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Evaluating Resumes

Looking at a stack or inbox full of resumes can be daunting. If you want to evaluate them and still have time to do your regular job, you need to know what to look for to weed through them quickly.

When reviewing resumes, focus on these 10 signs of a good candidate:

Industry experience
While you may be willing to hire applicants without industry experience, it’s usually an easier transition to hire someone who does have experience within your industry. You can also get a better feel for how impressive a candidate is since you’re more familiar with any accomplishments or expertise.
Necessary skills
If the job requires any specific skills or knowledge, scan resumes for those keywords. Even if applicants have relevant experience, don’t assume they have the required skills or knowledge unless it’s something everyone in your industry or profession would know. Software, for example, can vary from company to company, so even experienced candidates may not be familiar with the program your business uses.
Education
For jobs requiring a degree, make sure it’s listed on the applicant’s resume. If the job doesn’t require a degree, you should take note of any recent or ongoing education. Enrolling in relevant online courses shows an applicant’s willingness and desire to keep up to date in his or her field.
Transferable skills
Just because an applicant doesn’t have industry experience doesn’t mean he or she is incapable of doing a job. Look for relevant, transferable skills from other industries. For example, if you’re seeking a bookkeeper, an applicant who worked as a cashier handling money and tallying numbers would be a viable candidate.
Relevancy to position
Even though the country recently went through a recession and many workers are still employed outside of their fields, there should be some link between a resume and the job listing, whether it’s a sign of a career path or continuing education. Someone who’s worked as a nurse isn’t going to decide to become a banker without some evidence on his or her resume, for example.
Proper formatting and font
Unless it’s for a design position, a resume doesn’t have to be a work of art – but it should be readable. Resumes should have a consistent style and format across each section, and information should be laid out in a clean, chronological manner.
Quantifiable accomplishments
Job duties that include numbers are stronger than those that don’t. Numbers give you far more information than vague statements. “Managed a team of employees across multiple locations” doesn’t tell you nearly as much about a candidate as “Managed a team of 25 employees, located in five different offices” does.
Evidence of increasing responsibility
Look for signs that a candidate is increasing his or her responsibility, even through lateral moves. More recent jobs should indicate more important tasks than older jobs and, preferably, larger numbers for quantifiable achievements.
Initiative
When reading descriptions of job duties, seek out strong words that show the candidate took charge. For example, words like “led,” “managed,” “created,” “implemented” or “ran” all show that the employee took action with their job tasks.
Stability
Employees today stay at companies for shorter periods of time than previous generations, but you should still look for candidates who have some job stability. Find applicants who remained in multiple positions for a minimum of two years.

Top Resume Red Flags

While you should take the time to read through every resume you receive, there are some red flags to watch out for when narrowing the pool:

Gaps in employment: There are many valid reasons for job gaps, so with an otherwise strong resume, don’t automatically rule a candidate out for having a period of unemployment. Ideally a resume should include something career-related during these gaps, such as volunteer work, internships or relevant courses; however, many gaps may be unaccounted for, if taken for personal reasons, such as medical leave. A gap in employment is more worrisome if a resume doesn’t include any dates or lists misleading, vague dates of employment.
Bad spelling or grammar: While a spelling error may seem like a small mistake, it should raise serious concern on a resume. Resumes are often the first thing employers see, so jobseekers should take resumes very seriously and spend time reviewing them before submitting. A spelling mistake that passes through reviews and edits shows a lack of attention or care on behalf of the applicant.
Failure to pay attention to detail: Similarly, an applicant didn’t take the time to carefully review the resume before submitting it if it includes filler like “XXXX,” “[insert company name here],” or if words or dates are missing. Mistakes like these can indicate a candidate with sloppy or careless performance.
Tech mistakes: With so many free email addresses available, there’s no excuse for applicants to use cute or funny email addresses when job hunting. If a resume includes questionable language, emoticons or text abbreviations, it can be indicative of poor judgment or a lack of professionalism.
Job hopping: Unless an applicant is advancing in his or her career while switching companies, you should sideline candidates who haven’t held any jobs for longer than two years. The other job-hopping exceptions are for overseas jobs, which are often limited by visa rules, or positions in industries where short-term jobs are standard.
Outdated skills: It’s important for candidates to list relevant technical skills on their resumes, but if many of these skills are outdated, this section can seem more like padding. In this day and age, the ability to use the Internet or Microsoft Word should be a given and isn’t necessary on a resume.
Inability to edit: For high-level or high-skill positions, two-page resumes are acceptable. For most jobs, however, a one-page resume should suffice. Candidates show a lack of judgment or understanding by submitting two-page resumes filled with old jobs, outdated education or irrelevant information.

Evaluating Cover Letters

Cover letters are just as important as resumes when you’re making hiring decisions.

A good cover letter is an opportunity for an applicant to pick up where a resume leaves off and expand upon his or her credentials. A bad cover letter, on the other hand, can alert you to an applicant’s shortcomings or potential problems as an employee.

You should move on to the next candidate if a cover letter:

Is not tailored to your company or the role…
Candidates who send generic cover letters addressed to “whom it may concern” for a job at “your company” are often copying and pasting the same letter to apply at multiple businesses. While cover letters should primarily focus on the applicant’s suitability for the job, they should include a mention or two of your company’s name, products or values to show the applicant has researched the position.
… or, worse, is tailored to a different company or role
Jobseekers often apply for multiple jobs at a time, so if they are copying and pasting cover letters, you may end up with some that are addressed to different companies. Sending the wrong cover letter to the wrong recipient shows a serious lack of attention to detail – and if applicants make this mistake on the first email they send to you, they may make this mistake on future emails they send while working for your company.
Has spelling mistakes or bad grammar
There is no excuse for spelling errors in a cover letter. Almost all email services and word processing programs include automatic spell check or, at the very least, the ability to perform a manual spell check. Grammar mistakes may be harder to spot; however, if a cover letter contains numerous errors or is for a position involving written communication, you may want to pass on the applicant.
Contains slang or text speak
Similarly, applicants who use slang, text speak or emoticons in a cover letter should not advance to an interview. Even if your company’s culture is more informal or laidback, there are other ways to convey this personality in a more professional, mature manner.
Simply repeats the same information included on a resume
Cover letters should expand upon the information in resumes, not simply repeat it. If a cover letter does not include more details about an applicant’s experience or skills than what’s listed on the resume, it is ineffective. Additionally, if cover letters don’t include any achievements from previous jobs, it can be an indication that applicants are merely doing the bare minimum, not taking on additional responsibilities or excelling in their roles.
Lists too much private information
If candidates include too much private or personal information, it can be a sign of naivety or unprofessionalism. Photos or personal information – such as marital status, religious beliefs or medical history – do not belong in cover letters. Unless requested in your job listing, information on salary history or reasons for leaving a job shouldn’t be mentioned in a cover letter either.
Does not provide the requested information
On the other hand, if your job listing does request salary history or other relevant information and a cover letter does not include this information, that applicant should be eliminated from your consideration. Failing to include requested details shows an inability to follow the rules, a lack of attention to detail, or a desire to hide previous experiences.

How to Prescreen Candidates by Phone

Before bringing in a candidate for an in-person interview, conduct a prescreen phone interview. Businesses across a wide variety of industries embrace phone screens since, if done effectively, they can save you valuable time. Phone screens should be shorter than most interviews and cover basic information to help you determine who’s worth bringing in for a proper interview.

When setting up phone screens, schedule 30 minutes per call. Most calls will be shorter – usually around 15 or 20 minutes – but never let a phone interview pass the 30-minute mark. Remember: This is just a prescreen, not the actual interview. Always be very clear with the time and date of the call, and specify whether you will be calling the applicant or vice versa.

Once the call times are set, prepare a list of questions. While some questions should be personalized to the information in an applicant’s resume and cover letter, the majority should be the same from candidate to candidate to offer a clearer comparison between applicants. Even though a phone interview is short, you need to ask at least one or two questions to determine the candidate’s:

Level of interest
A lot can happen in the time between a resume submission and a phone screen. Before scheduling an in-person interview, find out who’s still interested and available. Ask candidates why they decided to apply for the job and what their current employment status is. Toward the end of the call, give applicants time to ask you questions about the job or your company. If they don’t have any or only ask vague questions, they might not be interested in the job.
Abilities and skills
Before each call, review the candidate’s resume and cover letter again to see if there are any gaps or unmet job requirements. If so, ask about them now. It’s easier to address tough questions over the phone than face-to-face. For qualified candidates, inquire about what particular skills or achievements would help them excel in the role or why they think they’re a good match for the position.
“Fit” for your culture
Resumes and cover letters don’t always give you the best idea of a candidate’s alignment with your company culture, so use phone screens to help determine who’s a match. Have candidates explain what they liked about their current or previous office and coworkers, or ask about their personal work style. Don’t focus on just the answers given either; listen for vocal cues. For example, if your office has a more formal culture and the applicant uses a lot of slang or informal speech, he or she might not fit in well.

Once it’s time to sit down and conduct the phone interview, you should be in a private setting with minimal distractions. While it may be tempting to multitask during the call, don’t. Pay attention to the candidates and their replies, and take notes on their answers. In your notes, consider using numeric evaluations or grades in the three key points mentioned above. Having a grading scale will help you decide which candidates to bring in for interviews.

At the end of calls, don’t forget to “sell” your business or the job to candidates. Even though they’re participating in these calls as prescreens, applicants may be applying to other jobs, too, so keep them interested in your company.

Clearly outline the next steps in the process, including a timeline for when candidates can expect to hear from you, either to schedule an in-person interview or to learn they were not selected.

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Shanna Wall
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Compliance Attorney, ComplyRight
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