Tips for Reviewing Resumes

David, a reader, recently asked for tips about reviewing resumes. Here they are:

  1. Read the resume from the top to the bottom. Don’t start somewhere else. Candidates try to grab you with the cover letter or resume. Let them.
  2. If there’s an objective, read it. But don’t believe it. Seriously, how many objectives say, “challenging position in (your functional or project area).” If the objective doesn’t match your job, such as a candidate looking for a management position instead of your individual contributor position, take note. Read on for the experience, so you can see if you and the candidate are in synch about how you would characterize the position. If there isn’t an objective, continue.
  3. Start with the most recent experience first. (If you’re a candidate, please ditch the functional experience resume. You can have a cover sheet with functional experience, but that’s not a resume. Hiring managers want to see experience in reverse chronological order. Give them what they want.)
  4. Look for similarities in product type, corporate culture, and how much the person has learned/stretched in their jobs. If you’re doing embedded work, and the candidate has only had experience in transaction processing, you’re right to wonder if they could learn about your product type. If you work in a small company and the candidate has had 20 years of experience in a large company, note that for your phone screen (assuming you want to call based on the experience.) Whatever you do, don’t get hung up on:
    • Duration of experience at any one job. Everyone’s job-hopped the last few years. Don’t hold it against the candidate.
    • Experience that’s not precisely what you do. Someone who’s worked with comparable products or in comparable industries may have a lot to offer — possibly more than someone from your competitor
    • Hobbies or other personal information. This stuff isn’t relevant to the job and should not be part of how you select candidates.
    • Education. A degree does not mean someone learned what they need to be successful in your open position. A degree means someone had the perseverance and the money to stick through 4 years of college. That’s all. It doesn’t mean they learned anything they can use on your job. Don’t be wowed by the schools someone has listed on their resume. Some of the big names use graduate students to teach many undergraduate courses. If a degree means something to you (because your clients want to know about degrees), well, ok. But for most hiring managers, degrees are not a useful differentiator when reviewing resumes.
  5. I sometimes look at tools experience, mostly to see how varied the person’s background is. Someone who’s learned an object-oriented language and a procedural language, and two different-vendor operating systems, and has used them all effectively has the skills to learn whatever language and OS I’m hiring for. If you should have hired two months ago and have no money for training, then you may decide to pass on these people, but you’re probably making a big mistake. In every position where I’ve hired, I had more trouble finding the people who would fit into the organization, not people who couldn’t learn the technology.

As you read, focus on the candidate’s experience, not tools or skills they claim to have (certifications, education, courses, etc.) Lou Adler said this very well in “Hire With Your Head,” but I can’t find the precise quote right now. My take on this is to look at the Four Dimensions of Technical Skills and determine what’s most important to you. It’s probably not tools/technology.

As you read, sort the resumes into three piles: Yes, Maybe, No. The Yes people you’ll phone screen tonight or tomorrow. The No resumes you return to HR or have someone else acknowledge and let them know you’re not interested. Acknowledge the Maybes and let them know you might phone screen them.If you’ve analyzed the job and developed a job description, you’ll probably be able to spend no more than a minute or two on each resume. If you’re a fast reader, even less.

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