How long do recruiters spend looking at your CV?

How long recruiters really spend looking at your CV | Study and analysis
 
Andrew Fennell photo Andrew Fennell | April 2021

Industry research states that on average recruiters spend 6-8 seconds looking at your CV before they decide whether you are suitable for their vacancy or not.

As a job seeker, this is a worrying and frustrating statistic to hear.

After all, what is the point in spending days crafting the perfect CV, if recruiters will not even bother to invest 10 seconds in reading it?

But fortunately, this figure doesn’t tell us the full story – and the research behind it is far from conclusive.

To answer this question more accurately, I have compared all of the research and studies that have been carried out on this topic, spoken with numerous recruiters and added some of my own analysis and commentary of the data.

How long are recruiters really spending looking at your CV, and what can you do to increase the amount of time they spend looking at yours in 2021?

 

 

 

Key CV statistics

  • Research shows that recruiters spend 6-8 seconds reviewing a CV before they decide whether it is suitable for a vacancy or not.
  • 80% of CVs do not get shortlisted by recruiters, meaning they do not make it past the first screen.
  • Recruiters say that they spend anywhere between 8 seconds and 15 minutes reviewing a CV.
  • On average only 11% of applicants are considered suitable for the roles they are applying to.

 

 

What studies have been done into how long recruiters spend reading your CV?

If you search online for an answer to “how long do recruiters spend reading my CV?” almost every page in the results will tell you 6-8 seconds or something near to that time length.

They are numbers quoted by almost every major job board and news site from Glassdoor and Business Insider, to Reed and The Guardian.

But what is it this figure based on? And why has the careers industry fixated on it for so long?

Most media mentions of the 6-8 seconds statistic cite one of the following 2 studies as sources.

  • Ladders eye-tracking study  – USA
  • Workopolis recruiter database study  – Canada

These are both large reputable careers companies, but it’s worth noting that neither are UK based and the research was all carried out several years ago.

Let’s take a close look at each study to determine how accurate and reliable they are.

 

 

Ladders eye tracking study

Ladders eye tracking CV study

 

Ladders are a well-known US job site who exclusively advertise jobs that pay over $100k per year.

They carried out an “eye-tracking” study in 2018 where they used eye tracking sensor technology to record which sections of a CV recruiter focused on when reviewing it, and how long they spent reviewing it all together.

They produced a 4 page PDF with some CV heat maps to visualise their findings.

 

CV heat maps

 

What did they learn?

The Ladders study found the following key statistics from their eye tracking recruiter study.

  • Recruiters spend 7.4 seconds performing an initial screen of a CV on average.
  • Recruiters scan for job titles and subheadings.
  • Best performing CVs had clear simple layouts (although it does not define what “best performing” means in this context)

 

How did they carry out the study?

This is where the Ladders study gets interesting.

They do not provide any information on how the study was carried out.

At the bottom of the study, they provide these two sentences the methodology for the study.

 

Ladders methodology

 

This is incredibly vague to say the least.

They do not explain:

  • Who was studied – We can assume that they studied recruiters, but how many? And from what industries and companies?
  • How many CVs were reviewed – Did these recruiters look at 1 CV or 10,000 CVs?
  • How the study was carried out – How were these recruiters monitored and timed? Which eye tracking technology was used? How were the average times calculated?

 

Is this study reliable?

In my opinion, no.

I think there is a strong chance that this study was never even carried out.

The total lack of explanation of who was studied and how the study was done seems very suspicious to me.

Surely if this study had really happened, Ladders would have provided extensive detail on how it was done.

At the very least, I would have expected them to tell us how many recruiters were involved, where the study happened, and how many CVs were reviewed.

Also, the use of eye tracking technology is a pretty big deal, but it’s completely glossed over in the study PDF. If you had gone to the lengths and great expense of using such an advanced piece of technology for a study, would you not have gone into some detail about how it works? Maybe even included some photos or videos of the recruiters using it?

Unless somebody can show me some evidence to the contrary, I do not think we can rely on the results of this study.

Unfortunately, I think it’s just a piece of PR whereby somebody in the Ladders marketing team picked a number that they thought was roughly correct, and then built a story around it to make the data seem real and get some news coverage.

 

Workopolis recruiter database study

Workopolis CV study

 

Workopolis are a Canadian job site and a partner of global jobs giant Indeed.

Workopolis studied user data from their CV database, where they are able to record recruiter activity, such as how long they spend looking at each CV, how many CVs they look at, and how many they save or discard.

They published their findings in a short blog post.

 

What did they learn?

The key takeaways from the Workopolis study were:

  • Nearly 60% of employers spend 11 seconds or less viewing a CV before saving it or closing it.
  • Almost 80% of CVs do not get shortlisted by recruiters, meaning they do not make it past the first screen.
  • Only 14% of recruiters spend more than one minute looking at a CV (from within their database)

 

How did they carry out the study?

Workopolis provided this data by studying the user behaviour of recruiters who search their CV database looking for candidates.

 

Workopolis methodology

 

It’s worth noting that they do not state specifically state this, but it’s implied in the intro of the article.

But I imagine that they could easily record how long a recruiter had a candidate’s CV open in the database, or how many CVs they saved or discarded.

Beyond that, they do not provide much detail.

So, again we are missing details like;

  • How many recruiters were studied?
  • How many CVs or sessions were looked at?
  • Industries and experience level of candidates?

 

Is this study reliable?

Whilst this study certainly has a stronger foundation then the Ladders study, I’m not convinced it gives us a definitive answer to the question “how long do recruiters spend looking at your CV?

The fact that they have used their databases user activity should provide a reliable source of recruiter activity. However, without knowing anything else about how the study was carried out, it’s difficult to say how accurate the results are.

Most importantly they have not told us how many recruiters were studied and how many CVs they were tasked with reading.

These are two vital details to omit from a write up of a study like this, because they have such a big impact on how conclusive the findings are.

For example, if they studied 1 recruiter reading 1 CV the findings would be completely useless, whereas a study of 1,000 recruiters reading 1,000 CVs would give us much more meaningful average figures.

But, if we assume that Workopolis sampled a large enough number of recruiters and CVs (which they should have, considering they claim their database is searched 16,000 times per day) then this study does give us a good indication of how long recruiters are spending reviewing CVs.

 

What do the studies tell us?

The findings of these studies tell us that recruiters only spend a few seconds making a decision on your suitability during the first time they read your CV (on average).

 

How_long_recruiters_look_at_CV

 

As somebody who has worked in recruitment, I agree that this statement is correct in most circumstances.

But I think that focusing on this one statistic is misleading for jobseekers.

It leads you to believe that your CV will only ever be read for a few seconds, regardless of how you write your CV or what jobs you apply for – this is simply not true.

 

What are the studies not telling us?

The problem with these studies is that they are not telling us what is happening outside of the average CV reading times.

Of course, there will be times when your CV is read for longer than 8 seconds, so what happens in these circumstances?

Speaking from experience, I can tell you that there are plenty of occasions where your CV will be read for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 20 minutes or longer.

There will be meetings where groups of people painstakingly analyse your CV’s contents and discuss your suitability for half an hour.

There are scores of important factors that these studies are not covering, such as;

  • How long are recruiters spending on CVs that make it past the average time?
  • What variables are affecting the amount of time a recruiter spends reviewing a CV?
  • How long does a recruiter spend looking at CVs they have shortlisted on the second read?
  • What can you do to increase the amount of time recruiters spend reading your CV?

Considering that this topic is so widely discussed in the careers industry, the research that has been done in the area is not comprehensive.

As a job seeker, you need more detail on the subject if you want to use this information to help you land a job.

 

 

Variables that affect CV review time

The research tells us that 6-8 seconds is the average time recruiters spend reading a CV, but there are times where they spend a greater or less time reviewing a CV.

So, what are the variables that affect how long a recruiter will spend reading your CV, when they receive it for the first time?

 

Volume of job applications

If a recruiter has to review 200 CVs every day, they will be greatly restricted in the amount of time they can invest in screening each one. Once they have created a shortlist, they will likely spend more time studying the CVs that made it through – but their initial CV screening will have to be rapid.

 

Volume of applications

 

Whereas a recruiter who only sees 5 CVs a day will have the luxury of being able to dedicate time to each one that reaches their inbox.

In most cases, recruiters dealing with relatively low skilled jobs and junior positions will receive higher volumes of applications than those dealing with expert or senior roles. This is because there will be a much bigger pool of candidates on the market who could potentially qualify for the lower skilled jobs, compared to the senior jobs. For example, there would be thousands of people in the UK who have the skills and experience required for an accounts assistant job, but only a handful who could carry out the role of CEO for an accounting firm.

 

Profession and industry

The industry and type of job being applied for will influence how long a recruiter has to screen CVs for.

Some jobs are extremely complex and regulated, where candidates are required to have multiple qualifications and a long list of technical skills, just to pass the first stage of screening. CVs in these industries will require more screening time, as it will take recruiters longer to dig all this information out of the document.

Other less-technical roles may have fewer requirements – For example they may ask that a candidate has previous industry experience and nothing more. In this case recruiters will only need to take a quick glance at the work experience section to determine whether or not a CV makes the cut.

 

Deadlines and competition

Recruiters are always working to deadlines, but how soon those deadlines are looming could effect how long the recruiter can spend reviewing CVs. So could the amount of people competing to fill the vacancy they are working on.

An internal recruiter who is working a vacancy exclusively, and has been given 3 months to find the right candidate, will not be in rush – and can afford to spend more time reading every CV they see.

But an external agency recruiter who is recruiting for a client and competing against 5 other companies for the same job, is likely to be extremely hurried – and will be racing through CVs trying to find the perfect candidate before the competition does.

 

How the CV reaches the recruiter

One factor that makes a huge difference in the perception of a CV, is the way in which the recruiter receives it. These are the 3 main ways that a recruiter will come to open a CV.

  • Job applications – When a job is advertised it will usually receive a lot of applications, and the majority of them will not be suitable. For this reason, recruiters will tend to run through applications quickly and often aren’t hopeful of finding the best candidate – so job application CVs will receive very quick reviews, unless they appear to be suitable instantly.
  • CV database search – Recruiters search CV databases such as internal company systems or those offered by job sites like CV Library. Because searches are made with keywords specific to the role, they usually return more relevant candidates than job applications. Therefore, recruiters will give more time and attention to CVs found this way.
  • Recommendation or referral – If a recruiter is passed a CV by somebody they know and trust, they have big expectations. So, recommendations and referrals will be reviewed the longest out of these 3 methods.

 

 

What do recruiters say?

To get some inside information on the matter, I asked some recruiters.

Of course, no recruiters record the amount of time they spend reading every CV they see, so this is not an exact science.

But recruiters are the closest people to this data, so it’s helpful to get some anecdotal evidence from them.

We spoke with 10 recruiters, most of whom are actively recruiting for well known brands in the UK. Highlights from 4 of the interviews are included below.

 

Lee Owen | Hays | UK

Lee is currently a director for Hays, one of the UK’s biggest recruitment agencies.
He has over 15 years experience recruiting for finance positions.

Lee Hays

“It takes a few minutes to determine
whether a CV is suitable or not”

How many CVs do you see on a typical workday?

This can vary depending on which sector you are recruiting in, the time of year, what the market is like, the salary level and the job specification in question. Based on all of those factors a consultant may not receive a single CV for a specific role, in other cases they can receive upwards of 100.

 

Are most CVs you see easy to navigate and read?

The majority of CVs are planned, well thought out and demonstrate good experience.

 

When reviewing a CV for the first time, how long do you normally spend deciding whether it is suitable or not?

A few minutes – but that is only on the basis that I’ve probably viewed a good 100,000 CVs during my career so you can quickly hone into what’s right or not.

 

What are the first things you look for when reading a CV?

If the CV is for a specific job role – I would always look for how the experience detailed matches up to the job description or job advert. This is what employers will be looking for.

 

What tips would you give to candidates who want to ensure their CVs get more attention from recruiters?

If the recruiter or hiring manager is listed on the advert try and make contact before you apply and ask them “what 3 things would you like to see on a CV for this role which would increase your chances of securing an interview”. Armed with that insight you can then tailor your CV to meet the brief.

 

 

Rachel Campbell | Michael Page Group | UK

Rachel is a senior regional director at Michael Page (another big UK recruitment firm)
She recruits across finance, secretarial, business support and HR.

Rachel Michael page “In reality the first decision gets made
in less than 30 seconds”

How many CVs do you see on a typical workday?

It is hard to say there is no average working day as a consultant, however for a newly advertised role we would see up to 200 CVs, sometimes more depending on the role.

 

Are most CVs you see easy to navigate and read?

I would say in general CVs are easy to read, if people have followed the guidelines on chronology, with their last position first.

 

When reviewing a CV for the first time, how long do you normally spend deciding whether it is suitable or not.

In reality the first decision gets made in less than 30 seconds. You are scanning for information that meets the brief. If it is for a specific role we will scan for types of organisation and sector that would be of interest, seeking out key words and clear definition of skill sets, qualifications, competencies, and systems.

 

What are the first things you look for when reading a CV?

The first thing is the relevance of the most recent experience.  This is where it is most important that someone has given some clear details about their responsibilities, and achievements.  We want to see how the person can use these skills to springboard into the next position.

 

What tips would you give to candidates who want to ensure their CVs get more attention from recruiters?

Really think about the roles that you are trying to apply for, read a couple of job specs to help guide you, make sure you are using the right language and that it is right at the top of your skills list in your most recent role.

 

On average, if you received 100 applications for a job, how many candidates would meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the job?

In terms of candidates meeting the actual requirements, this is around 5% of candidates, so only five in every 100 applications.

 

 

Hannah Morgan | Adecco | UK

Hannah is an executive manager with staffing agency Adecco, she recruits in general staffing which can include anything from Administration, Tech & Digital, Marketing, Finance and Customer Service.

Hannah Adecco An initial CV pre-screen would take
10-15 minutes”

Are most CVs you see easy to navigate and read?

Yes, we mainly see a good standard of CVs from applications.

 

What are the first things you look for when reading a CV?

Layout, i.e. checking date order, work and education history is clear. Spelling and grammar using Microsoft Office checks.

 

On average, if you received 100 applications for a job, how many candidates would meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the job?

On average 20% would qualify.

 

 

Biron Clark | Career Sidekick | US

To get some perspective from across the pond, we also spoke to US based former recruiter Biron Clark. Biron has recruited for numerous Fortune 500 companies, such as Novartis and Pfizer – he now runs popular US careers site; Career Sidekick.

Biron Clark “I spend 8-10 seconds glancing at a resume
and deciding whether to read more”

How many CVs do you see on a typical workday?

On a typical workday, I’d review 40-80 resumes on average.

 

Are most CVs you see easy to navigate and read?

No. One factor that makes many resumes and CVs difficult to read is large paragraphs without much formatting, bullets, bolding, or other ways to distinguish the key information.

 

When reviewing a CV for the first time, how long do you normally spend deciding whether it is suitable or not?

I spend 8-10 seconds glancing at a resume and deciding whether to read more. If it seems like the candidate is a good fit in broad terms, I’ll read further.

Overall, it takes one to two minutes to decide if a candidate should be shortlisted.

However, it may only take a few seconds to rule a candidate out.

 

What are the first things you look for when reading a CV?

When I read a CV, I look at the most recent work experience first. When doing this, I’m thinking, “Does this candidate have the skills and experience needed to step into this job and succeed?”

 

Once you have built a shortlist of CVs for a role, how long would you spend reviewing each one to decide which candidates to call or interview?

5-10 minutes.

 

What tips would you give to candidates who want to ensure their CVs get more attention from recruiters?

Begin your chronological work experience section within the top half of page 1. This is where many recruiters look first.

“Tailor” your CV to the position. Try to mirror what’s mentioned first, and most often, on the job description.

 

On average, if you received 100 applications for a job, how many candidates would meet the minimum requirements to qualify for the job?

5-15 candidates, depending on the job. 8-10 on average.

 

 

How to get recruiters to spend more time reading your CV

In order to land more interviews and get better job offers, you need recruiters to give your CV more attention.

Combining the research we’ve looked at here, the information given from current recruiters and my own experience in the recruitment industry, I’ve compiled the following tips to help your CV get the time and attention it deserves.

 

Research the jobs you are applying for

Recruiters reject CVs quickly when they do not see the requirements that they have asked for in the job description.

If you don’t research the jobs that you are applying for, you will not know which of your skills and experience are most important recruiters – which will make it difficult for you to create a CV that appeals to them.

Before you write your CV, do some thorough research into the jobs you intend to apply for and build your CV around the core requirements, highlighting your most in-demand talents.

 

Get more skills and qualifications

If you are not qualified to do the jobs you are applying for, you will not get shortlisted for them.

You can’t expect a recruiter to be wowed by your CV if you only have 1 out of the 10 requirements they are looking for.

Take a realistic look at your CV compared to the job adverts you are responding to and ask yourself what you are missing.

If you lack some experience they need, could you step up in your current role and take on some extra responsibilities? Or take a short relevant voluntary role?

If you don’t have the software experience or qualifications they are asking for, could you take on online course to get them?

If you actively make yourself a better candidate, your CV will automatically become more attractive, and recruiters will make more time for it.

 

Format your CV with recruiters in mind

We know that recruiters are busy people, reviewing lots of CVs and working to tight deadlines – so your CV needs to be adapted accordingly.

Use a simple clear format and layout that’s easy to read and make headings big and bold so that recruiters can navigate the page quickly during that initial skim-read.

Don’t be tempted to complicate the design with pictures and unnecessary design features – they crowd the page and distract readers from the content.

 

How long are recruiters really spending reading your CV?

The truth is that this is an extremely difficult question to answer.

There are so many variables involved and as of yet, nobody has carried out a detailed enough study to provide us with conclusive findings.

However, from the research that has been done and what we’ve heard from the recruitment professionals we interviewed, we know that recruiters do not spend very long reviewing your CV when they see it for the first time.

Our best estimate is that on average a recruiter will spend anywhere between 5 – 30 seconds on an initial review of your CV.

However, it’s worth noting that once your CV has made it past that initial screening phase, recruiters will return to your CV and spend much longer studying it, as you progress through the application process.

It’s also worth noting that majority of candidates applying for jobs do not meet the minimum criteria to qualify for them, which is driving the average time spent on a CV down. If all applications were from suitable candidates, recruiters would not be rejecting so many within a few seconds, and the average time would increase greatly.

In conclusion, recruiters do not spend much time looking at most CVs they receive, but if you apply for suitable jobs with a well-presented CV, you will receive much more attention than the industry average.