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Employee Selection Process: Cover Letter And Resume Review

Employee Selection Process: Cover Letter And Resume Review

By: Ron Fry

What exactly are you looking for as you review resumes as part of your candidate selection? Beyond the formal requirements of the job, you want job candidates whose resumes demonstrate confidence, enthusiasm, experience, and dependability.

Here’s a strategy you can use to identify those qualities. Focusing only on the resumes in your “in” pile, and focusing first on the resumes that bear a check mark, add one check mark to the resume you’re reading for every “yes” answer you can give to the questions that follow.

A word of caution, however: Be sure to apply the questions to both the resume and the cover letter.

Many exceptional candidates will use the cover letter to exaggerate or inflate relevant experience. Reading the cover letter carefully may also give you immediate exposure to communication strengths -- or weaknesses -- not immediately evident in the resume.

  • Does the applicant make reference to at least one relevant success story that matches the requirements of the position, as you’ve identified them? Past success in a similar situation indicates a good chance of success in the position you’re trying to fill.
  • Do the person’s qualifications mirror the background of an employee who has performed at a superior level in this position? A profile that matches up favorably with that of a top performer in your organization is worth reviewing closely. Keep an eye out for parallel educational accomplishments, similar career progress, even comparable leisure avocations that support workplace performance.
  • Do educational and/or training credentials appear to be above average for this position? Consider not only prestigious colleges and grade point averages, but also any references to professional seminars, workplace training, and other signs of commitment to personal and professional development.
  • Is the sequence of jobs or study clear and comprehensible, with no unexplained employment/education gaps during the previous five years? Some resumes are designed to emphasize relevant skills and experience or pertinent competencies over chronology. This can make it difficult to evaluate the person’s recent career path and overall dependability. If a candidate’s resume has effectively camouflaged his recent past, but you want to interview him anyway, be sure to ask for a detailed, chronological work history early on. Be wary of unexplained gaps.
  • Is the resume and/or cover letter impressively creative or unusually well-executed? People who go the extra mile to win your attention in a tasteful and compelling way may be above-average problem-solvers. Give them credit for innovation in the face of the problem “How do I make this resume memorable?” They may well take a similarly resourceful approach to other problems that come their way. Feel free, however, to discard any resumes that come taped to pepperoni pizza boxes…with or without the pie.

Now make an X in another corner of the correspondence for every “yes” answer to the following questions. Again, be sure to consult both the resume and cover letter:

  • Are there obvious typographical or grammatical errors? If the applicant can’t be bothered to spell your name or your company’s name correctly, or to appeal to someone for help in constructing a coherent sentence, there could be a problem with attention to detail in a workplace setting. Don’t underestimate the importance of care and accuracy in this area. Given the availability of computerized spell checkers and the incessant urging of innumerable career counselors, articles, and books never to send out a resume or cover letter unless a third party has read it for errors, there’s simply no excuse for such sloppiness.
  • Does the applicant use the resume or cover letter as an opportunity to complain or assign blame -- for anything? This can be a very dangerous sign. Beware of applicants who won’t make the effort to approach challenging situations optimistically when constructing their resumes or cover letters.
  • Are any of the applicant’s claims obviously overstated? People who stretch the truth on their resumes and cover letters will probably stretch the truth in other situations. There’s a difference between putting the best possible “spin” on an experience and outright lying. If you know or strongly suspect that the person’s resume contains a statement that falls into the second category, “X” it. 
  • Is the resume itself difficult to follow? Resumes and cover letters are miniature tests of one’s ability to convey important information concisely and effectively. If the document fails this test, “X” it.

Once you’ve asked each of these questions about all the resumes and cover letters in your “in” pile, you should have a group of resumes with checks and X marks on them. Then:

  • Take any correspondence that has even one X mark and place it in your “out” pile for now. You can always re-evaluate your decisions later. At the moment, your aim is to focus on candidates whose credentials and presentation are exemplary.
  • Take any correspondence that has no marks whatsoever and place it in a new pile, your “backup” pile. These are people you may choose to contact later if your top choices don’t pan out.
  • Take the remaining correspondence and place it in descending order, with the candidates who have the most check marks at the top of the pile.

Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from Ask the Right Questions, Hire the Best People, Third Edition © 2010 Ron Fry. Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.

Author Bio
Ron Fry
has written more than 40 books, including the best-selling 101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions and 101 Smart Questions to Ask on your Interview. He is a frequent speaker and seminar leader on a variety of job-search and hiring topics and the founder and president of Career Press. He lives in New Jersey with his family.