The Definitive Guide to the Science of the Job Search — 2018 In Review

Back in January, we announced our Science of the Job Search series — a real-world, data-driven look at what made some people hireable (and others not). What a year it’s been! It:

  • Instantly went viral, skyrocketing to the frontpage of Reddit in its first 6 hours;
  • Was featured on NBC, Forbes, Daily Caller, Fast Company, TechCrunch, US News and several other top news agencies.
  • Reached 1M+ readers from 18,396 cities (hi Fargo!) across 209 countries. (Alas, no one from Guinea-Bissau.)

We’ve published several dozen tips across 11 blog posts. There’s some really good stuff buried in there but, well, it’s buried. So, to cap off 2018, we’re republishing a skimmable, definitive summary of the 35 top discoveries from the 2018 Science of the Job Search:

12 Resume Tips — AKA: People Do Judge a Book By Its Cover

#1-3: Delete Your Objective [+30% BOOST]

If you have 1+ years of experience, you should delete your objective. (See one more exception below.) Although it varies based on your specific experience, you’ll likely see a big hireability boost.

Exception: If you have less than ~8 months of experience, you might want to consider adding an objective. Given that your application probably looks really similar to other folks’ applications, this’ll help you stand out.

Exception: If you’re in a mission-driven field, you should add an objective. Your qualifications matter, but passion and trust matter even more.

Full Details: Job Applicants with Resume Objectives Were ~30% Less Hireable.

#4: Name-Drop Concrete Skills In Your Objective (If You Include One)

Most objectives suck. Why? Here are a few recent ones we’ve seen:

Focused and hard-working individual looking to develop new skills to serve the greater good.

To acquire, and maintain employment. To utilize the training and skills I’ve received in the past 5 years.

As a hiring manager, I don’t really care if you want to “maintain employment.” (This is a bit like saying your hamburger is 100% beef. If that’s the best compliment you can give yourself, you have a bigger problem.)

If you absolutely have to include an objective, focus on your concrete skills help differentiate you from others. Here are a few examples for applicants who were 30-50% more hireable than their competition:

Seeking a customer service position where I can utilize my multi-tasking abilities and attention to detail to assist in a fast-paced environment. Skills: real-world clerical experience, organizational skills, interpersonal skills.

Summa cum laude graduate with BS in communications studies, graduated May 2015. Proficient in Spanish.

Exception: Don’t add an objective unless you really need to.

Full Details: Job Applicants with Resume Objectives Were ~30% Less Hireable.

#5: Demonstrate Results With Numbers [+40% BOOST]

Every 3 sentences, use at least 1 number to demonstrate your (concrete) impact. Folks who did that saw gain a +40.2% boost over their competition.

I’ve personally hired 100+ people over my career and, during that time, I’ve probably personally reviewed 10,000+ resumes. Even if a resume passes your sniff test, the hardest thing is separating what’s real vs. what’s pink, fluffy, sugar-y cotton-candy-coated horsecrap. Quantifying how you made an impact with numbers goes a long way towards helping hiring managers tell them apart fast.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

#6: Don’t Be a “Team Player” [+51% BOOST]

Everyone talks about how important teamwork is. And how our whole economy is becoming about sharing. And collaboration. Lots of it. It’s very cute.

When it comes to actually hiring someone though, the most collaborative candidates get penalized by 50.8% by hiring managers. If that doesn’t make sense, consider these

  1. Owned, analyzed and delivered on-time financial reports for business sub-unit A to management team on monthly basis.
  2. Collaborated with full analyst team to create monthly financial reports for management team.
  3. Assisted management team by creating monthly financial reports as a supporting member of the analysis team.

Who would you hire? (Or call for an interview?) In the 2nd and 3rd case, I have no idea what work you did (vs. free-loading off your team). Lots of collaborative, team-oriented words have passive, subordinate, weasel-word undertones.

#7: Use Leadership Words To Convey Strength [+51% BOOST]

The converse of avoiding weasel words is also true. Adding strong, active, leadership-oriented words also helps you. Some of the words we detected as strong, active words:

communicated
coordinated
leadership
managed
organization

Even if you’re just an intern somewhere, you can still demonstrate leadership traits by proactively communicating with co-workers. Your future bosses want to know that!

Incorporate 1-2 leadership-oriented words every 5 sentences. Job applicants who used strong, active, leadership-oriented words saw a +50.9% boost over the competition.

#8: Don’t Use Personal Pronouns [+55% BOOST]

People who used even one personal pronoun (“you”, “he”, “she”, “me”, etc.) in their employment section had a 54.7% lower chance of getting an interview callback from a hiring manager.

Looking at the underlying resumes, the problem isn’t actually the pronouns themselves — instead, it’s that people who used such pronouns disproportionately had a weak, long-winded writing style. But, why risk it? Don’t use personal pronouns.

And while you’re at it, write succinct, strong sentences. The Elements of Style never goes out of style.

#9: Include 15-20 Industry and Posting Buzzwords  [+59% BOOST]

You should add 15-20 skills, buzzwords & acronyms to your resume. This is associated with a +58.8% boost in hireability on average.

It’s actually quite hard to do this without sounding awkward. In practice, we suggest including a Key Skills section where you can include common buzzwords from the job posting.

#10: Force An Objective Playing Field [+70% BOOST]

Between the two people below, who would you hire?

Helped increase sales by 31% by working with Operations Manager to reduce time to 1st customer reply.

Collaborated with Operations Manager to improve customer reply times.

The first guy, right? It’s just better. But beyond it just sounding far more impressive, there’s actually another effect going on here.

We’ll get back to this in the discrimination section below, but unless your rich uncle owns the company or you’ve somehow got the wink-wink-nudge-nudge connection, it forces a hiring manager to hire you (and reject) others on your (objective) merits. Even if some other applicant does have the rich uncle hook-up, it makes it that much harder for the hiring manager to reject you.

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#11: Start Achievements With (Distinct) Action Verbs [+140% BOOST]

If you start the sentence describing what you did with an action verb, you’re off to a strong start. And if you describe the different things that you did at that company with different action verbs, you’ll have finished strong.

Say what? In short, say this:

Developed a world-positive, high-impact student loan product that didn’t screw over people after 100+ customer interviews.

Not this:

After 100+ customer interviews, the world-positive, high-impact student loan product was developed by me.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

And, finally, last but not least:

#12: Squeeze 475-600 Words Into Your 1-Page Resume [+75% BOOST]

There’s a clear sweet spot for resume length: between 475 and 600 words. Unsurprisingly, this corresponds to a densely-packed single page resume. 

Exception: If you’re in teaching, research or social service fields, this explicitly does not apply. We don’t have enough data in these cases to make a quantitative recommendation, but see lots of cases anecdotally where resume extend to 2-3 pages.

Full Details: Your Chances of an Interview Plummet If Your Resume Is Too Long

9 Job Search Tips — AKA: Life Definitely Isn’t Fair*

[* Your actual qualifications matter less than you think. There are dozens of variables that affect your hireability, including the day of the week you apply for a job.]

#13-14: Apply on Mondays (Don’t Apply on Fridays) [+46% BOOST]

Timing has a surprising effect on how likely you are to get an interview callback — this the first of three related tips.

In short, apply on Mondays — you have a 46% higher chance of getting an interview callback. If you apply on Sunday or during the middle of the week, you have a reasonable chance. But, whatever you do, don’t apply on Fridays or Saturdays.

Why? Imagine how you feel on Friday afternoons — you’re probably just trying to plow through your open tasks so you can get home and relax. Unless someone’s especially promising, that Friday afternoon job application is just another email standing between you and your weekend.

#15: Apply in the First 4 Days [+65% BOOST]

Applying early gets you a +64.7% boost over your competition on average. (Although it can make up to an 8x difference for a single job application, most people aren’t applying at the worst possible time.)

Full Details: Getting Ghosted on Your Job Applications? Here’s Fix #1: Apply Within 96 Hours

#16: Apply Before 10am [+89% BOOST]

Applying between 6am and 10am gives you an +89.1% boost over your competition. (As above, your competition isn’t applying at the worst possible time so you don’t get the full 5x boost every time.)

Full Details: You’re 5x More Likely to Get a Job Interview If You Apply by 10am

#17: Meeting ~50% of Job “Requirements” Is Good Enough [+192% BOOST]

Project Manager needed. Must have 5+ years of experience, be Six Sigma certified, have advanced deep learning knowledge, and be able to perform surgery on occasion.

Who really has all that? Turns out, basically no one. You’re as likely to get a job interview meeting 50% of job requirements as meeting 90% of them.

Put simply:

  • if you meet <30% of a job’s requirements, you’re in trouble — you have a <5% chance of getting an interview callback.
  • if you meet 40-50% of the requirements, you’re +85% more hireable.
  • if you meet 50-60%, you’re +192% more hireable.
  • after 60%, it doesn’t really matter.

Even if you met 90% of a job’s requirements on paper, you’re still basically as hireable as if you met 60% of those requirements.

You should absolutely apply for a job if you meet 50%+ of a job’s requirements.

Exception: If you’re a woman, see below.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

#18: Apply for Jobs Within ±2 Years of Your Experience

Jr. Marketing Assistant. Perfect for new grads! Requirements: 3 years of digital marketing experience. Compensation: $12/hour.

The job search can feel like one big Catch-22: “How the hell am I supposed to get experience if I can’t get a job to get experience?” In fact, after analyzing a random sample of 95,363 jobs, we discovered that 61% of all full-time “entry-level” jobs require 3+ years of experience.

You don’t have to play by their rules. Based on our analysis, you can successfully apply to jobs if you’ve got ±2 years of the required experience.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#19-20: Apply For Mid-Level Jobs After 5+ Years of Experience

Employers are a superstitious bunch. How many jobs have you seen asking for 13 years of work experience? They’ll ask for 7, 10 and 15 years (but rarely 11-14). You can see job postings clump up by employers’ “lucky numbers” in the graph above.

But, here’s the rub— this isn’t just a cute gimmick. It lets us pinpoint how much experience you’ll (officially) need to qualify for different levels of jobs:

Level# Years of Experience% Jobs Qualified
Entry-Level~3 years75%
Mid-Level~5 years77%
Senior-Level~8 years72%

#21: Apply to 150-250 Jobs

Getting a job is hard. Even if you’re fully qualified, it can take 90+ days to get a job today in America.

 

Depending on your experience and industry, you’ll probably get an interview 5-15% of the time. Depending on how good you are in those interviews, you’ll probably get a job offer ~10% for any given interview.

If you work out the math, your chances of getting a job offer for any single application work out to, well, basically zero — 1%±0.5%.

And when you work out that math, depending on your experience, industry and interviewing ability, you basically need to apply to 150-250 jobs to be confident of getting a job offer.

Full Details: Why Is It So Hard To Get a Job?

3 (Harder) Employment Tips — AKA: When Good Things Go Bad…

#22: (Don’t) Go Back to School [+22% BOOST]

A lot of people think that they have to go back to school to build experience or credibility. Although it does help, it’s usually not worth it.

Having a 2nd degree boosts your chances of getting an interview by +21.9%. Except in rare scenarios, you should not go back to school for a 2nd degree just to improve your job prospects. When you factor in opportunity cost, you usually come out behind — it’s just not worth it.

Full Details: 13 Data-Backed Ways To Win

#23: Keep Working, Somewhere If You’re Trying To Leave [+149% BOOST]

Is your New Year’s resolution to get a new job? Whether you’ve been laid off, can’t stand your current job or just think you need a new challenge, don’t quit just yet. Or, find a (creative) way to show that you’re currently employed on your resume. Trying to get a job from a cold start is hard.

People who showed they were currently employed (even if creatively) saw a +149% hireability boost compared to their previously-fired or laid-off competition.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

#24: Tough It Out for 9+ Months If You Can [+85% BOOST]

American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants who left a job in less than 15-16 months.

More specifically, there was a big difference between leaving after 6 vs. 9 vs. 18 months. People whose shortest job was 9+ months were 85% more hireable than people whose shortest job was 8 months or less.

Objectively speaking, your hireability is still severely affected if you leave after 12 months. Staying 18 months fully protects you from future employer suspicion.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

Special Issues — AKA: Discrimination Isn’t Just For Minorities

2 Tips for Entry-Level Job-Seekers

#25: Identify (Actually) Entry-Level Jobs

Let’s be honest: looking for jobs is a *!@$* pain in the ass. Of a random sample of 95,363 jobs we analyzed, 52% (49,245) were supposedly entry-level (based on what the employer said). Of those, my job-searcher — a Marketing Assistant in LA — was only interested in 3% (1,286). Of those 1,286 supposedly entry-level Marketing Assistant and other jobs, I found 240 for actual entry-level Marketing Assistants.

It’s painful work, but someone’s gotta do it. If you’ve got the patience and the time (and stubbornness), rock on! If you don’t, you can pay us $10 to do it (and other stuff) for you.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#26: Use Freelance Jobs To Build Your Experience

One way to break past the job search Catch-22 is to play a different game. Instead of fighting with everyone else to get that first job, you can instead build up your work experience by doing freelance jobs on the side.

Not only will you get paid, you’ll also have far higher chances getting your 2nd job (everyone else’s 1st job). In the future, especially when experience inflation means you need 4+ years of experience to get your firstjob, this might be the only way to break into your job.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

2 Tips for Older Job-Seekers [+268% BOOST]

The best age to get a job is between 28 and 35. During this time, you get a +25.1% hireability boost over everyone else. Up to age 28, your hireability is increasing by +9% every year. After age 35, your hireability drops by 8% every year.

#27: Remove Your Graduation Date If You’re 35+

Here’s the thing: Hiring managers (subconsciously) guess your age based on your graduation date, how much work experience you have, etc. If you don’t list your graduation date, they can’t tell how old you are.

This obviously won’t get you past subtler age discrimination in an interview (give us a call for that), but it will at least get you past the first few filters.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

#28: Don’t List More Than 3-4 Jobs

Removing your graduation date doesn’t help if you show your first job starting as May 1985. Show the most recent 3-4 jobs and summarize the remainder in a Key Skills and/or Employment Summary section.

Full Details: 61% of “Entry-Level” Jobs Require 3+ Years of Experience

3 Tips for Minorities [+287% BOOST]

I really hate being politically correct. Why? It makes it harder to talk about and fix real problems — sometimes, the very root causes of why we’re having to be politically correct in the first place.

So, let’s get right down to it. Minorities face stereotypes. Whether those stereotypes are justified or not, they’re very real and have very real effects, especially in the job search. What we’ve found is that while they’re bad for everyone, certain resume mistakes are catastrophic for minorities if they reinforce those stereotypes.

What are those stereotypes? Grossly over-simplifying: African-Americans are lazy welfare queens, Hispanic-Americans are mooching off healthcare and Asian-Americans can’t (or won’t) learn English.

#29: African- & Hispanic-Americans: Fill In Resume Gaps

Although they’re bad for everyone, resume gaps appear to be especially catastrophic for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. Make sure you remove or fully explain any resume gaps.

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#30: Asian- & Hispanic-Americans: Triple-Check Your Grammar and Spelling

Again, although they’re bad for everyone, spelling and grammar mistakes are catastrophic for Asian-Americans (and to a lesser extent, Hispanic-Americans).

(This and the above are less hireability boosts and more avoiding catastrophic hireability penalties.)

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

#31: Force an Objective Playing Field [+199% BOOST]

Unlike the above, which are about avoiding mistakes, there’s something proactive you can do to level the playing field.

Although everyone benefited when they forced an objective playing field (tip #9 above), it had a massively greater effect for minorities and almost equalized the effects of the uneven playing field. Roughly speaking, forcing an objective playing field closed the racial discrimination gap in hiring by 54% (a 1.6x race penalty vs. 2.3x originally).

Full Details: Racism, Outgroup Bias and KFC

2 Tips for Women

As many others have noted, one of the biggest challenges that many women face in the workplace is second-guessing themselves. This applies in everything from salary negotiations to staff meetings to, you guessed it, the job search.

We’ve seen two especially interesting things in our analyses that reinforce the same basic point: When women do ask for what they deserve, they’re rewarded for it (more than men).

#32: Apply If You Meet 30%+ of Job “Requirements”

Whereas men have to meet ~50% of job requirements to be a viable candidate for a job interview, women only have to meet ~30% of job requirements.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

#33: Don’t Second-Guess Your Qualifications

But, here’s the twist: although hiring managers are willing to accept women who meet ~30% of their job requirements, 64% of women took themselves out of the running for jobs where they met the 50% “good enough” bar we suggest for everyone (let alone the 30% bar above). For comparison, only 37% of men did.

Put another way: Employers think you’re qualified. Stop telling yourself that you’re not.

Full Details: You Only Need 50% of Job “Requirements”

2 Tips for Laid-Off Job-Seekers

#34: Apply to Companies With <500 Employees [+192% BOOST]

The #1 thing you can do to mitigate a recent layoff or firing? Focus your job search on small- to medium-sized employers. Applications to companies with <500 employees had a 192% higher interview rate. For every additional 1,000 employees, the hireability for people with work blemishes dropped by 19%.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

#35: Don’t List Jobs Shorter Than ~9 Months [+85% BOOST]

When hiring managers see a short job stint, they don’t know if it’s because you were fired (because you were bad at your job), laid off (officially not your fault, but sometimes still a flag), or quit early (which might mean you’re unreliable). American hiring managers are suspicious of job applicants whose shortest employment lasted less than 16 months.

Full Details: Getting Fired (or Laid Off) Costs You ~5 Years of Experience

Summary

So, to summarize: Demonstrate results with numbers. Don’t be a “team player.” Use leadership words to convey strength. Don’t use personal pronouns. Include 15-20 industry and posting buzzwords. Force an objective playing field. Start achievements with (distinct) action verbs. Squeeze 475-600 words into your 1-page resume. Apply on Mondays (don’t apply on Fridays or Saturdays). Apply in the first 4 days. Apply before 10am. Meeting ~50% of job “requirements” is good enough. Apply for jobs within ±2 years of your experience. Apply for mid-level jobs after 5+ years of experience. Apply to 150-250 jobs. (Don’t) go back to school. Keep working, somewhere if you’re trying to leave. Tough it out for 9+ months if you can. Identify (actually) entry-level jobs. Use freelance jobs to build your experience. Remove your graduation date if you’re 35+. Don’t list more than 3-4 jobs. Fill in resume gaps. Triple-check your grammar and spelling. Force an objective playing field. Apply if you meet 30%+ of job “requirements”. Don’t second-guess your qualifications. Apply to companies with <500 employees. Don’t list jobs shorter than ~9 months.

Easy peasy. You got this, right? Great. Now do that for every job you have to apply to and we’ll pretty much guarantee that you get the job you deserve.

Or, you can sign up for TalentWorks — we’ll just take care of it all for you! (No, seriously. [*]) Let us help you get back to a level-playing field.

[*] For most things, we can just automatically take care of it for you. For instance:

  • Our AI-driven ApplicationAssistant automatically optimizes the day of week, time of day & delay of your application so you don’t have to worry about keeping track of 100+ applications.
  • Our ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for all of the potential issues above in addition to dozens of others.

 


Why Are We Doing This?

With TalentWorks right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by 580%. But, what makes TalentWorks work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.

Dear Sarah – How do I “network” if I don’t have a network?

Hi Sarah,

I just graduated from college where I was primarily a commuter, non-trad student. I believe because of this, my professional network is pretty small. How do I go about expanding my network and gain valuable connections?

Thanks,

Out at Sea

Hi OaS,

Consider what a ‘network’ means. Did you partake in any college activities, intramural sports, or clubs? Did you volunteer or hold an internship? Your network is everyone in your life (including friends and family) that you’ve connected or worked with that can speak to your character, work ethic and abilities. Everyone has a network. Intentionally expanding your network is another story.

Making connections in a “networking” setting (i.e.: a ‘Meetup’ or industry conference) is all about mutual generosity. Simply put, what do you have that another person would enjoy learning about or utilizing?

Networking Tip #1: Context

Be visible!

Whether you insert yourself intentionally such as asking second degree connections for someone’s info or making yourself available to various communities you’re fighting 2/3 of the battle. LinkedIN is a great way to message people for introductions and request a coffee date from someone whose profile you admire. The best part about LinkedIN is that everyone expects to be professionally messaged, be it recruiters or 3rd degree connections within your industry. Don’t shy away from putting yourself out there in various ways.

Also, use your alumni association! You didn’t just pay big money for 4 years; alumni associations are forever.

Networking Tip #2: Follow-up

You’d be amazed at how many people make the effort to attend events and simply don’t follow-up with their contacts post-interaction. Shoot them a quick email/message on LinkedIN after 24 hours –

Hi there [new contact’s name],

It was great to meet you at [event name] on [date]. I had a great time talking with you about [topic discussed]. Regarding your LinkedIn profile, it says you’re currently working on [current job/organization/side project]—and [relay how it relates to you]. Are you free to grab coffee?

Best,

[You]

It’s honestly that simple. Keep track of who you met and where, make a networking goal for yourself every month (it’s ok to start with 1!), and be genuine and helpful.

Best,

ask-sarah.png

ask-sarah-1

Overcoming Your Employment Gaps

The main ‘problem’ with resume employment gaps is that it requires explanation. Gaps raise red flags to employers and may imply that you weren’t let go voluntarily. The good news is that if you’ve secured an interview, there are other factors that positively outweighed the gap. So, how do you minimize the damage and own your employment history?

Your Resume: Ditch the typical timeline format

Understand that you can get creative with your resume format and are not at all beholden to a chronological timeline. Place your ‘Key Skills’ section at the top to fortify your value prop up front; having this section also increases your hireability by 60%! When you do list your work experience make sure that you include any volunteer/pro bono opportunities (paid and unpaid) that you may have had during that gap of time.

Your Cover letter: Tell Your Story

Whether you took time to raise your children, travel the world, care for an ailing family member, were laid off, or were fired this is your chance to put your spin on why there is a gap on your resume:

“I took a year off to raise my baby, but I’m excited to re-enter the workforce as I have support at home to thankfully do so. While raising my daughter I worked remotely and volunteered with various non-profits to keep my marketing skills sharp. I managed several large email campaigns, ran their social media platforms and taught myself database computer programming. I believe that working with your organization would be a great way to put my marketing skills to work in a new setting.”

Your Interview: Be Confident + Honest

The good news is you have overcome a large hurdle in that your qualifications trumped your employment gap on paper. Now, let your positivity shine through in the interview. Regardless of how large your employment gap is, you want to come across and excited and motivated to progress in your career. Avoid oversharing anything personal and focus on re-entry and what your hoping to professionally achieve at the job at hand.

Conclusion

Life happens and many employers understand. If you have an employment gap know that your story and how you convey it matters more than the gap itself. It’s also an opportunity for the employer to learn more about your character and goals. For example, there is a lot to be said for someone who takes time to care for a family member or who volunteers their time after they’ve been laid off. Feel empowered to tell your story.

Quick note: Remember that an interview is a two-way street, so-to-speak. As the candidate, you are also making sure that the job at hand is right for you. If the employer has a problem with your gap or doesn’t agree the best thing to do is to walk away. Life is complex and situations arise; employers that do not understand that ‘stuff happens’ will most likely be inflexible in the future.

For $10/month we can automatically find the best jobs and pre-fill job applications for you based on your desired role, location and years of experience. In addition, you’ll get our Interview Guarantee — if we can’t get you an interview within 60 days, we’ll refund everything back to you, guaranteed. (90% of job-seekers using TalentWorks get an interview in 60 days or less).

The Science of the Job Search, Part VIII: Your Chances of an Interview Plummet If Your Resume Is Too Long

Torn between keeping your resume to one page and including as much as possible? Is keyword stuffing a good thing or a bad thing? We crunched the numbers, and turns out, longer is better — up to a point. Once your resume exceeds 600 words, your chances of an interview plummet.

resume_lengths_annotated.png

We analyzed 6,000+ job applications from 66 industries and found that:

  • The sweet spot for resume length is between 475 and 600 words.
  • There are exceptions though — even longer is better, if you’re an academic or industrial scientist, college professor, school teacher, or social service worker.
  • “Keyword stuffing” your resume doesn’t make you any more likely to get an interview.

Keep your resume short and sweet (but not too short)

Job applicants with resumes over 600 words had significantly lower interview rates. Up until that point, longer is better — short resumes, less than 450 words, also had lower interview rates. Makes sense, since more words means more opportunities to sell yourself. Keep adding words beyond that though, and recruiters or hiring managers are likely to have their eyes glaze over.

Taken together, this means that the sweet spot for resume length is between 475 and 600 words. Unsurprisingly, this corresponds to a densely-packed single page resume. Interview rates for users with resumes in this range averaged 8.2% compared to less than 5% for shorter or longer resumes. (Don’t worry, there are other things you can do to boost your interview chances — we’ve done the researchlet us help you out.)

Longer resumes are better for certain professions

Wait a second, you might be saying, I’m an academic researcher, and I need 5 pages to include all my publications (kudos to you, if so) — are you saying that’s a bad thing? Turns out, there are some exceptions to the rule. Resumes over the 600 word threshold are better — if you’re an academic or industrial scientist, college professor, school teacher, or social service worker.

This makes complete sense: scientists and professors often have long lists of patents and publications, and, as we noted in a previous study, teachers and social service workers were some of the few professions where resume objectives helped their interview chances. If your industry really cares about all of your motivations or your exhaustive list of achievements, longer resumes are better.

No, really, keep your resume short, especially if…

On the other hand, most industries punish long resumes and some industries really punish long resumes. For example, in business, long resumes were a whopping 72% less hireable than those in the sweet spot. No surprise — if you’re in business, brevity wins. If you’re a Marketing Manager and can’t market yourself in 1 page, you have a big problem.

Don’t bother stuffing your resume with keywords

Maybe it’s not the number of words in your resume, maybe it’s the number of keywords. So we extracted keywords using a known qualification set and looked for a trend between the number of keywords in a user’s resume and their interview rate. Turns out, having more keywords in your resume doesn’t correlate with a higher interview rate.

resume_keyword_stuffing

At first, this seems surprising, since we know that there is often an initial filter using an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) where resumes without specific keywords don’t even get seen by a hiring manager (sad, but true). But I think that this is a case of quality over quantity — it’s not about how many keywords you have in your resume, it’s about having the ones that match the job. (And you don’t even need all of those.)

Summary

Next time you’re working on your resume, remember:

  • Keep it in the 475 to 600 word range.
  • Unless you’re an academic or industrial scientist, college professor, school teacher, or social service worker — then let your verbosity shine!
  • Don’t go out of your way to fit as many keywords as possible in your resume.

Need more help optimizing your resume? We can help with that.

Methodology

First, we randomly sampled 6,305 applications across 66 industries for 721 different users from TalentWorks. Then for each of those users, we extracted the word count and keyword count (of keywords from a known qualification set) from their resume and calculated their interview rate. Finally, we clipped outliers, then weighted (by number of applications per user) and smoothed the results to find the general trend. All analysis and graphing was done using python with pandas, sklearn, scipy, and bokeh.

Why Are We Doing This?

With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5.8x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Creative Commons

We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:

  • Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
  • Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.