What to Look for When Reviewing Candidate Resumes

Writing a compelling job ad that offers a competitive salary is only half the battle. Now that you’re staring at a flooded inbox full of tons of candidates, you’ll have to begin the difficult task of finding the best new hire. Hopefully, you’ve done yourself a huge favor and targeted that job description to suit the most desirable applicants imaginable. (See our recent post on crafting the perfect job description.)

Casting too wide a net on today’s online job boards could mean you now have to weed through hundreds of applications, some of which may not even be remotely relevant. If you’re confident the original job description was catered to only the top talent in the field, great! Staring at a full inbox is a very good problem to have. But time is short, and you want to snag that new hire before someone else does.

Here are five pointers to help you review applications more efficiently.

1. Avoid overwhelm and come up with a plan

The most important part of reviewing resumes is having a strategy to keep pace with the constant influx of applications. Our best advice is to make it a point to review resumes daily, even if you only have half an hour each day. If you let the applications pile up, they’ll multiply fast, and trying to tackle fifty resumes at once is nobody’s idea of a good time. (They’ll all blend together after the first few, trust us.)

Stay organized. If you’re dealing with dozens, or (gulp!) hundreds of resumes, it’s easy to get confused about who is at which stage in the process. If you aren't using an applicant tracking system or a single advertising source like Indeed or ZipRecruiter (invaluable tools), create a new email account for applicants to submit their resumes and create files for each stage of your process. Review candidates and move their resume through your filing system, and develop a personal method to tame the madness.

2. Look for disqualifiers first

Now it’s time to start weeding through the pile. Always look for disqualifiers first to lighten the load. Your disqualifiers will vary depending on your personal preferences and the specific job duties outlined in your original job description. A general rule of thumb will be to discard those applicants who didn’t take time to present themselves professionally. Did the applicant fail to follow your instructions or misspell the hiring manager’s name? Toss them out.

Here are a few other examples of red flags to look out for:

  • Typos, poor sentence structure, grammatical mistakes, and other careless errors indicate an oversight at best or thoughtlessness at worst. There’s a sliding scale here—maybe a single typo isn’t a dealbreaker for you. (And for an otherwise perfect candidate, it shouldn’t be!) But a typical job in real estate requires good communication skills, so major problems with the written word should probably disqualify the applicant.
  • Location. Note where the applicants are located. A long commute might be okay in the short-term but many candidates site a long commute as their reason for leaving their current or previous jobs.

  • Essential education and license requirements should also be clearly listed on a resume. If these basic requirements aren’t highlighted, then send that resume to the slush pile.

  • Short job tenure that lacks a clear career trajectory is usually an indication you’re not looking at a serious applicant’s resume. Younger candidates tend to have more jobs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. For instance, if an applicant progressed from a front desk administrative position to Executive Assistant to Office Manager, they may show real promise and possess the ambition you’re seeking in a new hire. However, if an applicant changed careers with each move, or made several parallel moves, those are likely red flags. Irrelevant experience is also a no-brainer.

Scan for the disqualifiers, and stop reading as soon as you decide the resume is not up to your standards. Only take the time to fully read resumes that appear to meet your core requirements after scanning it at a high level.

As you dig deeper into resumes that you are interested in, consider:

  • Did they include specific quantifiable experience or did they just hash together a bunch of generic buzzwords? Serious applicants with real experience include the facts and figures of their track record. (Think specifics on how much volume over how long a period the candidate handled.) A catchall personal statement is usually a signal that the candidate is not as serious as they could be.

  • Be aware of inconsistencies between a candidate’s attached resume and their LinkedIn profiles. Are they taking the time to update across the board? If not this may be a sign of laziness, or worse—deception.

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3. Presentation matters

While a background in graphic design may not be a necessary requirement for your recruiting purposes, we are always more likely to move good looking resumes to the “maybe” pile. (The same goes for a staged and well-photographed home!)

But don’t completely write off candidates who have plain looking or overly wordy resumes. There may be some talented folks hidden behind all that redundancy or bad font. To keep things moving quickly and to avoid fatigue, scan resumes for keywords (For a TC role look for: “managed contracts,” “oversaw files,” “created systems,” “maintained checklists”).

Feel free to move offensively bad-looking resumes straight to the “no” pile.

4. Read between the lines

Keep in mind that not everyone knows how to write a great resume and sometimes, you need to do the work of identifying someone who’s worth granting an interview. This goes for resumes that aren’t very detailed or don’t describe their roles and responsibilities very well. We see this most often with applicants who have been in their current role for a long time. They are simply out of practice when it comes to describing what they do.

Personality goes a long way and won’t always be evident on a resume. If the applicant is not disqualified based on the criteria you’ve established, and they have relevant job titles or experience, it’s probably worth having a phone call with them and getting a sense of who they really are.

5. Always follow up

Candidates appreciate hearing from you, even if you’re not moving them forward to the next stage of the process. Especially if a candidate made it to an interview but did not make it to the next stage of the hiring process, do them the professional courtesy of providing a short and timely email, like this:

Dear [candidate], Thank you for your interest in joining our team. We interviewed many qualified applicants for the position, and while we found your background and experience impressive, we regret to inform you that it does not meet our needs at this time. Good luck in your professional pursuits.

Sincerely, Management

Given the urgency of your hiring needs, swiftness is likely to be important (so reread number one, and stay on top of that filing system!). Good candidates go fast, so you want to respond to promising applicants quickly. Have a plan for your initial contact with a candidate to keep them engaged and up-to-date on the process. Remember, you need to make a good impression too! Pick up the phone and give them a call, or else email them with a few options for interview times.

If you like a candidate but are not ready to make a hiring decision, make sure to touch base with them at least weekly to let them know that they are still under consideration. There is a lot of promising talent out there—the only problem is finding it. We’re confident that following these basic pointers will make the hiring process an enjoyable one!

**If you need help combing through all of those resumes, we can help! We can review all of your applicants and send you the top 10% for you to review. Or, we can conduct the initial phone interview for your top candidates and send you our notes and recommendation for each applicant.

Schedule a free consultation to find out how we can help make your search a little easier.