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Resume Review: How to Find Qualified Candidates

Resume Review: How to Find Qualified Candidates

By: Malcolm Fleschner

With nationwide unemployment levels still high, today's employers undoubtedly enjoy a "buyer's market." One downside of this trend can be too many applicants, many of whom are not qualified for the position.

So how can you deal with the crush of applications that's likely to result from a single job announcement? For starters, says RaveResumes president Leigh Inskeep, employers should create job descriptions designed to discourage unqualified candidates and keep the number of resumes manageable.

"Preparation and thought need to go into making the job description specific," she says. "That's what people are going to read when they decide they want to apply. The more detailed you are with your requirements, the better pool of candidates you're likely to receive."

Creating a Well-Defined Job Posting
Ron Fry, author of Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People, agrees. He describes vague job descriptions as the biggest problem with how many employers, particularly smaller companies, tend to approach announcing a job opening.

"Larger companies are used to saying, 'You must have X, Y and Z.' They set out exact job requirements and they don't deviate,” he says. “But entrepreneurs and people who have less experience hiring might say, 'Well, I kind of want this, and I want that, and maybe this other thing.' Then someone charming comes along who doesn't meet the requirements, and they're suddenly finding a new spot for the charmer without filling the opening they have."

Fry says that the operative term is "discipline" — set down precisely what you're looking for, he says, and don't deviate.

"If they have to know Excel, they have to know Excel, period," he says. "They've got to be able to use a Cad/Cam, period. No negotiation. Which makes life much simpler. If they've never used a Cad/Cam, they're out."

Fine-Tuning your Job Description Parameters
RaveResumes’ Inskeep also recommends making the job description even more explicit by including a short list of filtering "yes or no" questions.

"'Do you have X number of years' experience? Yes or no? Do you have this particular certification? Yes or no?' By setting up these filters," she says, "you tend to generate a better, smaller pool of candidates, which will mean less time spent prescreening later."

Even after narrowing your pool, you're still likely to be knee-deep in applicants. One recommended strategy for weeding out the chaff is to skim your resume stack for the following red flags:

  • Spelling and grammatical errors 
  • Lack of relevant experience
  • Long or involved descriptions

Another traditional resume red flag that can be downgraded to "pink" status is lengthy employment gaps. With today's high unemployment levels, says Renee Bucklin, founder of the Rhode Island-based Bucklin Human & Administration Services, long stretches between jobs should not be an instant disqualifier.

Otherwise, she suggests scanning resumes for job-specific keywords. Refer back to that carefully thought-out, comprehensive job description you wrote, she says, and then prioritize more important keywords or phrases to help divide that big stack into separate "Yes," "No" and "Maybe" piles.

Employers looking to automate this process may want to consider "semantic search" applications, which use combinations of terms and meanings to highlight resumes that include words specifically related to your identified search terms.

More Ways to Identify Qualified Candidates

Fry also reminds employers not to ignore cover letters, which he says can indicate glimmers from great candidates who might otherwise go unnoticed.

"If you get a cover letter where the person clearly knows your industry, knows your competitors and refers to things about your company that show they've taken the time to do their homework, that's a big plus," he says. "If I see a cover letter like that, I set it aside and it's in on the first round just because of that."

Whatever methods you use, a first-pass should be focused and speedy, Fry says, and within a couple of hours should rule out between 70-80 percent of the applicants.

Fry suggests that you take more time in your second pass of reviewing resumes. In fact, he notes that during this process some employers may even want to narrow their job description prerequisites.

"In this environment I would take every requirement you have and add a little to it," he explains. "If you said applicants need to have three years of experience, look for those with four years or more. And start eliminating people – at least initially – who only have three. Because what you're going to find today are lots of overqualified people."

But whether you're just writing up your job description, making the last cuts from the resume pile or going through the actual interviews, Fry says the untrained hirer's mantra should remain the same.

"The less experienced you are, the more disciplined you need to be," he says. "Because the people who aren't used to buzzing through resumes and take forever just to narrow a pile of 500 down to 200, those are the same people who spend an hour-and-a-half during interviews telling candidates about themselves, how great they are, how great the company is and never ask a question. And then they wonder why they can never hire anyone."