The Hiring Process: Jennifer McClure on How to Read Resumes

by Kevin Casey on July 5, 2012
iStock_000017591374XSmall-300x199.jpg

The days of hanging a Help Wanted sign in the store window are disappearing. Job seekers and employers are turning to more modern methods, from LinkedIn to social networks, to find each other. But whatever your hiring scenario, you probably still request resumes from serious applicants. Once those resumes start flooding your in-box, how do you sift through the pile?

Although most small-business owners may know exactly what they’re looking for in a candidate, there’s a tried-and-true art to reading resumes that can’t be replaced by newer science, such as keyword screening, says Jennifer McClure, president of Unbridled Talent, a consulting firm that specializes in HR and recruiting.

So, what’s the best way to read a resume in 2012? The Intuit Small Business Blog asked McClure to provide a few pointers.

ISBB: How has the practice of reading a resume changed in recent years?

McClure: While the science of resume review has certainly evolved in recent years — electronic submission and review, keyword screening tools, resume parsers, etc. — in my opinion, the art has remained relatively unchanged. Recruiters who find the best talent are those who read between the lines to identify accomplishments and results as well as potential, versus inexperienced or poor recruiters who match keywords, random experience requirements, and unrelated competencies. Strong recruiters also realize that job seekers aren’t professional resume writers and can look past small imperfections that aren’t relevant to future success.

What’s the first thing a small-business owner should read when reviewing a resume? Second? Third?

When reviewing resumes, I’m always drawn to the objective statement or professional summary first. Ideally, applicants should make sure that the information at the top of their resume is targeted (who they are, what type of role they’re seeking, and why they’re a great fit for that role) and succinct, no more than one to three brief sentences. A well-written, targeted objective can start the resume review process off on a “this is a potential candidate” note. A generic or poorly written one, such as “team player looking for a company where I can apply my skills to help them grow,” opens the door to the No pile.

Second, I look at the most recent job title and employer to see if the person has held a similar role or is on track for the position I’m trying to fill. For example, if I’m looking for a CFO, I’m thinking “possibility” if I see titles like CFO, VP of Finance, or Director of Finance. But if I see Accounts Payable Clerk or Cost Accounting Manager first, then I would assume the person is not a fit — and even more so if the most recent position is not even in the fields of accounting or finance.

Third, my eye is drawn to numbers on a resume. I’m looking for accomplishments and how a person has created positive change or impacted results in their previous roles. Bullet points that include dollar signs, percentages, and the like are ideal. What doesn’t catch attention? Listing job duties and phrases such as “responsible for,” “participated in,” “managed,” and so on.

What are the biggest warning signs I should watch out for?

Resumes that include gaps in employment, especially long ones, are typically suspect. The mind starts to ask natural questions about what happened. Why did the person leave their last job? Why were they unsuccessful at obtaining another job prior to leaving that position or in a reasonable time frame thereafter? Life situations and depressed economic conditions may have resulted in some legitimate gaps in employment. However, it’s incumbent upon the applicant to answer the obvious questions up front and fill in the gaps on the resume.

How can employers who are short on time and staring at a giant stack of resumes get through the pile efficiently?

I’d never recommend speed-screening resumes. Hiring decisions are too important and potentially long-term. It just doesn’t make sense to cut corners during this process. That being said, to use time more efficiently during the resume screening process, I recommend reviewing all of the resumes submitted in one sitting, if possible, and, based upon initial impressions, tagging them or placing them in three categories: Interview, Possible, and No. This can be a quick way to identify the resumes that warrant a more in-depth review, although you may miss an undiscovered gem or two by cutting corners.

Advertisement