Six seconds. This is the average time spent by recruiters assessing a CV.

We believe that presenting yourself at your best is the key to career advancement. It’s not only your skills and experience that count, it’s being able to effectively present yourself to prospective employers that will make your application float to the top of the pile – enter the perfect CV, your secret weapon in the job market!

Whilst CV’s have always been important, the very name curriculum vitae means “course of life” in Latin, a recent study using eye tracking software revealed that recruitment professionals scan CVs so quickly that you only have a frighteningly brief six seconds to make the right impression. Six seconds…

This six second figure may be slightly short for highly technical positions requiring a detailed synopsis of work experience but is probably also rather generous for first time job seekers such as graduates where the decisions will simply be based on university and course. In any event, it is very clear we need to make the most of our brief time in that limbo world between the bin and the interview list.

To do this effectively, job seekers need to understand and prioritize the information the recruiter needs for the essential yes/no decision and present it as concisely and clearly as possible. Until recruiters see something that turns the CV into a “yes” or a “no”, they will keep reading but you must keep it short and show them what they are looking for in the most easily digestible way possible. If you don’t present a clear picture and they can’t find what they’re looking for quickly, they won’t invest more time, they’ll simply flip you into the “no” pile.

The study reveals some crucial insights into the way CVs are reviewed and shows that only six key information points account for nearly 80% of recruiters’ attention. These are:

Current job title and company
Current position start and end dates
Previous job title and company
Previous position start and end dates

These “vital statistics” are scanned in a fairly set manner too, starting with name, follwed by current job title and company and previous job title and company. Then, interestingly, the recruiters’ attention hops directly to the right hand side of the page because experience tells them that this is where they are most likely to find the dates of your current and previous positions. They are of course ideally looking for a smooth, logical career progression, rather someone who job hops. If they get past this stage then it is eyes right down to the bottom of the page (or pages) where they expect to find educational details. The amount of time that is spent on this sections tells us that recruiters have a good idea what they are looking for here because they decide in a split second if you’ve got what they want or not.

Armed with this vital information we can construct a CV that highlights these key points in an easy to find and understand format. Surprisingly for such a significant document, there is no consensus about a definitive format for a model CV. However, the six second study does also reveal that recruiters favour professionally produced CVs because they tend to follow standard and generally conservative styles which make it much easier to locate the key information. What we can infer from this is that although there is a temptation to format your CV in an unusual manner to make it “stand out from the crowd”, you need to be aware that although this may indeed get it some initial attention, if the key information is not very quickly and easily found, it will ultimately do you no good.

Take a look at our CV writing tips for a quick, no nonsense practical guide to building a CV that will get you and your talents noticed.