Six Seconds

Six Seconds

In about the same amount of time that it takes to comfortably recite the English alphabet, a future employer will spend reviewing your résumé. Chances are that you spent hours crafting your document and it is discouraging to know that someone will only take a few seconds to read it. One, two, three, four, five, six!Capture

If you know that your document is going to be read in a flash, then what can you do to make sure that the reader finds what he or she needs to place your document in the “follow-up with this candidate” pile?

The game is challenging, because résumés look similar, and the people applying often have similar backgrounds and qualifications. You might think, “I can just make my résumé look more unique,” but it is only in the most creative of industries that a unique approach might be valued. This means that for the majority of us the expectation, from employers, is to produce a document with a standard résumé format, a common font, and predictable content.

Do you already feel like you are losing the game, and that the odds of winning are stacked against you?


  • Throughout the résumé focus on featuring what you possess (skills, experiences, academic training) that is most relevant to the job to which you are applying.
  • Make sure to use action-verb driven phrases to capture the what/how/why of the skills that you have. It is not enough to say something like “Met with clients.” You will want to reveal a bit more, as in “Met with prospective clients, in-person, to share product information resulting in a 10% increase in converted sales leads from previous year.”
  • Consider dedicating a line to accomplishments and/or outcomes at the end of each major experience you choose to include.
  • Print your résumé, fold it in thirds, and determine if each of the first two thirds contain content relevant to the job posting.
  • Use headings that highlight your expertise to separate your content sections. The generic heading of “Work Experience” does little to inform a reader of what he or she is about to read, but a heading with a little more specificity, “Manufacturing Experience,” immediately keys the reader to the field or industry in which your skills reside.
  • Look at the jobs of most interest to you and take note of the action verbs and key words that are being utilized. Does a job posting contain the word “collaborate” more than once? Maybe it states that an individual must “work in cross-functional teams”? Make sure that you convey that you have what the company seeks, but do not make stuff up!
  • If your résumé is two pages then recognize that the first page has to read like a one page résumé. A potential employer does not have time to find out if you are the perfect candidate on the bottom of the second page. Two pages is often too long!
  • Apply for positions for which you are a strong fit, and for which you can visualize being an asset to the company. This does not mean that you have to satisfy ALL of the qualifications identified, but it does mean that you need to convey, by use of your action verbs, that you have a number of the skills that the employer seeks.
  • Apply the Six Second Rule! Give your résumé to someone who does not know you too well, count to six, take back your résumé and ask the individual what he or she learned about you. See if what was learned reflects what you sought to convey.

Your résumé is more than words on the page. It is a strategic document and a six second impression of you!


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By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Kay Kimball Gruder