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.

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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.

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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.

How to overcome a hiring manager’s bias

In an ideal world, candidates would compete for jobs on an even playing field. Unfortunately, hiring managers are human and predisposed to inherent bias. If your resume makes it through the ATS (“applicant tracking system”) what type of biases exist and is there anything you, the jobseeker, can do?

Bias #1: Ageism

Our data suggests that your hireability starts dropping by ~8% every year after age 35. Yes, it’s illegal for companies to base hiring decisions around age, but it inevitably happens. Although The Age Discrimination in Employment Act allows legal protection against employers blatantly adding age preferences in job listings, many older workers will hear such things as “You wouldn’t be happy here” or the ever present “You’re too qualified” that are thinly veiled ways of saying your age matters.

So, what do you do if you’re nearing 35? We highly recommend leaving out your graduation dates on your resume and LinkedIN page.

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Bias #2: Resume ‘Blemishes’

More than age, race or experience, having even one employment blemish (such as a firing or layoff) was the biggest factor affecting the job search.

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Candidates who were fired, laid off or quit in the first 15 months of a job were 43% less hireable when applying to new jobs. Comparatively, their callback rate for interviews was 55% less than people who did not have a resume blemish. Averaging across industries and cities, getting fired meant roughly same as wiping out ~5 years of experience for them.

If you’re applying to jobs with a recent blemish on your resume we recommend concentrating your search around smaller companies. 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%.

Bias #3: Your Name

If you’re Asian or Hispanic-American and make a resume faux-pas on your resume (such as a misspelling or forget to include your email address) you are penalized much more than white applicants.

Force an objective mindset if you have a non-white name and you’ll increases your interview rate up to +199%. This roughly translated to closing the racial discrimination gap in hiring by 54% (a 1.6x race penalty vs. 2.3x originally). How do you force objectivity? Using concrete numbers to demonstrate your impact will boost your hireability by 23% and help remove subject bias. Also, adding industry buzzwords and acronyms will give you 34% hireability boost.

Conclusion

It’s hard enough that employers give a resume about 6 seconds to decide whether they’ll proceed, but throw in age, a layoff, and an “exotic” last name and the odds of an interview are stacked against you significantly. Take care that you’re being reviewed as fairly as possible by formulating a resume that stands up to potential bias in the hiring world.

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).

 

Resume Tips from Hiring Managers: Pros Tell How To Get Noticed

The job search internet is rife with articles telling you all the many ways that you can get ahead in the job search process. Frequently, these are written by journalists and bloggers, the occupations that most readily come to mind when someone says the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” While it might be true that in the land of the unemployed and desperate, the semi-knowledgeable contract worker is king, we want you to live under a somewhat more justifiable monarchy.

That’s why we went straight to the source, pulling our job search tips directly from hiring managers — the true experts in this situation — to find out what advice they would give to people who most need it.

Don’t Lie

While it might be tempting to juice your resume a bit with half-truths, too frequently these become whole lies. Sell yourself as you actually are and avoid an awkward conversation at an interview that is wasting everyone’s time. As USA Today put it, “don’t end up embarrassed or out of your depth because you stretched the truth on your resume.”

Share Your Actual Weaknesses

Nothing irks a hiring manager more than asking for a weakness and getting an eye-rolling answer like “being a perfectionist.” Ask A Manager’s Allison Green says that “candidates who won’t come up with a realistic assessment…make me think they lack insight and self-awareness.”

Use Task/Result Speech

Write actively. List your accomplishments in a way that lets the hiring manager know exactly what you did and what the outcome was. Another tip: quantifiable data is amazing. If you have numbers that can demonstrate your impact, don’t hesitate to use them.

If You’re Overqualified, Address It

Don’t be afraid to mention that a job is below what you’ve typically done. Explain to the hiring manager why you’re willing to take on this role to avoid them thinking you might get bored.

Don’t Use An Objective (Unless It Helps)

Unless you belong to a specific subset of careers (writers, teachers and mission-driven jobs like non-profit work), ditch the objective. While there are plenty of hiring managers willing to tell you outright that they don’t help, we put hard data behind it and found that it greatly reduces your chances of landing a job. If you aren’t a recent grad,  a writer or entering a profession that will get you called “a saint” leave it off.

For even more do’s and don’ts check out our in-depth rundown of all the things to avoid in an application. And if you’re tired of digesting tips, just let us handle it.

For just $10, we can optimize your resume, bulking it up or cutting it down to its leanest, meanest possible self and sending it out to the exact people who want to hire you. And this isn’t some wishy-washy soft science service, we use a trove of data and our own AI to ensure that your resume is the best it can possibly be and is only going to the hiring managers who want to hear from you.

How To Make Sure Your Resume Is Right For The Job

No resume is ever perfect. You might have selected the perfect font, put together the crispest heading and explained your crazy amount of experience. But all that smooth, flowing work history is bound to need re-arranging once it smashes up against the sharp rocks of the job search.

Frankly, almost every application is going to require little tweaks to your resume to guarantee success. Your painting in broad strokes while recruiters are looking for a photorealistic rendering of the person they want. But that’s no reason to lose hope. You just have to work hard to be given the opportunity to maybe, one day work hard.

Here’s a few tips to make sure that your resume is as close to perfect as any one piece of paper can get.

Include keywords from the job posting in your resume

This is the easiest and perhaps most-crucial step in getting through the callouses that the average hiring manager has over the CV-scanning part of their brain. People are attuned to respond positively to people who speak like them. (Semi-related fun fact: when people like each other, their accents move closer together over the course of a conversation. Cute and scientific!) If you reflect the words that they chose back to them, you’re not only piquing their interest in this way, but you’re guaranteeing that you address their specific needs.

Resume Tip: You can shorten this process significantly by searching for 10-15 jobs in your field and noting the skills that all the listings have in common. Be sure to list those words in your skills section.

K.I.S.S.

Don’t have to talk dirty, baby,  to impress recruiters. While we don’t imagine you’re chucking vulgarities into your bullet points, there’s more than one way that a resume can be unclean. Follow the acronym K.I.S.S. (“Keep it simple, stupid.”) to keep yourself in line of you’re thinking about adding a little too much flair to your application. The less you have going on with your resume, the easier it is for people (and the machines that aid them) to read. A few quick and easy resume tips under the KISS umbrella:

  • Use standard fonts: Arial, Calibri, Georgia, Times New Roman and the like
  • Try to avoid tables, graphs or pictures
  • Save it in a widely used format like .docx or .pdf

The average hiring manager spends less than seven seconds looking at your resume before making a decision on whether or not it’s going in the trash. Make it easy to read or you’re going in the worst kind of outbox.

Use task/result structure

Instead of telling hiring managers what your job responsibilities were, try telling them what you did specifically that made your last workplace better.

Here’s a comparison of two bullet points:

BAD:

  • Ran fundraising campaigns

GOOD:

  • Launched a fundraising campaign that raised $10,000 in 8 weeks which extended runway for X months

Take note of the use of numbers, too. Quantifiable impacts are catnip to hiring managers.

Isn’t there an easier way?

Of course! We understand that all of this can be a hassle. It’s very hard to land a job and making sure that your resume is on point every time is a lot to keep in your head. So, why not use ours? Our collective brainpower and our ResumeOptimizer tool can help make sure that you never send out a bad resume again. For just $10, we’ll clean up your resume to fit the positions you want and automatically send it out to the people who are looking for you! And we stand behind our work, guaranteeing that we’ll land you an interview or your money back.

Resume Makeover! Getting Riley a Digital Marketing Job.

This week in Resume Makeover, we’re featuring… “Riley” (*). (* Names changed to protect the innocent.)

Riley is a recent MBA graduate with an economics background looking to break into the digital marketing industry. In the newer age of marketing, skills related to online content strategy, SEO, social media management, etc. are in high demand, so why not gain those skills and be part of the hiring party?

With little luck after graduating (and consistently applying to 15+ jobs per week), Riley contacted us. We immediately saw how his resume might be stunting his job search. It had too much visual flair and was overwhelmingly dense. Resume-filtering bots are the first filter against your resume — they get easily confused.

Here’s Riley’s resume makeover:

We made three visual changes to Riley’s resume:

1. Simplify the formatting of your resume. These days most employers use an ATS (Application Tracking System) to do the initial candidate screen. Make sure your resume is free of images, tables, and even columns so it doesn’t trip up the software!

2. Avoid crazy colors and weird backgrounds in your resume. Many people are tempted to add color to their resume in attempt to be unique. Unfortunately, screen displays vary and ink can be pricy — keep it simple by sticking to black & white. Tip: Bring the fancier, more visual version of your resume to the interview instead.

3. Choose one classic font and use it throughout your resume. Unique or designer fonts can be visually intriguing but the risk when using them is that it doesn’t render correctly on someone else’s computer. So keep it all simply by choosing a classic font and using the same one all through your resume. Reminder: you can always bring a printed, fancy resume to your interview!

And, of course, content changes as well:

4. Make your skills section more prominent, readable, and comprehensive. Separate your skills into broader categories and make sure it lists all the tools/industry-specific skills you list in your experiences. Remember, recruiters only look at your resume for 6 sections and your skill set is going to be one of the first places they check — so make it good!

5. Group all your relevant experience together. Move your “Side Hustle” position under “Work Experience” as it’s just as relevant as your other professional positions and should be showcased as such. Remember, relevant experience is more important than whether or not the position was paid/an unofficial position.

6. Be more concise with your tasks/achievements (3-5 bullet points). Each experience shouldn’t have subsections or too many bullet points, especially if it wasn’t an executive position. Combine like items and get rid of any achievements that start with passive verbs or don’t display ownership/positive impact on the company.

7. Simplify your education and watch out for spelling errors! There’s a whole lot of honors societies (with greek names) out there, and truth be told, employers gloss over them; what matters is the raw GPA. Also, we all make silly mistakes, but it’s extra silly if programs spot our errors and we still don’t fix them.

8. Remove irrelevant (or less relevant) experiences. Unless your extracurriculars/hobbies are something you know the hiring manager will be impressed by or able to connect on (e.g. same frat/sorority), get rid of it. Often times recruiters will see this as filler on a resume, which they’re not too fond of.

Resume Makeover! Getting James a Software Developer Job at Graduation

This week in Resume Makeover, we’re featuring… “James” (*). (* Names changed to protect the innocent.)

James is graduating from college in December 2017 and was looking to get his first real, grown-up job: Software Developer. (Despite the shortage of software developers in many cities, it’s still very hard for any single person to actually get a job. Nearly 79% of college graduates don’t have a job at graduation.) After a few weeks, dozens of job applications and no interviews, he started getting anxious about his job search and stumbled onto TalentWorks. He wavered a bit initially (who are these new guys?) but, in the end, decided it wasn’t worth being a statistic and signed up.

When James contacted us, we immediately saw his potential but also saw why he might be having trouble. It was full of filler content! And all of that was hiding his real, demonstrable skills.

Here’s James’ resume makeover, as done (yet again) by our stellar TalentAdvocate, Erin:

We made 5 key improvements to his resume:

  1. Add a link to your online portfolio or website. Especially in tech, folks are looking for proof that a candidate’s a good software developer. How do they do that? By looking at past projects & code quality — be it a personal website or portfolio, or a GitHub profile with a bunch of projects, they want to see your skills in play. So show them!
  2. Remove the Objective statement. Just like Bobby’s Overview in our first Resume Makeover, Objectives are an outdated practice. This short sentence is pretty vague and fluffy and is better left off the page.
  3. Remove your Coursework. If you’re aiming to land a job in your field, it’s fair to assume that the recruiter/manager will know what classes took because core classes are uniform across schools (for the most part). Instead, translate what you learned in those classes into industry relevant skills/concepts to add to your “Skills” section.
  4. Add a proper “Skills” section. A lot of recruiters want to beeline to an easy to digest summary of your skillset to determine if you have the baseline skills/qualifications to carry out the job. So make it easy to find! Summarize 
  5. Remove the “Community Leadership” section. Though commendable for getting involved in your community and embracing leadership opportunities, we recommend only including this type of work if the duties are directly related to your career goals or if you are applying for positions within the nonprofit sector. Otherwise it could detract recruiters’ eyes to this section rather than concentrate on all the other areas of your resume that counts!

After James made these optimizations, he immediately started getting interviews through ApplicationAssistant, and in just 9 days accepted a job offer! Here’s what James had to say:

I’m really happy with how TalentWorks optimized my resume! Your suggestions on how to cut out the filler and make the key points stand out have made a huge difference. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to sign up!

No James, it was all you all the way — we were just a coach and a cheerleader. Go you!

Introducing Resume Makeover! Bobby: Looking for a Project Management Job

This month, we’re kicking off a new series: Resume Makeover. Think Extreme Home Makeover meets the job search.

Every day, we see amazing, potential-filled people with terrible resumes. And we wonder, “If you made these 3-4 tiny changes, your job search would be so much easier! Why  are you making it so much harder for yourself?!”

Which brings us to Resume Makeover. Here’s how it’ll work:

  • Each week, we’ll feature a resume from a real person who asked our mentors to review their resumes.
  • We’ll then makeover their resume top to bottom, both visually and content-wise.
  • When we’re able to get the data, we’ll actually show you how much of a difference it made in their interview rate.
  • And, of course, as with all good makeovers, we’ll definitely have a before-and-after pic!

Our first volunteer is… well, we want this to be at least a little anonymous, so we’ll call him Bobby. Bobby was looking for a Project Management position, but after several weeks of searching on his own hadn’t gotten any replies from employers. When Bobby contacted us, we immediately understood why he was having trouble (no college degree) but also so the potential in Bobby’s unique experiences (FEMA!).

Here’s Bobby’s resume makeover as done by our Erin, one of our amazing TalentAdvocates:

We made 5 key improvements to Bobby’s original resume:

  1. Remove high school education.  Unless you’re looking for a college internship (and arguably even then), recruiters don’t really care which high school you attended. Instead highlight your certifications and include where you received them and when they expire.
  2. Relocate “Technical Skills” section. Would recommend moving it to right after your “Certifications” section because these sorts of industry skills are important and need to be more visible.
  3. Remove the “Overview” section.  Overviews are becoming an outdated practice because they’re often verbose, vague, and add very little value to the resume. Unless you’ve tailored that overview for a specific opportunity at a specific company, e.g. completely customized, you’re better off leaving it out.
  4. Start achievements with strong action verbs. Action verbs imply more ownership and clarity, e.g. provided project management vs project managed; provided cost estimation vs. performed cost estimation.
  5. Flesh out achievements with measurable impact.  Recruiters are looking for more than your job description in your resume — they’re looking to see how you successfully carried out those responsibilities and contributed to company success. Think of the specific tasks you performed and how they created a measurable, positive impact on the company, e.g. Ran cost estimation on company’s equipment, materials and labor which C-level executives used to adjust and reduce company’s overall costs by 11%.

And a few other small adjustments:

  1. Double check everything is filled out properly. Add the proper City and State to the FEMA role (right now it says “FEMA, CITY, STATE” with no location).
  2. Remove “Volunteer Work.” Unless the duties in your volunteer work are directly related to your career goals or if you’re applying for positions within the nonprofit sector, would recommend you get rid of it. Or modify so that your volunteering utilizes or hones skills that’d be an asset in your future job.
  3. Remove the line “References Available Upon Request”.  Similar to the overview, this is seen as an outdated practice. Recruiters will ask for your references if appropriate — they don’t need a written reminder of this on your resume.

We checked in with Bobby the other day. Here’s what he had to say to to his TalentAdvocate, Erin:

I’ve had so much activity since you helped me with my resume! I went from not getting any calls to getting 4 last week. I had 2 phone screening interviews last week,[and] I feel much better about my search now. Thank you! Looking forward to seeing what this week brings.

Want Erin to optimize your resume? Sign up for ApplicationAssistant and ask for Erin!