The six-second resume challenge

The clock is ticking and you no longer have 20 seconds to grab an employer's attention.

Think you’ve got 20 seconds to impress? Think again.

According to recent research, the amount of time recruiters spend on each resume is about six seconds.

Down from 20 to 30 seconds just a few years ago, the statistic is dispiriting news for job searchers, who often have to pin their hopes of landing an advertised job on their resume alone.

Yet the news isn’t all bad.

The 2013 Global Career Brainstorming Day for career professionals contains insights from employment thought leaders that job seekers can use to their own advantage.

The research, from the career industry think tank Career Thought Leaders (CTL), was published in March and contains thoughts on the future of job seeking.

Mind the platform: your resume needs to work on more than one

According to the CTL research, resumes need to function on multiple platforms “as a document that can be emailed, a mobile document easily viewed on smartphones, a profile on social media sites, and, still, a static document on paper that can be used in networking and at interviews.”

Resumes are only one form of career communication available now to candidates, with social media rising in importance.

Again, according to CTL research: “Candidates are developing multiple types of communications, both traditional documents (different resume versions, bios, leadership profiles) and a variety of other approaches (Twitter resumes and cover letters, video clips, infographics and other visuals) as they seek new ways to stand out from the competition.”

Resumes generally still need to be kept to one or two pages (although there are geographical variations), and consistent with the trend towards shorter documents, short “branding statements” are replacing introductory paragraphs on some documents.

In fact, infographic resumes are popular and their usage is expected to increase.

These are trends that Andrea Howse, who leads the human resources team at accounting firm Moore Stephens’ seven Queensland offices, has also noticed among job seekers.

According to Howse, candidates are embracing electronic communication and social media.

“Hardly anyone posts hard-copy resumes anymore and many people add links to their LinkedIn profiles to make the resume more personal and to better showcase their achievements.”

For accounting roles, resumes need to highlight the candidate’s technical expertise, says Howse.

Moore Stephens, for example, seeks candidates with client contact experience, problem-solving abilities and business acumen – although Howse notes that these are difficult skills to highlight in a resume and more often come out in LinkedIn profiles, video clips and the like.

“[With] the volume we get, we only have a short amount of time to review each resume, so it’s really important to have a branding statement at the start to capture the attention of the person reviewing the resume,” says Howse.

“The more succinct, the better.

“The biggest section I look at is the current position and the skills and experience they’ve developed through that to see how it’s applicable for our roles here.”

Present tense: your current position matters the most

The CTL thinkers agree. “The present matters. A candidate’s current position is the one recruiters and hiring managers look at the most. They may not take the time to scroll backwards through a resume or profile to consider earlier experience but will make a judgment call based only on the most recent job held.”

Job hunting can be a dispiriting exercise, both in the current economic climate where unemployment is trending up, and thanks to the latest candidate selection trends, which make recruitment a less personal process.

While recruiters reportedly dedicate an average of only six seconds to review each resume, many don’t even make it as far as human eyes.

"Anything a candidate can do to stand out and showcase their achievements and their personality is vital." – Andrea Howse, Moore Stephens

The increasing reliance of recruiters on Applicant Tracking Systems – software that automatically sifts through job applications without human intervention – means resumes need to change.

Certainly candidates can be dispirited by the “resume black hole” that is ATS – where their applications are rejected without an acknowledging letter or email.

Stand out by tailoring your resume to the job

ATS isn’t yet a huge trend in Australia, but will only increase in popularity with time, says Andrew Morris, Director of Queensland & Western Australia at financial services recruiter Robert Half.

But he says regardless of whether resumes are being screened by a computer or by a human being, the principle for standing out is the same – tailor your resume to the job.

“One of the biggest mistakes is [when neither] the resume nor the cover letter are tailored to the ad itself,” says Morris.

“If you just put a generic resume in, the chances of being called on that resume are about 10 per cent.

“With every resume you put into a company, you should have at least seven out of 10 call you in for an interview or phone interview. If you don’t, it’s because your application [doesn’t match] the ad you’ve applied for.”

Candidates must make sure the key experiences and skills the job posting asks for really stand out on their application.

Additionally, candidates should remember that when they apply for a financial role, for instance, the person doing the first screening of the resume might not be an accountant or finance professional, so it’s doubly important to make sure that the resume matches up with the job description, says Morris.

“You have to give detail about how you can add value to the company in terms of those specifics,” he adds.

“Most people just send the same resume for every single ad, and it’s the resume that stands out and not the cover letter – a lot of people in this day and age don’t even look at the cover letter.”

Companies also rely more on referrals to find staff. Some are making it a formal policy to hire as many new staff as they can from employee referrals, as both hire and retention rates tend to much higher, according to CTL data.

Howse says Moore Stephens uses employment agencies less than it has in the past. Instead, it builds relationships with prospective candidates through LinkedIn and through its staff’s own networks, even before there’s a position to be filled. The firm only uses recruitment agencies for a hard-to-fill role.

“It’s certainly a very competitive market and there are a lot of very talented people available so anything a candidate can do to stand out and showcase their achievements and their personality is vital,” says Howse.

October 2021
October 2021

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