If you post a job listing, you’re likely to receive a flood of resumes in return. It’s generally easy enough to sort through the resumes that aren’t relevant. But making a decision between the candidates who aren’t blatantly bad choices isn’t as cut and dry.
That said, focusing on a few key characteristics that will differentiate the truly good catches from the so-so folks can help you cull through the pile even faster.
1. The resume looks right
There are thousands of resume templates online, so putting one’s work history in the right format should be routine. Spell check only takes a minute and even those errors that spell check doesn’t catch should be caught by a friend reading over the resume in question. If an applicant can’t get a resume right, it’s a warning sign right off the bat that maybe she doesn’t want the job or wouldn’t be a particularly good catch.
2. Clear advancement on paper
One of the most important characteristics a resume can show you is that the candidate keeps moving forward. It’s rare that you want to hire someone who can’t—or won’t—advance in your company or grow in their own career. You can see from a glance at the job titles listed on a resume if a potential hire has simply moved sideways at each company she’s worked for or if she has moved up the ranks.
It’s worth noting that, especially with younger job applicants, advancement often requires moving to another company. While job hopping may be a sign that the applicant has trouble sticking with a job, it may also signal that she is able to move on to bigger responsibilities quickly and has been able advance with each hop. In fact, advancement by job hopping isn’t uncommon when you consider that many managers expect employees to put in time in the trenches before a promotion.
3. At least a little diversity
Diversity can be a crucial strength for companies; great ideas are often generated by teams whose members have different viewpoints and experiences. However, racial, ethnic or gender diversity aren’t the criteria you’re looking for—you don’t want to tangle with a suggestion of that kind of discrimination—but there are other types of diversity to look for. If you can find good applicants with different educational backgrounds or hobbies or career paths, you can bring a wider range of viewpoints into your company.
Assuming that the applicants you’re considering are equally qualified in other respects, it’s worthwhile to make a list of some of the qualities your current employees have. That will provide you a point of comparison to check whether a new hire will bring a new point of view to your business.
It’s worth noting that many companies immediately disqualify resumes that mention information that could potentially be used to discriminate between candidates—information about race and other protected classes. If you have any questions about what information you can use to make a hiring decision, consult with a legal professional who has experience in human resources issues.
4. A way to learn more
Not all jobs require a portfolio or a list of references, but a good resume should at least give you an idea about how to learn more about your candidate’s abilities. That may take the form of a website or a portfolio or a second or third page of the resume, but the best hires will always anticipate your needs and make it easy for you to move past their resume.
It’s rare that a resume tells you everything you need to choose an employee. Interviews are a standard part of the process, but when you can look at examples of a candidate’s work, or even follow some of their ideas on a blog, you can tell much faster if you’ve found the right person.
5. A cover letter that explains oddities
There are few job applicants who have had careers that are tailor-made for sharing through a resume. If I applied for a job tomorrow, my resume would likely make some human resource managers cringe—I’ve been self-employed, held overlapping jobs, and generally haven’t had a career that could be summarized in a neat list on a piece of paper. Resume quirks don’t have to stop you from considering a good candidate, especially if you’ve got a cover letter that clarifies the situation.
Explaining big gaps, non-work experiences and other relevant parts of one’s background are indications that an applicant has thought through potential problems, as well as why she would still be a good fit for your company.
Going beyond the resume
Just because the resume is a perfect fit for your business, it’s worth remembering that no candidate is just the piece of paper he sent your way. It’s always worth double checking the information, as well as doing a trial run with the applicant to see if she can live up to her resume. Or maybe a game of chess will help you decide.