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Master the Art of Reviewing Resumes

By the time your job vacancy is posted, you should have an excellent grasp of how to evaluate a resume thoroughly and quickly so that you can compare candidates fairly, spot red flags and recognize potential diamonds in the rough. Here are our top tips to help get you there:

1. Quickly separate wheat from the chaff

Even if you’ve written an effective job description and a detailed candidate profile, you’ll likely have to review resumes from unqualified applicants. Create a checklist of the absolute minimum skills, experience and education required to do the job, whether it's remote, hybrid or in-house. Use this as a framework to efficiently sort the resumes into piles of yes, no and maybe. Then you can get down to the more nuanced filters.

2. Take the hiring market into account

As you consider how to review the resumes you’ve received, remember the possibility that the perfect candidate may not be out there, especially with today's hyper-competitive hiring market and talent shortages. That’s why managers should hire as much for potential as they do for skills or job history, and just provide professional training to take care of any gaps.

3. Watch for potential red flags

Some resumes contain warning signs of potential problems that may outweigh a candidate’s abilities and experience. These are the biggest red flags to look for as you evaluate resumes:

  • Unexplained employment gaps — As you’re reviewing an applicant’s work history, look out for long breaks between jobs. While there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation any serious candidate should be prepared and willing to explain these gaps in an interview.

  • Excessive job-hopping — People do leave jobs quickly for good reasons, but since you’ll be spending significant resources on onboarding and training new hires, you need to know it’ll be worth the effort.

  • Static career — A resume with a series of jobs and no increase in responsibility could suggest a lack of career direction or drive.

  • Careless mistakes — Given all the online resources and books devoted to resume writing, there’s no excuse for a resume that’s difficult to read, poorly organized or littered with typos.

  • Extraneous information — An interesting hobby or two requiring relevant skills could make a candidate stand out from the crowd. However, resumes that over-emphasize personal interests suggest the job seeker is looking to fill space.

4. Look for tailored messaging

Some resumes may pass your initial review but fail to impress as you dig deeper. If the resume and cover letter appear generic, it’s likely the applicant is sending the same document to multiple employers. Serious contenders customize their resumes, emphasizing those skills and qualifications that are most relevant to the job description you posted. When you review resumes, look for ones that have been crafted with that specific job posting in mind.

5. Pay attention to word choice

Phrases such as “familiar with” and “participated in” can leave you with more questions than answers. Someone who was “part of” a team devoted to identifying cost-saving opportunities may have played a key role in the effort — or simply took up space during meetings. Also, watch for jargon and buzzwords that are designed to make a candidate sound smart but may cover up a lack of expertise.

6. Eye the details when reviewing resumes

Great candidates don’t just tell. They show. Rather than simply describing their duties, savvy job seekers include examples of how they added value to their company: by saving money, streamlining a process or negotiating discounts with vendors. This might be represented as data, percentages, dollars or other expressions of quantitative impact.

7. Be rigorous but not rigid

While a checklist helps narrow down applications in an objective way, try to keep an open mind. Not everyone has followed a traditional career path, and their experience could be all the richer for it. Be sure to differentiate between essential qualifications needed to do the job and knowledge that can easily be gained in-house. The bottom line: Candidates who pique your interest might be worth pursuing, even if their professional background is nontraditional.

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