Job Search Tips Resumes & Cover Letters

Get Your Resume In The Door in 8 Seconds or Less

Written by Miranda Pennington

With the hours we spend on our resumes and cover letter—the editing down, the asking friends to proofread, the tailoring to every job opportunity—we’d like to think that employers spend at least a few minutes taking in all our attention to detail. But they don’t. Since employers are often fighting time constraints, they usually spend about 8 seconds scanning your resume for relevant info.

Here’s how to make the most of all 8 seconds!

Make the First Half Count

I’ve never been one for resume objectives, but if I’m setting 8 seconds worth of priorities, I’m going to make sure I stand out from the other 299 people applying for this same job! The big 3: Skills, Experience, and Value. The top of your resume should reflect the qualifications that only you can offer—delete anything that could apply to anyone who has ever held a job.

Use Keywords that Matter

Before you even get those 8 seconds, chances are a data-mining program has already screened you for an HR manager to review. Make sure you prime the hiring manager to like you by front-loading your resume with the most impressive accomplishments, specific technical skills, and other eye-catching (but accurate) terms. They should also pick up on what the job posting was specifically looking for.

Lead With the Best Information

For each position, there will be the achievements you accomplished and the responsibilities you completed. Which one do you think is more compelling to a hiring manager?

Use bullets for your results and a paragraph format for roles and responsibilities so that what you achieved stands out more than just what you did. Use the active voice and avoid weak-sounding words that underplay your contribution.

Don’t Make the Reader Squint

Your resume font size should NEVER be smaller than 11—it’s impossible onscreen and the time it takes your hiring manager to reach for their reading glasses is precious! Use bold typeface to accent crucial information, leave a healthy amount of white-space, and guide your reader through your resume with indentations and formatting that tells them clearly what information is grouped together.

Make sure those 8 seconds are worth it—no typos, no sluggish passive voice, and definitely no exaggerations!

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.