Andrea Butcher

Max Messmer is chairman and CEO of Robert Half International, the world's largest specialized staffing firm. He is one of the leading experts on human resources and employment issues.

Articles From Andrea Butcher

2 results
2 results
How to Read Job Applicants’ Résumés

Article / Updated 03-16-2023

Based on résumés alone, you’d think all the job 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 them 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. Résumé basics 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. However, 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 their right mind is going to put derogatory or unflattering information in their 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 their 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 they 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 they had good reasons for their 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 email message. Watching out for red flags Résumé writing is a good example of the law of unintended consequences. Sometimes what’s not in a résumé or what’s done through carelessness or a mistake can reveal quite a bit about a candidate. Here are some things to watch out for: Sloppy overall appearance: This is a fairly reliable sign that the candidate is lacking in professionalism and/or business experience. Cookie cutter résumé: A résumé that looks like it’s not specific to the position can be considered a red flag. This may mean that the person isn’t necessarily interested in working for your company, but rather just wants a job. If you’re looking to hire people who are passionate about what they do, considering a résumé that hasn’t been adapted for the specific position may be the wrong way to go. Static career pattern: A sequence of jobs that doesn’t include increasing responsibility may indicate a problem — the person wasn’t deemed fit for a promotion or demonstrated a lack of ambition. That said, sometimes solid performers who enjoy just doing their job and don’t necessarily have a career progression history still can add tremendous value as part of your team. Don’t reject a résumé on this criterion alone. It’s something to review and assess but not judge. Typos and misspellings: Generally speaking, typos in cover letters and résumés may signify carelessness or a cavalier attitude. Although not all jobs require candidates to have strong spelling skills, most do call for attention to detail. Not proofreading a résumé (or not having someone else do it) may be a sign that a candidate isn’t conscientious. Vaguely worded job summaries: Perhaps the applicant didn’t quite understand what their job was. Or perhaps the job responsibilities didn’t match the title. Before you go any further, you probably want to find out what a “coordinator of special projects” actually does. You want to see job summaries that indicate how crucial the job is to the company’s success. Failure to quantify accomplishments: Sometimes candidates give you a huge list of skills but don’t describe how they used them in their previous positions. This is an issue because it may mean they have never actually demonstrated this skill in a professional setting, which doesn’t answer the question of why they would be a good fit for this job. A good rule of thumb is that the more descriptive someone is in their résumé, the more likely it is that they are telling the truth about their accomplishments. Plus, this detail gives you something to talk about when you connect with the candidate. Historically, unexplained chronological gaps in the resume have been considered a red flag, but they’re increasingly considered acceptable and can be a source of unintended bias. Breaks in employment history occur for a variety of reasons. Before jumping to conclusions, seek to understand. Considering a candidate’s online persona Résumés aren’t your only source of insight into prospective job candidates. Social media profiles are another tool you can use in the pre-screening process. In the world of social media, many organizations use information they discover online about candidates in the recruiting process. All candidates should assume that their online persona can be seen by anybody, including prospective employers. If someone has a social media account containing a lot of vulgarity or inappropriate content, they may not be a fit for your culture. It’s not unreasonable to search candidates online when looking for a new employee, so if you see anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, particularly if it isn’t aligned with your organization’s values, consider that as part of your search process, but it’s important to exercise caution when doing so. Using information discovered on social media can introduce legal risk and unintended bias. Employers have increasingly turned to general online searches to find out about an applicant’s digital persona and interests. Although that can be as straightforward as a general search, employers also can see who applicants’ Facebook friends are or the content that candidates are engaged in on Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. Online research may seem like a fertile way to discover more about potential candidates, but there are serious caveats for the companies and HR personnel doing this sleuthing. For one thing, the anonymity of the Internet can prove anything but reliable — anyone can post pretty much anything about you, regardless of whether it’s accurate or completely contrived. There’s no guarantee that the information you uncover is accurate or insightful. Separately, legal risks abound. When you start exploring a candidate beyond the information contained in their résumé or professional profile or bio, you risk legal claims like invasion of privacy and discrimination, or even Fair Credit Reporting Act and similar state law violations. If you want to incorporate web-based searches of applicants into your overall evaluation procedures, work with a lawyer to develop lawful policies, procedures, and guidelines for the gathering and use of Internet-based information. Weigh the benefits and disadvantages. Following, are some benefits of searching for applicants online: You may get a sense of their professionalism and/or maturity. The information you find may help you get an interview together and ask relevant and specific questions instead of general ones. You may encounter extensive information about their background, experience, and personal life. On the flip side, disadvantages include the following: It can be considered an invasion of privacy, which can bring about legal issues for the company. If the candidate is part of a protected class such as a certain religion or disabled, you might run into issues should you choose not to hire them, even if the choice is based only on lack of experience, skill, or education. The information gained may not be reliable, considering it’s public and anyone can add photos or data about the candidate to their social media profile. There are people in the world with the same name. Information found may be about someone else with the same name. There are various states within the United States that can prosecute those who Google candidates without their consent. If you do choose to search online for candidate information, it’s a good idea to enlighten the applicants on your intentions. That way, if you discover anything online that’s considered questionable or you’re in a state where this act could be punishable by law, you won’t have any issues and they have the opportunity to be forthcoming with the data, in person, rather than allow you to find it online.

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Human Resources Kit For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet / Updated 03-08-2023

Becoming a so-called expert in human resources (HR) can be a complex endeavor because, well, people are complex. But for someone starting out in an HR role, attracting the right talent and creating a positive and meaningful employee experience can be boiled down to a few basics: evaluating résumés, interviewing candidates, and creating an employee-friendly work environment. In addition, you need to be aware of key federal laws affecting HR/talent issues. Keep the following in mind, and you’ll be off to a good start.

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