How Recruiters Really Read Your Resume: 7 Steps in 7 Seconds

Job seekers like to believe that when they send a resume to an employer, someone on the receiving end reads the whole document and thinks…

“How can we best use this person in our organization?”


The reality is that your resume will most likely never be read in its entirety. And the real thought process when reading is…

“Is there anything in here that will allow me to eliminate this person from further consideration?”

In today’s competitive job market, employers are overwhelmed with the number of applicants, most of whom aren’t even remotely qualified. An employers’ only hope of getting to the viable candidates is to reject as many as possible, as quickly as they can.

The better you know how recruiters read your resume, the more you increase your chance of getting noticed. First, however, it helps to understand how a typical resume is processed by an employer:

Larger Companies: Think ATS

Well-established companies and recruiters typically use ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) to gather and track all applicants.

  • When someone applies, the resume and application go into a database (not to someone’s desk or email)
  • Periodically, a recruiter or hiring manager will search the database by keywords, and the corresponding applicants will pop-up.
  • They scan the resume and application for a few seconds to determine if this is someone that they might want to check out further, or disregard.
  • If someone’s resume didn’t pop-up from the keyword search, no human eyeballs ever see the resume at all!

For larger companies, write your resume assuming an ATS is being used. Keep your resume concise, clean and full of keywords.

Smaller Companies: Think Humans

Smaller organizations typically have a more manual procedure, reviewing resumes individually.

  • Resumes typically arrive by email and a human reviews at each one
  • Due to volume, they make a preliminary judgment in a very few seconds
  • Decisions are often made on confidence, soft skills such as problem solving, quantified statements showing success and potential fit with the existing team

The real key: at both large and smaller employers: the reader decides if you are worth further consideration from a very brief scan. If they don’t see a  connection with you immediately, they move on; there are plenty of additional resumes to review.

Judgement Time: 7 Steps in 7 Seconds

How do they make the judgment in that quick scan? Typically, recruiters approach resumes like this:

  1. They scan summary and functional information at the top to make sure you may be a good fit
  2. They review work history to see if the person has had a related career background
  3. Specifically, they look for company names, titles, appropriate number of years of experience in the field and a stable work history
  4. Next, they search for related keywords that show you have the technical skills and knowledge of the tools and processes to get the job done
  5. Preference is given to recent experience vs. history from years ago
  6. They scan for appropriate education, certifications and other required criteria
  7. If all looks good so far, they put this resume in the “maybe” pile with a plan to re-evaluate… and decide if you are worth an interview

Is the employer being cruel and heartless? No.

Is the system flawed? Certainly… however, there is no other way to deal with the volume of applicants more effectively. How long would it take to thoroughly read dozens, hundreds, or sometimes thousands of resumes? How long would it take a human to compare each of them to find the 3 most qualified?

How Do You Get Your Resume to “Maybe”?

So how do you make sure your resume gets past the 7 steps in 7 seconds test? Make sure your resume screams “I’m a fit!” in that initial scan!

  • Clearly state a summary of your skills (technical and soft)
  • Make your relevant work history clear
  • Make appropriate skills, experience, and certifications jump out (bold works)
  • Use appropriate terminology from their job description, not yours
  • Write in brief, concise (easily digested in a scan) phrases, not long sentences or paragraphs

Understanding the typical process for reviewing resumes can help you be more strategic in crafting your resume. This is how you create the best possible chance of being selected!





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at The Wise Job Search!



HarryAbout the Author: Harry Urschel has over 25 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, and writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search. Contact Harry by email and follow him on Twitter!



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