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Getting Past the 7-Second Filter: How Employers Actually Read Resumes

Updated: Feb 16

7.4 seconds. According to a survey by The Ladders, that's how much time your resume gets with recruiters or hiring managers.

Now, take your resume and count to seven. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi, Four Mississippi, Five Mississippi, Six Mississippi, Seven Mississippi – DONE!

How far did you get?

You must think this is an incredibly short amount of time to read your resume from head to toe and fully understand your experience, skill set, and the value you can bring. True.

And that's the thing. Employers don't read your resume. They scan it.

They open the document, spot the layout, find their way through, look only for relevant keywords in your resume, and make a decision. That's it – that's what gets absorbed in those few seconds they spend with your resume.

What's more, that's what your career success depends on.

So, your goal? Make every millisecond count and leave an unforgettable impression with your resume. How? Just read on.

In the next 5 minutes, you'll find out exactly how employers read resumes, learn what catches their eye first, and discover the key areas that could make or break your chance in those crucial six to seven seconds.


Disclaimer: This article includes relevant affiliate links to services, resources, and tools I wholeheartedly recommend. If you buy something through these links, I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase helps me share more helpful content. Thanks if you choose to support me this way!

Do Employers Read an Entire Resume?

So, do employers actually read an entire resume word for word? Short answer: no.

But that doesn't mean your resume won't get the attention it deserves.

The thing is, by the moment they receive your resume, most recruiters and hiring managers have already reviewed 10,000+ resumes. With that expertise, they know exactly where to look and what to zero in on to extract the essential details.

Ever had an experienced car repairman pop open the hood and diagnose your car's issue within seconds? You might have stared at it for ages, puzzled. Yet, there they are, pinpointing the reasons for that odd sound in your car right off the bat.

That's what most hiring managers and recruiters can do as well. (With resumes, not cars.)

They don't necessarily need to dissect every single word to gauge whether you meet the job requirements. However, if something in your resume piques their interest, they'll dig deeper. So make sure your entire resume is compelling, whether they skim parts of it or not.


What Do Employers First Notice on a Resume?

Ever wondered what employers notice first on a resume? Well, in the world of resumes, first impressions are visual impressions.

So, the first thing employers will notice will be all the aspects of your resume that instantly meet the eye: length, fonts, structure, and formatting leading up to keywords.

Let's see how that works in practice.


#1: Length

If your resume is pushing the page limit, it's also pushing its luck. Employers will make up their minds and swiftly relocate it to the 'no' file within the first second of opening it.

How? It's simple: They will open the document, notice 5+ pages, and you're out.

At first, this instant filtering might be unfair, but the length of your resume tells more than you'd expect.

The logic behind is this: If you can't summarize the relevant experience in one or two pages, employers will jump to the conclusion that you 1) don't understand what is actually important for the job, 2) can't see the forest for the trees, and 3) can't communicate effectively. And it's safe to say these are not characteristics any of them look for in their future employees.

As the most black-or-white filter, this is their most straightforward criterion.

Luckily, it's the easiest one to fix. Just play around with the font size and margin size, and be critical of your content when deciding what's worth keeping, and you'll be able to fit everything in this limited space.

Word of caution: This doesn't mean your resume must always be 1-page long. Depending on your background, industry, and career path, you might be better with a 2-page or 3-page resume.

Want to be sure you're doing it right? Find out exactly how long your resume should be.


#2: Fonts

If you have done the seven Mississippi test at the beginning, you've noticed that you can't actually read the whole content in the given time. Instead, you can only grasp some visual information.

The font style is the key visual information employers see when they open your resume.

Hard-to-read, cartoonish, odd, or simply unprofessional will surely make you stand out from the crowd, but not in the way you'd like. They will immediately rule you out.

Keep the font style simple and professional. Also, keep it consistent throughout the document.

Select all in your document (CTRL + A for MS Office users and Command + A for Mac users) and change your font to Arial, Calibri, or Cambria. These font styles will do the job.


#3: Structure

To make the most of the time employers spend scanning your resume, it must be easy for them to find their way through and spot relevant information about your experience and education.

A labyrinth-like resume with an unusual or illogical structure will put them off.

Stick to the most common resume format and structure: chronological resume format.

Here is a simplified explanation of how to create a chronological resume:

  • Start with contact details and a tailored personal statement, aka career summary.

  • Then, jump to the crucial part of your resume – work experience. List your jobs in reverse chronological order, starting with the current or most recent ones and going back to the past.

  • After this section, give information about your educational background.* End with additional skills, awards, recognitions, or extracurricular activities.

*Education should be at the top, before the work history, only if you are looking for entry-level jobs straight out of high school or college. Want to future-proof your resume? Choose the best resume format for 2024.


#4: Text Formatting

Employers most likely won't spend their time going through big chunks of text to find one piece of information they need.

So, instead of having blocks of text, use bullet points to improve readability or—more appropriately—scanability.

In general, formatting and design make a huge difference. Elevate your resume with HR-approved resume design tips and catch the employer's attention at first glance.

Plus, make sure your resume has enough white space and use professional resume colors.


#5: Keywords

After swiftly scanning the visual elements, employers proceed to a rapid review of resumes, specifically honing in on job-specific keywords.

The strategic placement of these keywords in your resume headline, career summary, job titles, job descriptions, and skills or strengths overview is paramount.

This not only catches the employer's eye but also serves as a compass, guiding them to the crucial aspects of your professional profile. It's like planting signposts that scream, "This candidate has what you're looking for!" So, sprinkle those keywords thoughtfully, ensuring your resume becomes a beacon that aligns seamlessly with the job at hand.

What's the contrary scenario? Well, even those with an untrained eye can tell you that a resume that starts with a vague, generic career objective," Looking for a challenging role to progress both professionally and personally." has been sent to 10+ other employers. (If we're being totally honest, it's probably safe to add one more zero, right?)

If you are remotely interested in the job you're applying for, that's not the right way to start your introduction. It doesn't say anything about your skills, the value you can bring to the employers, or your motivation. So, this generic intro doesn't actually do you any service.

Instead, customize this short section to each job you apply for and write a tailored, achievement-focused personal statement.

If you were looking for one thing that can have an instant and significant impact on your success in your job search, this is it.

Need inspiration? Steal one of 85+ career summary examples.


Resume Quick Fixes

  • Contact details: Make sure your email address sounds professional. An informal email address in the contact details hurts your job search.

  • Dates of employment: Use a consistent date form. If you have written the time frame of your current/most recent job as mm/yyyy – mm/yyyy, keep this format throughout the document. It's a small thing that tells a lot about your attention to detail.

  • Hobbies and interests: This is not a mandatory part of a resume. At the same time, it's the wild card that can make or break a first impression. So, if all you can include is something generic like "enjoys long walks, reading and socializing" or something inappropriate like "winning a prize in a beer-drinking championship," take this section out.

  • Mistakes and typos: This is an obvious one. At the same time, it's still one of the most common resume mistakes. So let me remind you—proofread your resume multiple times before hitting that send button.

These simple changes can be done in less than 10 minutes while skyrocketing your job search success.


TL;DR - So, How Do Employers Actually Read Resumes?

Recruiters and hiring managers typically don't read resumes word for word. Instead, they quickly scan the layout, seeking key information. This entire process unfolds in a mere 7 seconds – to be precise, 7.4 seconds.

To boost your odds of securing interviews, ensure your resume nails the essentials: length, fonts, structure, formatting, and keywords.

Get these elements right, and you're on the right track to making that memorable first impression.

Disclaimer: This article includes affiliate links. If you shop through these links, I might earn a commission, making this site fully reader-supported. Big thanks for your support!


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Founder of ByRecruiters, Ana Colak-Fustin

Ana Colak-Fustin

Hi—I'm Ana! A recruiter, HR consultant, and founder of My career advice and job search tools have been featured in Yahoo News, The Muse, Jobscan, A Better HR Business, and other global media. Over 8,000 professionals have used my resume templates to land new jobs and power up their careers. Ready to join them? Your success story starts here.

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