How to Win the Five-Second Resume Scan
One of the reasons that resumes are so hard to write is that they have to speak to many different audiences — and to be compelling to each of them.
On top of that, they have to sell you in 5 seconds or less.
And, let’s be honest, the email is open and the phone ringing in that five second time frame. In other words, it has to sell you in a very distracted five seconds.
That’s a tall order.
Lucky for you, there are strategies that enable you to control where the reader’s eyes look for that five seconds. And, when you control where they look, you can control what they think!
Start with a Super-Hero Summary
The very first thing anyone reading your resume should see is a concise statement of why they should hire you. This should be at the top, bold and discrete from your resume. It needs to be specific to the position and compelling.
By putting this summary up front, you make certain that they get the one-two punch, even if they only look at your resume for one second!
Draw Attention to Your Key Points
Start by outlining the key points that you want to make on your resume. Perhaps you’d like to draw attention to relevant industry experience, a specific software program you use or an achievement from a previous employer.
Once you have this outline, think about the best way to make these points jump out above all others. You may want to include a box of languages you know or highlight your business philosophy prior to your work experience.
Make a plan that will enable you to focus energy on the key points you want to get across.
Using Bolding Like a Pro
Bolding (and formatting generally) helps you control the eyes of the reader. So use it wisely.
If everything is bolded, nothing jumps out. If nothing is bolded, you are losing a huge opportunity to guide your reader to the most important parts of your application.
Here are some rules of thumb that will help you get past the five second scan (and earn you the interview!)
- Less than 20% of the page should be bolded. Less is more.
- Keep your formatting & bolding patterns consistent across jobs.
- Bold only the key phrase in a line.
- When you read through ONLY the bolded words on your resume, it should make sense
When you follow these rules, your reader’s eyes will be able to glance down the page and still pull out all of the most important details!
Psst — you can read more on bolding & formatting your resume here
Get Rid of Glaring Errors
The biggest thing that five second scans do is identify immediate “No” resumes. Glaring errors are a sure route to that pile.
Glaring errors are extremely common. Extremely.
Have someone else read your resume from start to finish. Use spell check (duh). Double check all acronyms, industry-specific names, etc.
Ensure that you have all the requisite information on your page. (Have you been meaning to fill in the years on that one position and forgot?)
Don’t get rejected for a silly error.
Earn Yourself More Attention
This is the most interesting strategy. It’s also the riskiest, but, when done well, pays off big time.
Put yourself in the place of a recruiter, HR or Hiring Manager. They’ve got a stack of resumes on their desk. A big one. Now ask yourself how you can stand out in a way that is both effective and positive.
This is not the time to send a baseball glove with the note “I’m a great catch.” Will you stand out? Yes. Is it positive? Almost certainly not. You will be the punchline at lunch.
So let’s talk about what is effective and positive: Using the Skills You Need for the Job to Stand Out.
What does that mean exactly? Let’s take a look at some examples:
If you are in sales, it might mean using your follow-up and consistency to “close the deal” over the phone.
If you are a designer, it might mean using your application as an opportunity to show off your design skills — specific to the company. (Use their branding, but make it your own!)
If you are in customer service, perhaps you include testimonials from callers you’ve handled.
The possibilities are endless. The idea is that you find a way to show the skills that you are going to need to excel at your work. This makes you unique and helps you to stand out in a way that is effective — not tacky. And, of course, it will earn you more time and attention on your resume!
Why It Is Important to Cater to the Five Second Scan
It’s a reality that 80+% of candidates get rejected in the five second scan. It may not be pretty, but it’s true.
It’s the scan that narrows the field and defines your competition. Your resume needs to be built to win the scan.
Implementing these changes will drastically improve your chances of getting the job — and impressing recruiters, HR and hiring managers alike.
Rebecca Rapple has been featured in Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Keith Ferrazzi’s My Greenlight and more. You can learn more about the fundamentals of a remarkable job search on her site, The Resume Revolution.