Less Than Five Minutes Spent on a Single Resume, SHRM Survey Says

April 28, 2014

New SHRM survey provides insight into how HR looks at resumes and cover letters and how organizations conduct interviews

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Less than five minutes—that is how much time a resume is reviewed before it is decided whether a job candidate proceeds to the next step in the hiring process, according to a new Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews Survey released today.

Additionally, almost all respondents (93 percent) said inaccuracies in resumes either sometimes (73 percent) or always (20 percent) negatively impacted their decision to extend a job interview.

“Regarding interview process and etiquette, the research shows that smaller organizations expect more of the personal touches from candidates, such as sending thank you notes and cover letters,” said Evren Esen, director of SHRM’s Survey Programs. “Larger companies were more likely to have panel or structured interviews than smaller organizations.”

When those surveyed were asked what gave candidates a positive edge over the competition, top answers included chronologically organized resumes (66 percent), resumes in bulleted format (43 percent) and resumes tailored to a specific industry (43 percent).

The survey results were released at SHRM’s Talent Management Conference being held in Nashville, Tenn.

Seventy-seven percent of HR professionals also said job candidates should explain in a job interview that they were fired or laid off from a position. Fifty-seven percent of participants indicated that job candidates should neither emphasize nor hide gaps in employment.

“Just as there is an expectation of job candidates to be honest when prompted about their work history, it is equally important for HR professionals to be understanding of resume gaps,” said Wanda Barrett, manager of employment at SHRM. “The number of layoffs we saw during the recession was historic—for that reason, job gaps should not be an automatic disqualifier.”

Additional findings include:


  • The majority of HR professionals (76 percent) said that job candidates should either include 8 to 10 years (38 percent) or all years (38 percent) of relevant job history.
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of organizations prefer chronological resumes, which list education and experience in reverse order.
  • The majority of respondents (68 percent) prefer to receive resumes through their organization’s website, followed by email (14 percent).

Cover Letters:

  • Employers with fewer than 500 employees (33 percent) are more likely to ask for a cover letter than organizations (17 percent) with more than 500 employees.
  • The most important aspects of a cover letter are how the job candidate’s work experience meets the job requirements (51 percent), how the job candidate’s skills meet the job requirements (48 percent), and why the candidate wants to work at the organization (45 percent).

Interviews and Etiquette:

  • Sending a thank you note after an interview is more important to smaller (less than 100 employees) and private-sector businesses than larger (more than 100 employees) and government organizations.
  • Panel and structured interviews are more common among government organizations, while semi-structured and screening interviews are more common among private-sector businesses.
  • The most common advice from HR: Address gaps in employment, bring a resume to the interview, arrive 15 minutes early, and address any employment that ended in firing.

SHRM surveyed 411 randomly selected organization members throughout the United States.

The full survey is available online at


For more surveys/poll findings, visit shrm.org/surveys. Follow SHRM Research on Twitter @SHRM_Research.

Media: For more information or to request an interview, contact Vanessa Gray at 703-535-6072 and Vanessa.Gray@shrm.org or Kate Kennedy of SHRM Public Affairs at 703-535-6260 and Kate.Kennedy@shrm.org

About the Society for Human Resource Management

Founded in 1948, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR membership organization devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 275,000 members in over 160 countries, the Society is the leading provider of resources to serve the needs of HR professionals and advance the professional practice of human resource management. SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China, India and United Arab Emirates. Visit SHRM Online at www.shrm.org and follow us on Twitter @SHRMPress.



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