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Raise your hand if you’ve ever stared at a stack of resumes, dreading having to read through them to determine if they’re worth pursuing.

With today’s electronic applicant tracking systems (ATS), it’s much quicker and easier to whittle down the pile to those that are likely the best fit.  But you still have to know how to analyze the top candidates to avoid wasting your precious time interviewing people that aren’t a good match or even worse, making a hiring decision you regret.

Additionally, most small businesses don’t have access to an ATS.  So, knowing what to look for in a resume or application is still a critical skill.

Hiring a talented team will separate your organization from the competition and make you personally stand out as a supervisor or manager who as a knack for picking top-notch people. Hiring is the most important responsibility a supervisor has, so don’t delegate it; learn to do it quickly and effectively.

After over 25 years of sorting through resumes and applications, I’ve learned the dos and don’ts.  Read on for the rundown on how to save yourself time while identifying top talent. You’re simply too busy to waste time on the wrong candidates!

More Than Just Natural Instincts

Several years ago, a colleague asked me to sit down with her and teach her what to look for in a resume. I’d been doing it so long, it was just natural.  I said yes but then got a bit nervous because I had never thought about what I did; I just knew.  But I agreed to meet with her anyway, with the caveat that I wasn’t sure that I had that much to share.

When we met, I decided to take a resume and just tell her what I was thinking and looking at as I looked over it.  It turned out that there were really specific things I was looking at and for.  Articulating why I was looking at them was just as easy.

Since that meeting, I’ve documented my process for screening resumes and applications.  Although the approach is customized for various positions, the basic process contains 4 steps.

  • Bare Minimums

Zip right to the education, and then scan through the experience.  If the candidate doesn’t have the minimum education or experience required on the job description, set them aside and move on.

Other minimum requirements you’ll be looking for include:

  • Have they indicated their ability to work the needed hours?
  • Are they within the desired commutable distance, or have they indicated that they’ll be relocating?
  • Is the desired pay in line with the budget?
  • Did they provide the information you requested (such as cover letter, work sample, references)?
  • Other job-related minimums

Don’t feel obligated to read the entire document. If they don’t meet the minimum, they’re a definite “no”, so save your time to read the qualified applicants more thoroughly.

  • Above and Beyond

If you screen only based on minimum qualifications, you will often end up with too many candidates to consider.  Narrow the pool down by looking for the strongest set of qualifications.

Notice I didn’t say the most experience.  Sometimes more experience is not an advantage and it often comes with a high compensation price tag.

You’ll want to consider the following areas:

  • How many years and months of related experience do they possess?
  • What type and amount of related education have they received?
  • How recent is their relevant experience or education?
  • Have they worked in a similar environment or industry?

Remember, you don’t need to interview all minimally qualified candidates, as long as you’re not screening individuals out based on their legally protected characteristics.  Make some notes so that you can recall later the business reason you passed someone over.

  • Professionalism

While it’s true that no one is perfect, when applying for a job, a person should be putting their best foot forward.  If their best is riddled with errors, don’t be surprised when they lack attention to detail or high-quality standards after they’re hired.

The more the position requires those qualities, the more ruthless you should judge this area. For example, if you’re hiring for an administrative, management, or professional level position, their ability to present a professional image and communicate well in writing is often critical.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • Is the cover letter clear, concise, and free of errors?
  • Is the overall neatness of the application or resume satisfactory?
  • Are the application and/or resume free from errors?
  • Is the application free from omissions/blanks?
  • Going Deep

This is where you read between the lines to see the person behind the paper.  It may take some time and experience to master this area of candidate analysis, but here are some good questions to consider for each candidate who has made it through the prior screening:

  • How might the speed of their career progression impact their fit to the position or organization?
  • What do the candidate’s work choices tell you about him/her?
  • Does the candidate provide quantifiable results?
  • Why did they leave prior jobs?
  • How frequently do they change jobs? (job hopping is more acceptable and expected in some industries than others)
  • Is all time accounted for or are there gaps?

On this deep review, keep an eye out for any things that just don’t look right. It doesn’t mean you have to pass on the candidate, but you will know what areas you need to have clarified during the interview process.

Build Better Teams

While reviewing resumes and applications requires a time commitment, with a focused process that uncovers the essentials, you’ll be able to quickly identify the candidate with the greatest likelihood of success.  You’ll build better teams that are full of people who are enthusiastic about their work because you’ve found the right match between person, job, and organization.

What do you look for on a resume/application to ensure that you identify the best candidate for the position? You can leave your answer in a comment below.

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