Reviewing resumes is one of the most time-consuming parts of recruitment. But it’s also an important step because that’s when you narrow your list of applicants.

Since going over countless resumes is tedious, it’s easy to make a mistake in the process – and that’s a problem. Here are a few tips on how you can be more effective when reviewing resumes.

Sort resumes into piles

Based on the job description you wrote for the open role, put together a list of the absolute minimum skills and qualifications needed to carry out the job. You then use this list as your basis to categorise the resumes into three piles:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Maybe

Once you’re done, get rid of the ‘no’ pile and look into the other filters below.

Look out for possible warning signs

Some resumes may show red flags that you may want to pay attention to. These aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, but they’re potential warning signs that could lead to issues in the future.

What’s important is that if you place the candidate’s resume in the ‘maybe’ pile because of (or despite) a red flag, make sure that you clarify it with them in the interview – should it get to that point.

Here are the most common warning you should watch out for:

  • Frequent job hopping
    While someone can leave a job quickly for good reasons, jumping around several companies during a short period could mean a lack of loyalty. Or they’re never happy where they land.

  • Unexplained gaps between jobs
    People have pursuits other than their careers (e.g. sabbatical, education, babies), but unexplained gaps could indicate that the applicant isn’t capable of landing a job, is lazy, was fired/let go by a previous employer, or other similar circumstances.

  • Minimal career progress
    If a resume shows the same types of jobs with no seemingly upward trajectory in terms of skill and responsibilities, the applicant may lack drive or direction.

  • A sloppy resume
    Misspellings, a difficult-to-read format, and various mistakes on a resume could mean a lack of attention to detail. If a candidate can’t furnish a proper, error-free resume, how can they be expected to do their job properly and represent your business to clients?

  • Irrelevant information
    If a resume skimps on relevant skills and instead overstates their personal interests, the candidate may have inadequate communication skills (i.e. they can’t express themselves concisely), or is merely trying to fill space.

Assess word choice

To conceal their lack of experience in a specific field, some applicants use ambiguous words like:

  • “Facilitated”
  • “Helped make”
  • “Familiar with”

For example: Someone who “participated in” implementing Lean Six Sigma in an organisation may have been vital in the process, or they may have just attended its meetings and not much else.

Others may put in fancy words to make themselves sound more intelligent and hide their lack of skill.

Give importance to custom messaging

If a cover letter and resume sound generic, they’re probably sending the exact same application to several companies, which is a scattershot approach to job hunting.

The problem is that the information provided in such applications isn’t enough to help you decide whether the candidate is suitable to place in the ‘yes’ pile.

For efficiency, look for candidates who tailor-fit their resume and cover letter by highlighting the skills and qualifications most pertinent to the specific role you’re hiring for.

See how they’ve added value

The typical applicant usually just lists down their responsibilities in previous jobs or existing role. That’s fine, but it’s not very helpful.

Instead, watch out for smart candidates who indicate their notable work achievements. These are the people who have added value to their employers; they’re the performers you want in your company.

Consider the context

When looking at a candidate’s qualifications and experience, bear in mind that not everyone follows a similar career trajectory. Technology icon Steve Jobs, for instance:

  • Never finished college.
  • Hopped between jobs for quite a bit.
  • Has dyslexia.

Having a series of odd jobs in one’s employment history could mean that a candidate lacks focus and loyalty. It could also mean a committed struggle against obstacles but still managed to succeed.

Maybe a job gap was caused by returning to college to reinvent oneself. Or they had to care for an ailing parent.

So at the very least, a qualified applicant deserves an interview, even if there are possible warning signs. The lesson here is to look at the context as well.

Remember: the best candidate might not have the perfect resume.

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