Resume Scan

3 Strategies For Making It Past The Initial 5-Second Resume Scan


I’ve heard it said various ways: you get a 5, 7, or 30-second initial resume scan from the hiring manager. I can tell you, when I was an HR manager and had 100 resumes to go through, my initial scan was about five seconds long, and I was looking for something to catch my eye.

Making It Past The 5-Second Resume Scan

Here are the three areas I looked at when considering whether to invest more time:

Professional Formatting

When you’re reviewing 100 resumes a day, the ones that really stick out are the ones you can tell the person invested time into creating. The professional and executive resume formats that were well-organized, easy to read, and perfectly laid out really made reviewing the resume easier—and definitely caught my attention.

When you’re comparing a professionally organized and strategically laid out resume to a messy, unprofessional, and disorganized one, determining which one to invest time into reading becomes a no-brainer. After all, why waste time searching through a document trying to find the information you need when someone else has clearly laid it out for you?

Easy-To-Find Requirements

When I posted a job ad online and was deluged with responses, I was appalled at how many people just shot me a resume that said absolutely nothing about the requirements I had spent so much time writing to include in the ad. Normally, when I posted a job ad I would include: REQUIRED QUALIFICATIONS and PREFERRED QUALIFICATIONS.

At the very least, to even be considered, the person had to possess the required qualifications; and the resumes that caught my attention were the ones that made it easy for me to see they did indeed meet the requirements—either by listing them in the top or calling attention to them in a bold, underlined, or italicized font, and placing them throughout their resume.

Want to put the nail in the coffin? Call attention to the fact you also meet their preferred qualifications. Meeting the required and preferred qualifications—and calling attention to this fact in your resume—makes you a perfect candidate for the job.

Compelling, Easy-To-Read Content

Long paragraphs on resumes serve one purpose… and that’s to lose the hiring manager’s attention. If you’re using paragraphs with 5+ sentences, then you not only lost my attention, but now the information I need isn’t readily accessible – it’s buried beneath an enormous amount of text density that I don’t have the time to wade through.

Keep it concise, cut out the mundane, and highlight your accomplishments. Don’t go super crazy with the bold, underline, or italics, but use them when it fits, and use them to call attention to the most important information.

Just to review—here’s how to make it past the initial 5-second scan:

  1. Professional, polished, and well-organized format (colors and white space, good—messy and distracting, bad).
  2. Make it easy for the hiring manager to find exactly what he or she needs—and to find it quickly.
  3. Keep the content concise, and highlight the critical information the hiring manager needs in order to make the decision to call for the interview.

Other strategies come into play when creating a compelling resume that will secure interviews, so if you’re not sure your resume has the right stuff—and if you haven’t heard of personal branding or incorporated it into your resume—it may be time to call a certified resume writer and get a resume checkup. If it means the difference between three interviews next week or three more months of job searching, you may want to consider speaking with a professional.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jessica Holbrook Hernandez

Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, CEO of Great Resumes Fast is an expert resume writer, career and personal branding strategist, author, and presenter.


  1. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Many thanks, However I am experiencing troubles with your RSS.
    I don’t understand why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else having the same RSS issues?
    Anybody who knows the answer will you kindly respond?


  2. I find the following cover letter works every time.

    Dear Sir/Madam
    I have placed a bomb somewhere in the building.
    If you hire me I will defuse it during the night.
    If you hire me with bonuses, I will remove it entirely and dump it in the ocean.
    Obviously we can never meet face to face and this will make it difficult to perform my duties.
    So instead of me actually working, just leave my pay-cheque under the park bench by the duck pond, every tuesday morning at 10am, stuffed inside a muddy Doritos bag and weighted with a small rock.
    I look forward to hearing from you and receiving my money.
    Yours Sincerely,
    [Your ex gf’s new bf’s name here]

    This type of application is best laid out as individual letters cut from magazines, but it is still important to keep it brief and ensure lots of white-space.

    Hope it brings you as much success and happiness as it has for me.

    Billy-Bob Crockett
    Texas State Correctional Facility
    Max-Secure Wing

  3. You can have the perfect resume and cover letter in the world and you still won’t get the job. Why? Because it’s never about who you are, what you have on your resume, but more of WHO in the company you know. Period. Simple as that. If you get what I am saying, you will get your dream job. Questions? Comments? Email me at

  4. Indeed… “spent so much time writing”? In other words “copied and pasted from the hiring manager’s scrawl on the back of a beermat”

    Given how many positions some of us have to apply for regularly to be heard over all the noise, that would mean adjusting every single resume for every single job ad that we apply for.

    Jessica, I know you have us in a headlock where this is concerned, but do you have any notion as to how frustrating this exercise is when in the end 7 times out of 10 you as a candidate dont even get the honour of an automatically bounced back email message saying “if you havent heard in three days, you are to presume you didnt make the cut”?

    • I know your frustration all too well. I’ve revised my resume so many times I’ve lost count. I’ve gone from not having a cover letter to only creating them if they job asked which meant a tailored cover letter for each one. I’ve revised my resume to sound more like an interview conversation instead of “my duties were as follows” type of cliché. I’ve had some interviews but some said they really liked me but still didn’t hire me. I don’t know now whether to put my resume & cover letter together or not. I don’t know if what I have is ok or not…& the problem is that most people suggest a professional but they also assume you’re employed at the time you’re seeking new work. What if you don’t have a job? How the heck can you afford a professional? The next suggestion would be to ask someone who is a hiring manager…it’s catch 22 because the reason most people resign from an employer is because of their boss…so with that being said…how many of us would really have the option of knowing a hiring manager that we would be able to ask to review our resume & cover letters as a favor? Most of us don’t. I don’t know what to do other than to pray & ask God to show me what to type to get these companies attention. Then you’re competing against all of these people & you don’t even know what to say in your header to make you stand out. Everybody & their momma has done customer service jobs you know? The job hits I do get are usually insurance companies & pyramid scams. Whipteedodaday! NOT! I try not to get bitter, frustrated & discouraged but it’s not easy especially if you do manage to get an email telling you that you “didn’t meet the minimum requirements” but when you read them…not only did you meet it, you exceeded it…it’s really frustrating or when they just leave you hanging like you said or in my case too not responding back to the temp agency about your app/resume & others…My main issue right now is that a lot of the company’s I’m seeing…after you’re 98% with the application tells you that they run a “consumer credit check” in addition to a background check. I’m like seriously?! I’ve spent like 15 minutes on your app & now you tell me this? How many people do you know have good credit without enough money or no income to pay their expenses? Why do jobs feel they can judge you’re characteristics based on your behavior pattern with your credit? Don’t they think if they person had enough resources they score would be above 700? They working community is so messed up I think…I’m just frustrated & venting with you. Thanks for listening. I wish you luck in your search.

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