How to Read Job Applicants’ Résumés
Based on résumés alone, you’d think all the candidates for your business are such outstanding prospects that you could hire them sight unseen. Anyone who does any research at all into how to look for a job knows how to write a résumé that puts him in the best light. And those who don’t know how to write a great résumé can now hire people who do know.
Why, then, take résumés seriously? Because résumés, regardless of how perfect or imperfect they are, can still reveal a wealth of information about the candidate — after you crack the code.
Here’s what you probably know already: Basically, job candidates submit only two types of résumés: chronological and functional.
In the past, candidates trying to hide something, such as gaps in their work history, often wrote functional résumés. But because a well-rounded background (in conjunction with one’s specialty area) can prove an asset, the functional résumé is now more accepted. Don’t automatically become suspicious about either type of résumé.
Some applicants use a combination of the two formats, presenting a capsule of what they believe are their most important qualifications and accomplishments, together with a chronological work history.
Before diving into that pile of résumés, consider the following observations:
No job applicant in her right mind is going to put derogatory or unflattering information in her own résumé.
Many résumés are professionally prepared, designed to create a winning, but not necessarily accurate, impression.
Résumé evaluation is tedious, no matter what. You may need to sift through the stack several times. Have plenty of aspirin, coffee, or tea handy.
If you don’t do any résumé evaluation at all (or delegate it to the wrong person), you’re likely to miss that diamond in the rough — that ideal employee who unfortunately has poor résumé-drafting skills.
How to read between the lines of a résumé
Now that more and more people are using outside specialists or software applications to prepare their résumés, getting an accurate picture of a candidate’s strengths simply by reading his résumé is more difficult than ever. Even so, here are some of the résumé characteristics that generally (although not always) describe a candidate worth interviewing:
Lots of details: Although applicants are generally advised to avoid wordiness, the more detailed they are in their descriptions of what they did and accomplished in previous jobs, the more reliable (as a rule) the information is.
A history of stability and advancement: The applicant’s work history should show a steady progression into greater responsibility and more important positions. But don’t go by job titles alone; look at what the candidate actually did and what skills she acquired. Assess how important the work was to the company involved.
Generally, too, you should be wary of candidates who have bounced from one company to the next (although this is much more common today than it used to be, and it may very well be a judgment call on your part depending upon common practices within your particular industry). Again, though, you should be open to the possibility that she had good reasons for her career moves.
A strong, well-written cover letter: Some applicants don’t send cover letters with their résumés, assuming they’ve been rendered obsolete by online technology. A savvy job seeker (in other words, someone you may want to have on your team) will still manage to prepare and send the modern equivalent of a cover letter, perhaps in the body of an e-mail message.
Nearly eight in ten company managers interviewed for a 2012 Robert Half survey indicated that it’s common to receive cover letters even when applicants submit résumés electronically. Someone who takes the time and effort to do this shows a sincere interest in your firm.