Despite record low unemployment, a new study finds that jobseekers have just 7.4 seconds to make an impression on recruiters but can improve their résumés for extra attention.
Ladders, Inc., a career site for $100k+ jobs, has released the updated 2018 version of its “Eye-Tracking Study”—first unveiled in 2012—that tracks the amount of time recruiters spend looking at the résumés of jobseekers.
The study, which utilized a technique called “eye tracking,” analyzed the amount of time a group of professional recruiters took to review candidate résumés and found that, despite fierce competition for talent, recruiters still skim résumés for superficial details such as layout, job titles, text flow, keywords and more.
The average initial screening time for a candidate’s résumés clocks in at just 7.4 seconds—an improvement on the 6-second average screening time found in 2012. Ladders determined that the seconds-long improvement is due in part to the fact that the previous study was conducted during the economic recession in the U.S., a time when an overwhelming number of applicants for open positions caused recruiters to spend less time absorbing key résumés details.
“Unemployment is at unprecedented lows in the current job market, and the findings of this new study underline the extent to which résumés-skimming behaviors impact not only a jobseeker’s chances of being noticed, but also a company’s ability to spot qualified candidates,” says Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella. “We hope that jobseekers will use the points found in the study to improve their résumés in a market that currently favors the candidates.”
What Makes a Résumé Stand Out?
The study found that top-performing résumés—where recruiters spent most time and focus—have several key common traits. Those include:
- Simple layouts with clearly marked section and title headers, all written in a clear font.
- Layouts that took advantage of F-pattern and E-pattern reading tendencies, with bold job titles supported by bulleted lists of accomplishments. (See below for more information on these types of reading patterns.)
- A detailed overview or mission statement, which is primarily located at the top of the first page of the résumés.
What Makes a Résumé Get Overlooked?
Recruiters also shared the features that make a résumé a “bad perform,’ and not surprisingly these résumés also shared similar qualities. Those include:
- Cluttered layouts characterized by long sentences, multiple columns, and very little white space.
- Text flow that did not draw the eye down the page, lacking section, or job headers.
- A reliance on keyword stuffing.
What Is F-Pattern and E-Pattern Scanning?
According to Nielson Norman Group (NN/G)—a user experience (UX) research and consulting firm—F-pattern scanning “is characterized by many fixations concentrated at the top and the left side of the page.” NN/G explains the process further:
- Users first read in a horizontal movement, usually across the upper part of the content area. This initial element forms the F’s top bar.
- Next, users move down the page a bit and then read across in a second horizontal movement that typically covers a shorter area than the previous movement. This additional element forms the F’s lower bar.
- Finally, users scan the content’s left side in a vertical movement. Sometimes this is a slow and systematic scan that appears as a solid stripe on an eye-tracking heat map. Other times users move faster, creating a spottier heatmap. This last element forms the F’s stem.
NN/G says that the implications of this pattern are:
- The first lines of text on a page receive more gazes than subsequent lines of text on the same page.
- The first few words on the left of each line of text receive more fixations than subsequent words on the same line.
“Thus, on the first lines of text, people will scan more words on the right than on the following lines. This scanning pattern resembles the shape of the letter F, but it is rarely a perfect F,” says NN/G, adding: “For example, in some cases, people may become interested in a paragraph down the page and may fixate on more words, reading toward the right again, so the pattern comes to resemble an E.”