How to Review Résumés: What to Look for in a Potential Hire

Person reading a resume

One of the most common challenges of management today is hiring the right candidates for your organisation. Good recruitment can have a significant impact on the capabilities and performance of your organisation, so it is vital to ensure that your processes result in the right candidate being appointed.

The first step, of course, is to know what to look for in a résumé or CV. Depending on how many applications you receive, this is the point in which you will be drawing up a shortlist of potential employees, so it's essential to understand what you should be trying to identify.

To help you along, we've outlined the critical steps of how to do so below. This is how to review résumés as an employer:

1. Have a list of necessary qualifications outlined before the review process begins.

As the head of your organisation, you should know exactly what it is you are looking for when it comes to cultural fit. However, if you are looking to hire a software engineer, for example, and you have no background in programming or development methodologies, then how are you going to know what technical skills your candidates need?

Ultimately, the answer depends on the size of your organisation. If you have a relevant department head or subject matter expert (SME) within your company, then they will obviously take the lead in this regard. It's also a good idea to consult with your HR manager, too, if you have one. If you are a small operation and you don’t have these resources available, then it can be a wise idea to enlist the services of a consultancy or even a recruitment agency, although this can be costly. However, in the long term, it's worth getting the right person in, rather than finding out you have employed someone who has "blagged" their way in.

Another idea is to conduct a review of your current employees, especially if you are hiring to replace an existing employee. Not only does this help you to identify what role-specific qualifications are going to be the most important, but it also allows you to create reference points regarding what you expect from future workers.

Once you have identified what skills, qualifications or certifications are required (and these should be highlighted in the initial job posting), you need to check that they are present on the résumés you are receiving. If you are receiving a small number of applications, then you (or your relevant SME) can do this; if the volume is significant, though, then this task can be performed by a competent Application Tracking System (ATS).

2. Read the applicant's cover letter.

Although not always required, cover letters can be an important supplement to a résumé, and so it is a wise idea to request one. This initial introduction can often provide the first of many clues regarding whether or not they are the right person for your team.

When reading the cover letter, you should have a relatively good "feel" for the individual writing it. It should, of course, be relatively free from spelling or grammatical errors, too, as this is a standard giveaway of a person's attention to detail (or lack thereof). If you specifically asked for a cover letter in the job posting, and one has not been provided, this is a good indicator that the applicant struggles with basic instructions and is not worth pursuing further.

3. Skim the résumé for previous positions and industry experience.

Your first read-through of a résumé doesn't have to be an in-depth one. In fact, a fast skim-through of the CV will give you a reliable indication of whether or not it is worth reading comprehensively. After all, it's highly likely that you will receive many blanket applications that can end up wasting your time.

Using the subheadings indicated on the pages, find the sections regarding the applicant's education, previous roles and industry-related experience.

Of course, it is up to you determine what is most important here. One candidate may not have a degree in the field but could have ten years of experience; for some roles, this is preferable. For others, however, a degree can be non-negotiable: you may want to hire a new graduate with little experience, whom you can then mould accordingly. This level of scrutiny extends to any other relevant skills, too, such as if the candidate speaks a particular language and, if so, to what standard?

By skim-reading and identifying straight away what you're looking for, you can quickly narrow down the list before exploring in more depth...

4. Do a thorough, in-depth read of the promising CVs.

...which brings us to the next step. Once you have discerned that a given applicant has the right level of experience or knowledge, you can begin reviewing their credentials more closely.

Again, this comes down to what it is you're looking for in the prospective job role, but there are some red flags you might want to monitor. For instance, what kinds of companies have the candidate worked for? Have they been moving sideways in their career, or has each role been a step up? Has the candidate challenged themselves, or have they failed to develop new skills and take on new opportunities?

Consider the rate at which they have changed jobs, too. While employment trends have evolved in the last few decades and millennial workers tend to move around fairly frequently, it's never a good sign if a candidate has been job hopping every three months. Employment gaps can be another potential cause of concern, although there might be an entirely plausible reason behind them that you can discern during the interview process.

Finally, consider whether the candidate is going to be a realistic hire. If your company is based in Chicago and the applicant is based in Los Angeles, are they going to relocate? If so, are they expecting you to contribute to that? Alternatively, are they hoping to work remotely, and are you able to accommodate that? These are things that you should keep in mind. 

This step will likely take the longest and can benefit from several opinions. By the end, though, you should have sorted your candidates into three piles:

  • Those that meet the job requirements
  • Those that adhere to some specifications, and are a "maybe"
  • Those who are a definite "no

5. Move on to the next step.

The next step is to assess those candidates who fall into your first pile, whether that involves a direct interview, a telephone or video interview for further sifting, or a set of screening assessments to assess competence and capability. Ideally, you will then find and hire a candidate from this pile, although it's worth looking into your second pile if you are struggling to find the right person.

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Learning what to look for in a CV does not have to be a challenge. In determining what to look for in a résumé, hiring managers can better ensure that the individuals joining their team are skilled candidates who will help to grow the business and add value to the existing team. This lengthy and precision-oriented process all starts with the initial résumé, though, so ensure that you get yourself off to the best possible start!

What else should business owners look for in the résumés of candidates? Let us know your thoughts below!

Additional content provided by Sion Phillpott.