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How to Review Candidate Résumés for Nonprofit Jobs

Resumes and cover letters give you the first opportunity to evaluate candidates for a nonprofit position. Respond quickly with a postcard or e-mail to tell applicants that you have received their materials. If possible, give a date by which they can expect to hear from you. Doing so reduces the number of phone calls you get asking whether you’ve received the resume and when you plan to make a decision.

Regardless of how the resume is organized and whether it’s on paper or online, here are the questions you should ask yourself when reviewing a resume:

  • Is it free of typographical errors and misspellings? A typo may be excused if everything else appears to be in order, but more than one or two errors implies that the candidate is likely to be careless in her job.

  • Is the information laid out in a logical, easy-to-follow manner? The relative clarity of the resume can give you insight into the applicant’s communication skills.

  • Does the applicant have the proper job experience, education, and licenses, if needed? You might consider giving a little slack on experience. Sometimes, highly motivated and effective employees are people who “grow into” the job. Nonprofit organizations often receive resumes from people who are changing careers. They may not have the experience you’re looking for, but what they learned in their previous jobs could easily transfer to the position.

  • How often has the applicant changed jobs? You can never be guaranteed that an employee will stay as long as you want him to, but ask yourself, “If I hire this person, will he pack up and move on even before he finishes job training?” At the same time, don’t automatically let higher-than-average job switching turn you off to an excellent candidate. Maybe he has an explanation.

Cover letters can also be good clues to an individual’s future job performance. For one thing, you get an idea of the applicant’s writing abilities, and you may even get some insight into her personality.

Some job announcements state that a cover letter should accompany the resume, and some even go so far as to ask the applicant to respond to questions such as “Why are you well suited to this job?” or “What do you think are the major issues facing so-and-so?” It’s up to you to decide whether asking a list of questions enables you to more easily compare applicants to one another.

If good writing skills are required for a job you’re posting, ask applicants to include writing samples with their cover letters and resumes.

Separate your resumes into two piles — one for rejected applications and one for applications that need closer scrutiny. Send the rejected candidates a letter thanking them for their interest. From the other pile, decide how many candidates you want to interview.

Reviewing the resumes with one or two board members to bring several perspectives to the choice is often helpful. One technique is to select the top three applicants for interviews. Reserve the other applicants for backup interviews if the first three aren’t suitable or if they’ve already accepted other jobs.

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