9 Ways to Become a Resumé Reviewing Pro

By Paul Slezak - May. 24, 2017
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Don’t worry. I know exactly what you’re thinking.

Surely in this day and age resumés are becoming obsolete! I mean who even has a CV or a resumé these days anyway?

But for all those business owners, hiring managers and internal recruiters out there working in organisations or particular industry sectors where LinkedIn profiles or social footprints may not be as relevant or as common as a good old hard copy CV, this one’s for you!

Now I can’t even begin to think of how many thousands of resumés I’ve scanned in my time. You do the math … 25 years … often up to 90 applications per job ad …

OK stop. That’s a lot of trees (yep – even today the majority of recruiters and hiring managers still like to print out a candidate’s resumé. Go ahead and ask them!)

So how do the pros review the barrage of resumés after the tsunami of applications hit their inboxes?

1. At least glance over every application

I interviewed a recruiter many years ago who placed people into call centre roles. She would be inundated with resumés for every role she advertised. Apparently her theory was quite simple. Each day she would wait for all the applications to come in. She’d make a pile of resumés on her desk and then split the pile in two. She only screened the bottom half and she dumped top half straight in the shredder bin. [In case you’re wondering … I didn’t hire the ‘pile splitter’].

2. Never make assumptions

Many hiring managers are obsessed with knowing where a candidate lives. This is why most external recruitment consultants will typically remove the candidate’s address from a resumé before sharing it with their client.

Oh … he lives there! There’s no way he’d travel in from that far! [I actually was sitting opposite a client who said exactly that a few weeks ago. What he didn’t realise was that the candidate was planning to move a lot closer if he was offered the job].

If somebody wants a job and they’re prepared for a long commute, then please don’t judge someone on where they live. Unfortunately because so many candidates put their address at the top of their resumé, residential bias (as I like to call it) is rife!

Right up there with ‘residential bias’, are employers (and recruiters too!) looking at a candidate’s photo (if they’ve decided to include one) and letting a mug shot lead the decision making process.

Assuming the majority of people reading this blog post aren’t recruiting for a modelling agency or a prime time television network, then a candidate’s photo should be the least of your worries.

3. Implement strict ‘culling’ criteria

I have to admit I have been guilty of this one myself. There were times when I would be swamped with resumés and cover letters. If I had made it clear in my job ad that all resumés should be addressed to Paul Slezak, then if I received a cover letter that said “To whom it may concern”, or “Dear Sir / Madam” … well unfortunately I didn’t even read the cover letter let alone the resumé behind it.

That’s what I would call resumé skimming at its fastest!

4. Don’t discriminate based on date of birth

If it’s included in the resumé, a candidate’s date of birth is also something a hiring manager’s eyes will be drawn to pretty early on.

I used to think this was related to age discrimination. But over the years I have learned that quite often it’s not the year of birth that’s being scrutinised at all. It’s actually more the day and month.

Believe it or not there are people out there who build their teams based entirely on ‘zodiacal compatibility’! There you go – no need to even read the resumé. Better yet forget engaging a recruiter! Just hire a consulting astrologer!

Virgo or Sagittarius? Who cares?!?

5. Stay focused on competencies 

Whenever I present to graduates and job seekers on how to create a compelling resumé, one of the first things I tell them is that a recruiter or hiring manager will make a decision in the first 10 – 15 seconds of looking at a CV as to whether or not a candidate is suitable.

It’s true.

So now looking at it from your perspective, if you’re making a judgement call within 10 – 15 seconds, what should you be looking out for in a candidate’s resumé?

In many of our previous blog posts and e-books I have stressed the importance of distinguishing between a candidate’s ability to get a job and their ability to do the job and ideally excel in it.

Typically during the resumé reviewing process, your focus is on the getting part. It’s during the screening and interviewing stages where your focus should shift more to the doing (and excelling) components – and we have stacks of information about that.

6. Look for relevant employment history

Where has the candidate worked? Not just in what companies but specifically in what capacity? You can get a very quick idea as to how suitable their previous work experience has been.

Has the candidate just listed their responsibilities from their previous roles? Or have they also included a list of achievements associated with them? Whilst a list of duties will once again help with the job getting assessment piece, seeing what they actually achieved (going beyond the job description) will help assess the doing part.

7. Flag gaps in employment dates

Cast your eye quickly down the work experience or employment history section and ensure the dates flow logically. But if you detect a gap in the chronology please don’t write the candidate off immediately. Instead make a note to flag it with them if you speak to them. They may well have a very valid reason for not having worked for a specific period of time.

8. Identify required qualifications

Some roles require set qualifications. Without having to delve into what specific subjects they studied, you can quickly skim to see when and where they obtained their degree.

9 Focus on personal accomplishments

I have always placed a strong emphasis on this section of a candidate’s resumé (if they’ve included it). Life experiences can give you a great snapshot as to what they’re like outside work.

I used to do a lot of graduate recruitment and often from an academic and work experience perspective the hundreds of applications would all start to look the same. But if I noticed under ‘personal achievements’ that a candidate had taken part in a 10-day Vipassana meditation course, had built a raft with a group of friends and spent a month canoeing down a river in South America, or had successfully organised a major fundraising event, I felt that those candidates may well have more to offer than those who just ticked the stock standard boxes.

Finally I just want to highlight that I am definitely a firm believer in looking at a candidate’s social footprint alongside their CV. And for anyone I ever hired personally to work in any of my teams, I never even took their resumé into the first interview since first and foremost that meeting was all about assessing cultural suitability.

But if you’re being swamped with candidate applications, it’s important that you can quickly sort the wheat from the chaff.

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.


Paul Slezak

Cofounder and CEO at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for nearly 25 years.

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