How long does a recruiter look at your resume?

The most challenging part of applying for a job is obtaining an interview and getting the chance to talk to your employer in person. But you need to send your resume first and hope that it is good enough to land you that interview.

You see, employers, especially big corporations, receive a high number of resumes when they announce an open position. As you may suspect, the employer doesn’t have the time to read all the resumes that come in, so they will be quickly scanned in order to see if a candidate is worth a more in-depth analysis.

This is called the “6-second scan” of the resume. Practically, the employer is looking for any details that are worth considering. If you get an employer to spend more than 6 seconds to look at your resume, then your chances of getting an interview are considerably higher.

You probably read something like this in the article that was full of the right tips to beat this 6-second scan. And maybe you asked yourself whether that was actually right. Really 6 seconds? It’s this true?

I asked the same question when I saw those articles and offers promising to customize my resume, so I could pass the 6-second screening test.

The 6-second Resume Scan

I started my search for a study that was the source of the information for all these articles and offers. Many articles led me to one source study: “Keeping an eye on recruiter behavior” published by TheLadders. I recently read many studies about how formatting of text is influencing readers and I was curious about that new study that is a source of data for so many articles.

It was quite easy to find it; however, I was surprised that it’s just a 5-page PDF file (brochure) full of statements with no detailed information. It was like the brochure that any marketing department could create during two days and not the type of study that you usually see, dozens pages supported by research.

I was trying to find the whole study and not this brochure. I spent quite lot of time trying to find more information on that study. But maybe I don’t know how to find information on Google, I don’t have sufficient luck or there is nothing else about this study, only this 5-page brochure.

When you open the PDF, there are few interesting statements; let’s have a look at them a little more closely.

“The study gauged specific behaviors of actual recruiters as they performed online tasks, including resume and candidate profile reviews. Thirty professional recruiters took part in the study during a 10-week period.”

The “study” does not provide any information about the recruiters that were part of it. There is no information about what types of roles they were trying to fill or what candidates they were screening during those 10 weeks. Even the information about how many profiles each recruiter checked during that time is not mentioned there. I was also expecting information about whether all the recruiters that were part of that study were from US or from some other countries. The location is important because in many countries people use a different format of resume.

And because of lack of data you don’t even know if the recruiters were looking to fill specific roles or if they were responsible for high volume hiring. This would also have effect on the study because if recruiters were looking for people from one specific location and rejecting all candidates from other locations they would have needed only 2 seconds. They needed only to check if the person had the right city or country on their profile or not.

I personally can’t really imagine that 30 recruiters could invest 10 weeks in this survey. And even then they had time to responsibly fill in self-evaluation reports about their progress without trying to just “fake” their data and save time.

“They were able to review key data points faster because TheLadders’ profiles were 55% easier to read than LinkedIn.”

Of course TheLadders’ profiles was easier to read than profiles on LinkedIn. This study was created and paid for by TheLadders! If LinkedIn is going to publish a similar report, I am pretty sure that the result will be supporting LinkedIn instead of TheLadders.

“Professionally prepared resumes also scored better in terms of organization and visual hierarchy, as measured by eye-tracking technology.”

If the study is ending with “Click here to learn more about TheLadders’ resume rewriting services,” I think that says everything you need to know about that study.

Not only did the study fail to provide any data supporting the 6-second scan statement, what surprised me a lot was how many sites wrote and published an article about it without checking the facts or even asking the right questions in their articles. I know that the numbers are working great in headlines: “How to Pass the 6-Second Resume Test,” “What Recruiters Look for in a 6-Second Resume Scan,” and, yes, these headlines definitely sound better than “32-Second Resume Test,” “What Recruiters Look for in a 2-minutes Resume Scan.


Sometimes we all fall into the trap of using incorrect data, but it’s always good to double-check it. I also made a mistake recently when I didn’t properly check one statement and I mentioned in one of my articles that “videos can be processed 60,000 times faster than written content” (source: 3M).

When I was working on my second book, I was double-checking all the data and found out that this statement “videos can be processed 60,000 times faster than written content” is not correct. I found this article and it looked like even the author of that study (from 3M) wasn’t able to provide the source of this claim. It was a great reminder for me not to trust numbers blindly and always double-check the data.

And is this 6-second statement correct? I don’t know how quickly other recruiters are reading the resume of their candidates and maybe I am just slower than others, but I am sure that I spend more than 6 seconds with each profile. A study from Careerbuilder states that one in six (17 percent) hiring managers spend 30 seconds or less, on average, reviewing resumes; according to a new CareerBuilder survey, a majority (68 percent) spend less than two minutes. That study provides better data than TheLadders and, as you can see, you have more than 6 seconds.

Offers to rewrite your resume to help you pass the “6-second resume test” are only playing with our minds because they are putting psychological pressure on us, telling us we need their service because we have ONLY 6 seconds! The reality is different, many recruiters and hiring managers are spending more time with your resume than 6 seconds.

And if you still believe that 6-second resume study is correct you can test yourself on the 6-second resume challenge and maybe you will realize that you can be fast, but the quality of work will be reflected in your speed.