BLACK AND WHITE AND UNREAD

Recruiters read a tiny part of your resume, if they read it at all

If you’ve applied for a job and never heard back—and who hasn’t been there?—you’ve probably had the nagging suspicion nobody even read your résumé. You probably weren’t too far wrong. Many job applications don’t get read with any kind of care or attention, because recruiters spend, on average, an estimated (pdf) six seconds on a résumé.

That datapoint is supported by the 12th annual Mystery Job Candidate survey (pdf), in which job-search consultancy CareerXRoads creates a fake résumé for a “Frank N. Stein,” and has volunteers use it to apply to all 100 companies on Fortune magazine’s Best Place to Work List.

The results: 66 companies ignored the résumé; 28 emailed “Frank” a rejection; six (!) emailed or called to schedule an interview; and two (included in the “negative” count) wrote back noting they knew the résumé was fake:

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And these are companies with a particularly good reputation as employers and recruiters.

His name aside, “Frank” has a pretty solid fictional résumé. He is a Cornell University graduate, who worked at Johnson & Johnson for several years, and is currently at Russell Reynolds Associates.

A recruiter paying attention shouldn’t take long to catch on, though. “Frank” is listed as winning a “Silver Bolt” award at J&J. And one of the bullet points for the second job reads, “Started new division to recruit actors for vampire horror films including True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and Dracula.”

At the bottom, there’s a disclosure telling recruiters the whole thing is a fake, and provides contact information—in case the recruiter would like to know why the résumé was created. “Congratulations if you have read this far,” it reads, “as most recruiters will not.”

The results should be taken with a substantial grain of salt, as the exercise is not wholly rigorous, or without bias. The applications were completed by different people, even if the résumé was the same, so there was likely variation. At least some portion of the 66 likely realized it was fake, and chose to immediately discard it, because they didn’t have the time or inclination to respond in any way.

A few things can be taken from the the survey.

First, companies are needlessly cruel to many applicants. It takes little effort to send, at minimum, an automated email to someone who doesn’t make the cut. Failing to do that leaves people in unnecessary limbo.

In this case, plenty of recruiters likely couldn’t be bothered to respond to a résumé they knew was fake. But many applicants get nothing more than a glance (sometimes by a piece of software instead of a person) and never find out they didn’t make the cut, except by silence and time.

The second is to once again emphasize how much a referral of any kind means. Applying through an online portal often gets your résumé no more than a cursory, incomplete reading. A nudge from a current employee greatly increases the chance of getting a real reading.

And finally, obsessing over a perfect résumé is often a waste of time—time better spent making connections. There’s certainly a minimum standard: it should be error-free, concise, and informative. But it likely matters far less than you might imagine to the final outcome.

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