Did you know that the average resumé is looked at for seven seconds? Yes, only seven seconds. Based on my own experience as a recruiter, I think that’s actually generous, as the time is often even less.

Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of serving as adjunct recruiting support for several companies, something I hadn’t done in a few years. I’ve been sorting resumés into Yes/No/Maybe Folders. These experiences have been a great refresher for me: they’ve reminded me what the competition for talent truly looks like. Here are the reasons candidates ended up in the No Folder:

  • No relevant career experience in the field/role. It sounds basic, but if you don’t in any way, shape, or form have the experience to fill the role advertised, your resumé will never make it into the Yes Folder.
  • Career path not aligned with company or role. Your resumé and cover letter paint a picture, and it’s obvious to a skilled recruiter if your career path is headed in a different direction than what the company has to offer. Employers want to know you’ll be happy and challenged for the foreseeable future.
  • Letter addressed to wrong company. Yes, it happens. Remember: you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. This also goes for excessive typos.
  • Not sharing necessary details. If a critical component of the job description is say, budgeting, then be sure that somewhere on your resumé you talk about how you did this, preferably more than once.

There are also some rules of thumb that will make your resumé easy to read and increase its chances of getting moved from the Maybe Folder into the Yes Folder. Violating the rules below won’t necessarily disqualify you as a candidate, but be aware that in a world where hundreds of people apply for a job, recruiters will find any excuse to eliminate resumés.

  • Keep it short. Many of the cover letters I read are way too long, and I find myself drifting off halfway through the page. Keep yours between a half- and three-quarters page.
  • Vary the writing style. Don’t start every sentence with “I”. 

When skill sets and backgrounds are very similar, the cover letter is sometimes the only distinguishing factor between who makes it into the Yes Folder vs. the Maybe Folder. Though you must have the experience a potential employer seeks to be considered, don’t hold back (too much) on letting your true voice be heard. Let your energy, interest, and knowledge shine through in your cover letter, and you’ll be on your way to the first-level interview.

For more pointers on writing an impactful, eye-catching cover letter—one that will be read for longer than seven seconds—check out my article on Cover Letters for ExpertBeacon.com.


Please share this blog on your social networks, pass it along to a friend or family who’s in need of job-search support, or leave a comment about how you increase your odds of landing in the Yes Folder.

greyzone Newsletter

Free Career Tips. Delivered.

Join the greyzone mailing list for fresh insights and perspectives to take your career out of the greyzone.

You have Successfully Subscribed!