Most people are quite familiar with the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, the same applies to the employee selection process. A beautifully formatted cover letter and resume may look appealing at first glance, but you must read between the lines to determine whether or not the applicant is as good as they seem on paper.
While mediocre applicants often inflate their value as potential employees, strong candidates sometimes either downplay their strengths or fail to use the right keywords to catch the hiring manager’s eye. It runs the gamut, but the point is you may be either overlooking top talent or overvaluing candidates that probably shouldn’t make the cut.
There’s no one right approach to employee selection, but a good hiring manager knows just what to look for when evaluating a cover letter and resume—both positive and negative elements. Here are a few tips to help you get a deeper view into a candidates’ qualifications:
- Don’t judge the cover letter at face value
- Take a closer look at the resume
- Trust your intuition
1. Look Past the Cover Letter
Job candidates typically emphasize their strengths in a cover letter, and they sometimes overstate their qualifications. That’s to be expected in the employee selection process. But to see what’s behind the bravado, you have to read the resume.
If there’s a big disconnect between the cover letter and the resume, that’s enough to put them both in the reject pile. It doesn’t take a sixth sense to know when bravado is nothing more than bull. For example, “sanitation engineer” sounds impressive in a cover letter. But the resume might not pass the smell test if it says the candidate cleaned up behind the animals in a parade.
2. Follow the Resume and Read Between the Lines
A well-executed resume will tell you a lot about a potential employee. Besides showing you the candidate’s work and educational credits, it should:
- Be organized and easy to follow
- Not have spelling and grammatical errors
- Tell a clear story of the candidate’s job history
Not sure whether an applicant can make the cut at this stage in the employee selection process? Here are a few questions to ask with regards to their cover letter and resume:
- Does the candidate mention a past accomplishment that could benefit your company? If a salesperson continually surpassed their monthly quota, or if a customer service representative was able to decrease the wait time for customers, chances are they have the know-how to repeat such wins for your company.
- Do the candidate’s skills and experience match those of high-performing current employees? Look for similar career paths, achievements, and/or training.
- Does the candidate have extensive training or education? Employee selection shouldn’t hinge on big-name colleges and universities. You should also consider seminars, certifications, on the job training, and other signs of dedication to one’s professional development.
- Are any resume gaps clearly explained? If the candidate took a break from the workforce, make sure there’s an explanation (started a family, took care of a sick loved one, returned to college, etc.).
If you can answer “yes” to the above questions, it’s enough to consider bringing the applicant in for an interview. Remember, a candidate’s resume should be impressive, which means no clumsy errors or vagaries. A bad resume should be returned to sender.
3. Listen to Your Inner Boss
Whether you’re the ultimate boss or a hiring manager, you need a sense of responsibility in the employee selection process. Your decision will make an impact, sometimes much greater than you can foresee. It’s hard to tell from a piece of paper, for example, whether an employee will be a team player or a good leader.
But if you call or bring applicants in for interviews, you should test some of those soft skills. Introduce them to co-workers or invite them to work meetings to see how they would interact with their peers. Here are a few other ideas to consider implementing in your hiring process that can get you past the resume and cover letter:
- Have applicants take a personality test
- Ask them to walk you through a project they worked on in the past
- Give them a short assignment or scenario that they would likely encounter
- Utilize a more casual setting (like a coffee shop) to put them at ease
- Ask an unexpected question and see how they handle it (e.g., “What’s the last book you read and why?”)
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