How much can you really tell about a candidate in a 30 second resume scan? In my experience, you can tell quite a bit. Not everything, but enough to make a decent judgment call. Here are the three things I look for when I do a quick scan:
Way too many resumes focus on activities instead of accomplishments. I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a resume closely enough even to notice what activities a candidate performed at the various jobs listed. In a 30 second resume scan, I’m really not looking for what you did, but what impact you had. My eyes are darting up and down your resume looking for some sign that you made a positive, measureable impact at each company you’ve worked for.
These are the things I’m scanning for. There is no stronger predictor of future success, in my experience, than if a candidate was promoted at one or more jobs on her resume. It's the ultimate reference. So if you were promoted, you need to highlight it. If you don’t have a bunch of promotions you need to find things to highlight all the same. Did you win something? Did you overachieve? Find some accomplishment at every job you’ve held and make that stand out on your resume.
Duration with Companies
When I’m scanning a resume, another thing I'm looking for is how long you lasted with the various companies you’ve worked for. In particular I’m looking for opportunities to disqualify candidates who have had more than 2 or 3 jobs that lasted less than 2 years. I realize this is not a perfect science. I’ve actually got two jobs on my resume with relatively short tenures. But in a quick resume scan, this is what I’m looking for. In my experience, candidates who don’t last very long at companies aren’t worth taking a gamble on unless there are some other overwhelmingly positive attributes about them. And at the early stages of the process, when I’m really looking to weed out candidates, this is a pretty reliable way to cut the field down.
This is a tough one for job seekers because you can’t really do anything to change the past. What you can do is approach the design and content of your resume in a way that mitigates the issue. If you’ve got a few short stints on your career timeline but two of them were due to broad layoffs due to restructuring or acquisitions, call it out. If you got recruited out of a company for an amazing new opportunity and you made a judgment call to leave early, call that out too. The important thing is to know that many hiring managers, like me, are looking specifically for this when scanning your resume, so you need to tweak it accordingly.
Commitment to Excellence
This one may seem a bit more obscure than the first two, but its super important to me. Ultimately we all want to build teams of people who are committed to excellence. Not every employee will be a so-called “A player” or “unicorn” or “high po” but every employee must be committed to being the best version of themselves possible. I want every member of my team striving for greatness. And you’d be surprised what the resume can tell you about a person’s mindset in that regard.
The first thing I look for on a resume that reveals to me whether or not a candidate is committed to pursuing excellence is the design. When the candidate put this resume together, was he set on creating the best resume possible or was he just trying to get a resume done? Is there something unique or special about the resume and its design that shows this candidate wants to be great? Has the candidate taken special care to make it amazing?
And on the flip side, I also look for things like typos and spelling and formatting mistakes. Even in executive resumes. If a candidate sends a resume to me that isn’t well edited, that’s enough for me to disqualify them immediately.
For the job seekers out there, I hope these points can help you as you fine tune your resume. While you may think its unfair that a manager like me would only scan your resume for 30 seconds, its also reality. This is your best weapon to differentiate yourself and get into the later stages of the hiring process. You must design your resume to outperform your competitors in a 30 second scan.
I built my resume this way. If you want to grab my resume template in an easy to edit Microsoft Word format, you can find it here.
For the managers out there, I’d be interested to hear about your tips and tricks for reviewing resumes quickly. I’d also love to hear if you reject this premise altogether. Maybe another approach works for you. Let me know about your experiences and advice in the comments section.