How to Separate the Gems from the Pretenders

Have you ever started interviewing an applicant only to realize in the first moment or two that this person isn’t at all suited for the job? And you start to wonder: How did this person get screened into the interview process? Did they fabricate information on their resume? Or, perhaps, I misread their resume?

This happens more than you think. That’s because resumes—the sales literature of job seekers—often pose challenges for employers when it comes to accurate evaluation.

Not only do you sometimes find yourself interviewing candidates who clearly aren’t qualified for the job, but you might have screened out well-qualified candidates.

Mastering the art of reading between the lines of resumes can take years of experience. Here are several tips to help you with this daunting task:

Clearly define your requirements: Before assessing resumes, you should establish a clear understanding of the qualities and qualifications you seek. A well-written job description provides an overview of the role, educational requirements, responsibilities, reporting structure, and desired qualifications.

Focus on accomplishments: Past performance is a reliable indicator of future success. Look for candidates with a track record of impressive accomplishments. Don’t be fooled by vague achievements. Instead, seek specific examples that demonstrate quantifiable results (e.g., “Increased sales by 30% during my three years as Sales Manager”).

Assess career progression: It is helpful to review resumes in reverse chronological order to evaluate the candidate’s career progression. Look for consistent upward growth or lateral moves contributing to their overall skill set. Be cautious of apparent demotions or unusual transitions, which may indicate potential concerns.

Verify information: Don’t accept everything at face value. Employment dates, for instance, can be manipulated to hide gaps. Pay attention to the format used (e.g., years versus month/year) and consider conducting further verification if any inconsistencies arise.

Beware of overconfident claims: Candidates cannot genuinely claim to be the perfect fit for a job until they have met you and thoroughly assessed the opportunity. Exaggerated self-assessment may indicate a lack of research or desperation for any employment.

Scrutinize vague language: Watch out for phrases like “knowledge of” or “understanding of,” as they can have varying degrees of significance. Probe deeper during interviews to determine the depth and breadth of the candidate’s knowledge or understanding.

Listen to the tone of the cover letter: Look for candidates who emphasize what they can contribute to the job rather than solely emphasizing what the job can offer them. This indicates a more selfless and dedicated approach.

Ignore written references attached to the resume: Written references provided by candidates are likely to contain only favourable information and offer minimal value in the selection process. Conduct reference checks only after interviewing the candidate.

Don’t skip the “Personal Interests” section: While some employers may dismiss this section, it can reveal important attributes about the candidate. For example, someone who’s been captain of their varsity basketball team may have leadership potential. Or someone who is actively involved in business groups may have an excellent network of contacts established. 

By applying these tips, you can improve your ability to evaluate resumes effectively. Remember, mastering this skill takes time and experience, but a discerning approach will help you identify the most promising candidates for your organization.