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Science Indicates Optimal Resume Structure

By Lydia McGee
On October 13, 2017

While no employer is like another, it is possible for applicants to structure their resumes to hold employers’ attentions.

    Unfortunately, the hiring process can be rife with error, missed opportunity, and extreme bias. According to Dr. Carol Isaac, PhD, Dr. Barbara Lee, PhD, and Molly Carnes, MD, in their article for the U.S. National Library of Health and National Institutes of Health, even after their extensive studies and data analysis, “when ambiguity exists in an individual’s qualifications or competence, evaluators will fill the void with assumptions drawn from…stereotypes.”

    For this reason, the applicant should strive to make the resume the selling point. One positive find Drs. Isaac, Lee, and Carnes discovered was the fact that “individuating proof of competence and past performance excellence that are relevant to the employment opportunity seems to be effective in mitigating…bias.” In this case, it is possible to ease employer bias by structuring the resume correctly to make sure it has relevant but selling information.

    How can this be done? In a study conducted by The Ladders, an online job search site, they used advanced technological eye movement tracking to see where employers lingered the longest. Their studies indicated that it is possible that recruiters will only spend approximately six seconds reviewing a single resume. In comparison, the average human attention span, according to recent science, is now approximately eight seconds long. This means that a recruiter might concentrate on a resume for less time than he or she is even capable of focusing.

    In The Ladder’s study, recruiters exhibited distracted eye patterns when resumes included varying fonts, strange visuals, pictures, and ads. However,they did find that recruiters spent 80 percent of their time reading over the employee name, previous titles and company titles, the start and end dates of previous positions, the interested employee’s current position and occupation, and any education information. “Recruiters did little more than scan for keywords to match the open position, which amounted to a very cursory ‘pattern matching’ activity. Because decisions were based mostly on the six pieces of data listed above, an individual resume’s detail and explanatory copy became filler and had little to no impact on the initial decision making,” reports The Ladder.

    Recruiters, then, tend to make snap decisions based on basic material. Within six seconds, they have fit the resume into a yes category or no category.

    This research shows that the resume should not contain endless strings of poorly structured material. Since the recruiters tend to linger on basic information, the sections detailing past work experience should not only be specific, but also active. Active verbs will catch the employers eye faster than phrases such as “was responsible for.”

    More streamlined resumes receive more intense and longer scrutiny from recruiters. According to The Ladders, “distractions wasted time and detracted from more pertinent and useful candidate information such as experience and skills. Such visual elements reduced recruiters’ analytical capability and hampered decision-making. The Ladders found that the less information provided on a resume, the more positive the response. They lingered on all the sections longer and were more willing to move from the top of the resume through to the end.        

    Recruiters will never have more time to review resumes, and bias will never be eliminated from the process; however, applicants now have more insight when it comes to decisions.

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