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Five Things to Look for in a Resume

Resumes are short but dense little documents. After you’ve posted your job and the resumes start coming in, those little documents can turn into a lot to look at. While it’s pretty easy to spot glaring errors like missing job titles or misspelled words, determining who to interview and who might ultimately be the right fit for your role requires evaluating resumes more closely. We’ve narrowed down what to look for in a resume to five essentials that we hope are useful, whether you’re engaging in a hiring process for the first time or are a seasoned HR professional looking for a refresher.

The Five Essentials:

1. Identify the story

While the resume is more of a list compared to the narrative of a cover letter or interview, it shares important information about how the candidate presents their experience. In addition to going over the details of the resume, take stock of the big picture and why working at your organization makes sense to the candidate as a next step. Beyond summarizing experience, an applicant’s resume should make their case that they are the ideal candidate for the role.

2. Evaluate the numbers

When applicants cite specifics, they should be measurable and clear. This allows you to make an informed determination about their potential fit for the role. For example, whether an applicant led summer programming for 500 high school students or 25 kindergarteners may have really different implications for what they may be prepared to do at your organization.

3. Assess gaps and ask questions

It’s not uncommon to come across gaps in resumes. Whether it was a period of unemployment, a gap year before school or some time taken off to travel or care for a sick relative, there are many reasons folks may not have been working full time at a given point in their careers. Because of the concise nature of a resume, it may not be clear why those gaps exist by reviewing that document alone so it’s important to make a running list of questions as you review. Use those questions to help you interrogate an applicant’s cover letter or inform a question during the interview. Gaps should not be a deal breaker in and of themselves, but it’s important to note them and learn more in order to figure out if there are implications for the role you’re hiring for.

4. Examine skills, not just the name of the company or job title.

It can be easy to simply focus on the organizations people worked at previously; names go a long way. That said, an entry-level position at a well-known national organization may provide a very different experience than a junior position at a twenty-person regional office. This underscores the importance of digging into the applicant’s accomplishments and responsibilities. Make sure you’re also looking beyond the job title as many organizations have specific naming conventions. Just because someone has a coordinator title, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have experience leading a team.

5. Check yourself for bias.

As we explored in an earlier article, Reducing Bias in Hiring Practices, unconscious influence can impact how you evaluate applicants and who you decide to interview. While reviewing applications materials to consider hiding names or other demographic information in resumes or other application materials to ensure bias is limited. If possible, try to review resumes with a hiring team as well. Having colleagues weigh in can help you check your own biases and ensure resumes undergo multiple reviews.

 

The resume is one of many components to evaluate when engaging in the hiring process and even the strongest resumes won’t include all the information you may need to make a decision. With that, it’s important to take notes and write down questions as you review so you can speak to specific reasons for moving forward or rejecting a candidate, and follow up on items that need more clarity. It’s also important to remember that there’s no perfect resume out there that meets all the required and desired qualifications for a role. Nonetheless, we hope these essentials support a strong review process and help you use resumes to effectively and efficiently bring in your strongest applicants.

Have other advice that we can spotlight in a future edition? Disagree with our take? Email us at idealistorgs@idealist.org.

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