How to effectively review resumes

If you're the hiring manager who has to whittle down big piles of resumes, it's a task that can quickly become overwhelming and create delays during the recruitment process.

So, how can you review resumes more efficiently and hasten up the process – without running the risk of missing or disqualifying star candidates? While it may sound simple, you should know what to look for in a resume. It’s important to know where to start, what to avoid and how to evaluate each resume fairly so you can compare candidates objectively. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to streamline your resume review process, while still ensuring every qualified applicant gets a fair and thorough evaluation.

Mandatory skills and experience

Part of the art of reviewing resumes is knowing what to focus on in your initial scan of the document. The first step to shortlisting star candidates is to look through their resume and accompanying cover letter for qualifications and skills that you have identified in your hiring criteria – starting with the “must haves” that are essential to the job.

A good way to do this more efficiently is to scan the resume for relevant keywords that best match your job title and description –  giving more weight to the applicant's most recent projects and positions. If you're sorting through a tsunami of resumes, document processing software can speed up the process, but a manual scan is always preferable. In any event, it's worth preparing a list of relevant keywords in advance.

Check if they have the necessary experience. If you're trying to fill a specialised or senior role, it's normal to expect at least six years' experience in the same field, and a track record of being promoted through progressively higher-level jobs. Three-to-five years is standard for a mid-level position, and up to two years for junior-level roles. Depending on the job, you may also want to see whether they hold specific degrees, certifications, or other formal qualifications.

Non-mandatory skills

You will always come across resumes that have all the “must-have” skills, but don't tick every box when it comes to the “nice-to-have” skills (or qualifications). Could such “nice-to-haves” be developed further through training? If so, it's worth keeping these resumes in a separate folder in case you need to refer back to them later.

Tailored message

Some candidates may satisfy your basic hiring criteria, but fall short when you look for evidence that they applied with your job specifically in mind. If the resume and accompanying cover letter appear to be based on a template, implying that the applicant is sending out the same materials to multiple employers, think twice before offering an interview.

Look for resumes that were clearly crafted with your job in mind. Serious applicants will customise their resume and cover letter, matching their skills and experience with the hiring criteria that you posted.

Cultural fit

While fit with your company or work group might be challenging to assess when reviewing resumes, you can get a first impression based on the keywords that stand out in the resume.

If you're a results-driven organisation, for example, you will likely want to hire people who have a track-record of delivering on company objectives, and can bring the numbers to prove it. Look through their resume for percentages, profit data, and other indicators of financial or quantitative impact during their tenure with other companies.

Red flags

After you've identified those candidates with the most relevant industry skills and experience, make sure you scan their resume and cover letter for any potential deal-breakers – such as:

Lack of professionalism

You can assume that a resume reflects the highest level of professionalism that you’ll see from a candidate should he or she become an employee. It presents applicants with a chance to put their best foot forward, with ample time to craft a flawless submission – a situation that is not always possible on the job.

Be wary of resumes that are not well-organised or contain careless mistakes, such as typos and spelling errors. The use of clichés, buzzwords, or information that is irrelevant to the job description can also indicate a lack of professionalism. Look for language that is clear, personalized, confident and optimistic.

Job-hopping

Lots of job changes over a short period may suggest that a candidate won’t stick around very long at your company either, so don't feel too bad about removing them from the shortlist. As you’re reviewing their job history, also look for employment gaps. While these may not rule out an otherwise stellar applicant, candidates should be able to adequately explain them in the interview.

Prepare a shortlist

If a candidate ticks enough boxes to warrant an interview, add him or her to your shortlist, and take note of potential concerns that you would like to raise during the interview. Importantly, make sure all internal stakeholders are in agreement on the shortlisted candidates.

Following these steps will allow you to do your due diligence and know exactly what you need to look for in candidates' resumes, in less time and with fewer hassles.

Want more hiring tips and recruitment advice? Visit our recruitment process hub.

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