Can Your Resume Pass the 5-Second Test?

It used to be the 7-second test, but recruiters like John Garvens of Salesforce says if he can’t look at your resume in five seconds and know what you do, you’ve already lost.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a master at keyword placement, so why should I worry about the human factor when Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software pre-screens most of today’s applications?

For one, only 40% of employers rely on those systems, and sometime down the road, a human is going to take over. Second, no matter how perfect a match you are for the job, few recruiters have time to search for keywords if they’re embedded in an overly lengthy or cluttered resume. And last, even bots find it difficult to track keywords in a document that isn’t labeled or organized correctly.

While there’s no sure-fire guarantee when it comes to application selection, here are 3 ways to increase your chances of passing the 5-second test.

1. Go for Brevity – but say a lot.

You need to convey your story in two pages or less so here’s where you’ll be glad you listened to your high school English teacher.

  • Avoid a passive voice and use strong action verbs and also the best choice of words to describe what you do.

  • Try not to make your sentences or bullets do too much and instead, relay one relevant idea in each.

  • Use clear and simple language and resist using industry acronyms or jargon-speak.

  • Never embellish, and forget about inserting things like hobbies and objective statements.

2. Lay it Out.

A 2018 Ladders eye tracking study determined that recruiters generally spend more time reviewing a resume that follows an “E” or “F” pattern and also ones with a nice balance of text and whitespace. Be sure to:

  • Organize headers, titles, and sections so they stand out, leaving no doubt about the information that comes next.

  • Reserve the top area of the page for highly relevant details like mission statements or impressive accomplishments. Don’t forget to include your name and contact information as well.

  • Include: relevant Career Highlights, Skills and Education in either reverse-chronological order or functional format depending upon your situation or experience.

  • Graphics and even personal photos can interfere with ATS functionality and can be distracting to human viewers. Use sparingly or not at all.

  • When describing Career Highlights, add a brief account of your responsibilities followed by bullet points describing key and quantifiable achievements.

3. Write to the Job You’re Applying For.

While it’s okay to keep a template in your resume toolbox, use caution when sending a blanket application without a thorough examination of the job description first. If pursuing work in a similar discipline or field, chances are a simple customization is all that’s needed.

To sum up, your resume should be brief, organized and focused; save the full story details for your LinkedIn profile. For that or other questions about career writing, contact me at .

Lynne West is a professional business writer specializing in Resumes, LinkedIn Profiles, Real Estate Blogs and Copywriting. Visit her at

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