent about six seconds looking at that meticulously written, brilliant resume of yours. That might sound crazy, but I’m not alone. If your job application was lucky enough to have been screened by a real live human, that human is likely not spending much longer than I am.

Before you scoff, it’s worth noting that six seconds is all anyone really needs to decide whether a resume is worth considering. Yes, it can really be that obvious! Don’t believe me? Here are the most likely reasons I passed on your resume:

1) You are not qualified by any stretch of the imagination.

If you are a recruiter, you have experienced this phenomenon: far less than half of the applicants that respond to job ads lack the basic qualifications that are explicitly spelled out in the text.

When I say qualifications, I’m talking about the bare minimum here. If my ad calls for a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of experience in property accounting, hundreds of you seem to think that can be stretched to mean, temped at Kohl’s every summer since high school and probably getting my BA in Art History in 2017.

I have nothing against Kohl’s or art history, but, did you read the ad?

2) The formatting is difficult to read.

Hmm, so it looks like you quit your job at Donut-Haus and came back later… no wait, I see it now… you got promoted from Herr Über-Donut to Kronut Kaiser in June… I just wasted three precious seconds.

Things like font type, font size, font color, margins, spacing, and consistency actually matter. Yup, that means your go-to size 13 Comic Sans and royal blue headings should probably be retired in the name of professionalism.

Now, “professional” formatting can mean very different things in different industries. I’ve seen more creative types have artsy, colorful resumes, and I’ve even heard of things like writing samples, links, and graphics included. My advice? Get a professional opinion on your final draft before starting your application spree. Otherwise, your six seconds of fame are already up.

3) Your spelling and grammar mistakes are distracting.

Grammatical or spelling blemishes on your resume send one of two messages: either you have poor attention to detail, or you don’t care enough about how you represent yourself. That isn’t exactly the best first impression to give a prospective employer or a recruiter.

Here are some of the top offenders that I see regularly:

  • Capitalizing Random words, while ignoring Proper nouns like microsoft excel
  • Ending some bullet points with a period, but not all.
  • Started to use a different tense without warning
  • Including a comma-separated list that starts normally, elaborates, makes sense, suddenly parallel structure goes out the window, I already pressed “delete”

4) The content is boring, rudimentary, and/or devoid of meaning.

Even the most professional looking, impeccably edited resume can’t stop my eyes from glazing over due to poor content. Listing your basic duties is not a resume– it’s a regurgitated job description. Yuck.

I will likely do another post that addresses this issue more thoroughly, but in the meantime, there’s someone I want you to meet: SAM. Your bullet points should be all about SAM, meaning:

  • What you Saved (as in time or money) – “reduced the month-end close process by four days,” or, “saved $100,000 annually by renegotiating vendor contracts”
  • What you Achieved (as in awards or goals met) – “chosen for the annual Company Spirit award for contributions to department,” or, “completed systems implementation project”
  • What you Made (as in something you actually created) – “redesigned aging report in Excel to track all past due accounts,” or “implemented internal control procedures to reduce data entry error”

Please, for the love of all that is good and competitive, make SAM your new best friend.

5) You’re too jumpy, or worse, you show little-to-no career progression.

If you seem to repeatedly change jobs after one year or less, you’re a “flight risk.” If you’ve stayed in the same company forever and had the same job title the whole time, you “lack initiative.” Either way, you’re in the trash bin before you can blurt the word “recession.”

Again, your industry will dictate the norms for this, so there will be some variation here. However, generally speaking, it’s imperative to show that you have taken on more responsibility over time, and you’ve stuck around long enough to actually do that. If that isn’t crystal clear on your resume, be it through title changes or your SAM-tastic bullet points, then you’ve got your work cut out for you.

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It’s important to mention that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all formula for the perfect resume. The kind of work you do, the position you are applying for, and the market you’re in will all factor into what can be considered perfect. However, though much of what I’ve written here is clearly geared towards finance and accounting, these principles remain very similar across all fields.

The bottom line is, your resume is like the first few bars of an audition song. With the right technique, you might just make it to Hollywood.