What Do You Look for In A Resume?
March 7, 2005 4:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm interested in hearing about different techniques people use when they have to go through a large stack of resumes for a job opening. Is there a specific process you use to weed out the best candidates to then bring in for a face-to-face interview? Are there specific things you look for? What's your process?
posted by marcschil to Work & Money (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've only been part of a hiring team a couple of times. We looked for a few things to do the immediate weed-out:

1) Spelling errors. More than two got immediately roundfiled. If you can't even be bothered to spell-check your resume, you are not employable.

2) Large employmejnt gaps. Admittedly, there can be reasons for these: illness, school, what-have-you. Too many, though..

3) Short periods of employment/too many jobs. Unless the positions were specified as contract positions, the person just looks like a job-hopper and/or unemployable.

Those were the big three. Of course, each one was tempered with our judgement, depending on other factors. #1, however, was completely non-negotiable. Other factors included job experience relevant to the position, and involvement in non-work-related activities (we were hiring for a very creative position, so extracurricular activities provided some useful clues. YMMV.)
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:29 AM on March 7, 2005

Throw half of them in the bin - that way you avoid employing unlucky people.

When I've done that (not really), I make an initial pass through to weed out ones that are obvious no goers and mark them with a red highlighter - e.g. people that couldn't even be arsed to use Spell Checker on their cover letter, non-EU nationals as I know from experience getting work permits is hard work, and people who obviously don't have the required skills.

With them weeded out, I make another pass and slowly read through the CV. Having read the CV once, I often read it again just to make sure I haven't missed any crucial point, and then either mark it with the red highlighter, or with the green highlighter.

If at that point I still have too many potential interviewees, I will make another pass, though for this and each subsequent pass through the CVs, there is no red pen, just additional green pens.

To be honest, I just use instinct in weeding people out. I once tried a purely logical approach (looking at people with the best grades, best experience etc.) and it was an utter disaster. CVs can be so utterely misleading.
posted by chill at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2005

Absolutely agree on the spelling issue.

If the resumes had cover letters attached, take a scan through and see if the applicant identified why they made sense for that position -if it is a standard, cookie-cutter cover letter, weed-out. If no cover letters, I would do the same for the 'summary' statement at the beginning of the resume
posted by darsh at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2005

The obvious, as mentioned by dirtynumbangelboy (crap, is that hard to type without checking five times to make sure you got it right!)..is a good starting place.

I tend to get a "feeling" when I read a resume... they frequently reflect the owner.. for example: too wordy, pretentious, sloppy, creative, clever, lazy, intelligent... I pay attention to how I feel about the resume...

If the credentials fit (they have the skills/education/experience I'm looking for) the "feeling" is critical in terms of who I end up interviewing.

Go with your gut, if you read the resume and say "I like that!" do an interview!
posted by HuronBob at 5:37 AM on March 7, 2005

wow. what a negative process dnab describes! when i've done this, the first thing i check is that they have the right skills - people often apply even when they don't have what we're asking for. but before throwing anyone out, check that they're not otherwise brilliant (just in case you find someone worth making a job for). then look for experience, both in the skills we want and in the kind of work we do. just doing that normally reduces things considerably. after that, you have to be more general - what do they sound like; what is their education level like; do they have other useful skills (not just want we want short term, but to help either extend or deepen what we already have); do we know someone who knows them, so we can check on them, etc? it helps to have at least one person who's read everything and to have each application read by at least two people, in my experience. then compare short lists.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:38 AM on March 7, 2005

I look at 20-30 resumes a week. The process I go through depends on the specialization level of the job and how familiar I am with it - for instance, I'm not a techie, so I have to go through IT resumes much more carefully than I have to go through nurse resumes, since I have a lot of experience with medical recruiting. (This is important for techies to know - you have to get through an HR person like me, so you want to make it easy for us to understand how the language or software you use relates to the requirements, or we'll accidently pass you by.)

First - I look over resume - general spelling and skillset. Then - hopper check - how long at each job? Then - education and specific companies, ie competitors. I can get rid of about half of the resumes in less than a minute each by then.

Step two - If someone looks interesting, that's when I check their cover letter and actually READ the resume, looking for actual experiences and projects, checking against the actual requirements for the job and sussing out BS and exaggerations. (For instance, if you've been in the workforce for less than five years, mostly as a Workroom Duplication Engineer, I'm pretty sure you didn't "redesign key operational workflows resulting in a savings of over $500,000 a year.") (Actual example) Some exaggeration is to be expected but if it's ridiculous I know it will be a pain to interview you so I'll just pass you by.

By the time I go through these two steps I'm usually down to less than a quarter of the resumes I receive. Then I call you and phone screen and that cuts out another half.
posted by pomegranate at 6:05 AM on March 7, 2005

Pretty much whatever everybody else said, only my process involves using a spreadsheet so I can do a comparative checklist of candidates. This involves comparing the original job posting's required/desired traits to each resume. I don't know about your situation, but our HR department applies the policy that if we've said we require it, we're stuck with that requirement, no matter how much better a fit someone else might be who lacks some relatively minor skill.

Once you've got the checklist going, people quickly weed themselves out or make themselves stand out, a la a lot of what people have already said (spelling errors, correct punctuation, job history, cover letters, etc.) At this point, you can break down the list into primary candidates ("must" interviews) and secondary ones (fallbacks).

This process has worked really, really well for me in at least six searches I've worked on, some of which involved hundreds upon hundreds of applicants. Happy hunting!
posted by kimota at 6:58 AM on March 7, 2005

I just went through a round of hiring and for me, the key was the cover letter. This was an opportunity for candidates to explain what they did at their last job, why they want the job, why there might be gaps in their work history, and why they want to leave their current position. If they could go one step further and anticipate my big "must-haves" they were on my short list for an interview. The candidate we ended up hiring actually had a major typo in his resume, but his cover letter was engaging enough to overcome that.
posted by Coffeemate at 7:20 AM on March 7, 2005

1) Spelling errors...

2) Large employme
jnt gaps.


posted by Doohickie at 7:58 AM on March 7, 2005

I forgot to mention that you just put a sticky on the top with any notes or next actions - for instance, "N/F 3/9/05 Pom" so I know I looked at it, made the no-fit decision, and the date. Then I make a N/F stack to send out generic "no" e-mails. But the main thing is not to write on the actual resume unless you can get other copies, and never to write anything non-work-related on the resume, since it can be subpoenaed in case the person feels you were discriminating against them illegally by not hiring them. So - keep notes simple but clear to you.
posted by pomegranate at 8:01 AM on March 7, 2005

I think cover letter is important, but resume must stand on its own. As one of those "hoppers" (mostly because I had terrible luck picking stable companies), I think I was successful in finding other positions because my resume was nicely formatted but not too fancy, told a fairly consistent story of my skills set (even though the specifics of the jobs varied), and was easy to take in at a glance (i.e., two page resumes are out). YMMV, but that seemed to work for me.

I think "hoppers" are not the scourge they might have been several years ago with the economy being what it is; many changes may simply mean the guy worked for companies on the downslide.
posted by Doohickie at 8:06 AM on March 7, 2005

I interview marketing, design and copywriting personnel. I look for spelling and grammar, the overall presentation of the resume (and portfolio if attached), stated skills, education and experience. Although this was not part of the question, let me also add to always, always, always check for references.

To the HR people in this thread - how many months is 'job-hopping'? A different job every year? Every six months? In marketing, projects may run from 3 to 6 months (a year if the budget is larger). In some cities, full-time people do move around every 2-3 years. Again, this is in marketing - my impression is that IT moves around a bit more frequently.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:12 AM on March 7, 2005

What always worked for me was to list the name of our in-house, custom-built content management app as one of the qualifications. If someone listed it in their skills inventory, they were immediately put in the no-hire pile.

Easily applicable everywhere, just make up a groupware package and give it a fancy name. It's a very easy way to flag people who outright lie on their resume.
posted by nathan_teske at 8:27 AM on March 7, 2005

Job-hopping didn't bother me when I was hiring an assistant, but applicants who left too many jobs "for personal reasons" got a big red flag. I was also suspicious of anyone who seemed to be selling themselves too short -- looking to leave a job that paid better and had more responsibility than what we were offering.

Unsurprisingly, the applicants who got roundfiled for the above reasons had pretty cookie-cutter cover letters, too -- if there had been any explanation, they probably would've scored an interview.

(And oh, the interview. Whole new ways to tank the possibility of getting hired.)
posted by desuetude at 8:33 AM on March 7, 2005

nathan_teske, that's really amazing to me. What percentage of applicants could you screen out with that little trick?
posted by Coffeemate at 8:42 AM on March 7, 2005

coffeemate - usually anywhere from a quarter to a third. The positions were all entry-level graphic arts for a very niche market, so the only way the applicant would know of our system is to have worked for us previously.
posted by nathan_teske at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2005

Now, does any of this apply to jobs that are advertised with requirements far exceeding what anyone on the planet actually has in the first place?

Back in the day when I was applying for jobs, I would openly state in my cover letter that the asked-for mix of qualifications was unrealistic and excessive for the actual job, and here's what you really meant, and here's how I meet the true and actual requirement. In one interview, the fellow actually agreed with me completely!

When job specs are realistic and fair, using realistic and fair criteria to weed out inappropriate candidates is called for. When the former is not present, the latter becomes suspect.
posted by joeclark at 10:47 AM on March 7, 2005

Back when I hired for graphic design jobs, I would toss out resumes that, duh, didn't look good.

But two major points to assist your intuition:

-- Can you sense a real person behind the letter/resume? Do you get a sense of someone speaking to you, or do you get a lot of opaque text that doesn't add up? Applications that create a vivid portrait of the person applying are a great deal more appealing than complicated lists.

-- Especially with the cover letter, does the person emphasize how much the job would be perfect for her? How it suits their dreams and goals? How it makes them happy to think about it? Because, really -- who cares. They're supposed to tell you how their skills will help your workplace. People who don't get this are often unrealistic and make poor employees.
posted by argybarg at 11:05 AM on March 7, 2005

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