Evaluating Resumes: What To Look For And How To Analyze Them

Jeff Mills

When starting out as a recruiter, it can be tough to know what to look for when you’re scanning through dozens (or hundreds) of resumes. Some of the things you should look for are obvious, but some are less so. This article will give you a starting point for specific positive and negative signals to scan for as well as how to train yourself to analyze a resume.

What to look for on the candidate’s resume:

  • Formatting and professionalism
    With today’s plethora of resume and document templates, one doesn’t have to be a graphic designer to put together a sharp, cleanly-styled document that reflects their professional identity. A bland, or worse, poorly-formatted resume document could be a sign that this candidate isn’t comfortable with creating business documents and isn’t resourceful enough to seek help or use a template that would improve the appearance of their resume.

    Further, you should consider whether the visual style of the resume matches the tenor of the role and your company. An extremely traditional or, on the flip side, an overly whimsical document may be a sign that the candidate doesn’t grasp the culture of your organization.
  • Grammar and Punctuation
    This should go without saying but look for grammatical errors, misspellings, and even typos. Is it harsh to judge someone’s resume for a typo or two? We all make them. But remember, this resume is the candidate’s best effort at wowing you to get their foot in the door for an interview to possibly land a new job. The significance of the document should mean that it’s near error-proof.

    One secret for telling how detail-oriented someone is: look for how uniformly the document is formatted. The degree of uniformity in formatting will tell you a lot! How does this person approach a project – does she take the time to make a final, objective sweep over a document to make sure it’s 100% formatted? Or do they skip over the details like whether a bulleted list has uniform indentation and punctuation?

  • Data or Success Points
    Just because a candidate was responsible for a project or task in a prior role doesn’t mean they executed that responsibility with aplomb. Ideally, the candidate will include data points or examples of successes that exemplify their performance for each role listed. If the candidate doesn’t include these types of specifics, it may not be an automatic disqualifier but something to explore during a phone screen.

  • Laundry Lists
    When someone includes a laundry list of skills or expertise areas, you’ll need to ask yourself if it’s likely that they have meaningful proficiency in all of the listed areas. And, you’ll need to consider whether this person is a generalist or a specialist. Which type of profile does the role require? A jack of all trades can be incredibly beneficial unless the position requires a very narrow skill set.


Training yourself to analyze a resume.

Once you get familiar with common elements to look for on a resume, you’ll recognize that a lot of these same signals stem from understanding the purpose of a resume. It represents a few things to the employer/candidate relationship.

For one thing, it’s a tangible piece of evidence that proves how they approach an important project. The candidate has created this document with the intention of impressing the reader enough to score an interview. So, we can assume that this document also represents the candidate’s best work.  

Secondly, it will tell you what the candidate wants you to hear. The information that a candidate chooses to include, or omit, is just as telling as the text on the page. Does the candidate understand the goal of this document? If they do, they’ll use the resume to communicate why they’re the best fit for the role at hand.

Lastly, the resume will give you some insight into who the candidate is as an employee. This is a document that represents the abilities of the candidate to communicate, write, and present information that’s going to be useful to the reader as well as persuasive as possible.

So, when you evaluate a resume, you need to be intentionally critical of both ‘face-value’ elements like typos, formatting, etc. as well as the story that this document is telling you about the candidate. Over time, you’ll be able to analyze both the surface-level attributes of the resume as well as the candidate’s profile and fit for the role. Remember, this is an important skill because every phone screen and an on-site interview has an opportunity cost attached to it, so becoming proficient at screening is critical to your hiring productivity.

Contributing Author
Jeff Mills Director of Solution Management with SAP SuccessFactors

Jeff Mills is Director of Solution Management with SAP SuccessFactors. Jeff has a long history in SaaS, product marketing, digital marketing, and user behavior. Before joining SuccessFactors, Jeff was Director of Marketing for Janrain, a customer profile management software company. Prior to that, Jeff led the marketing organization at a global governance, risk and compliance firm; and led product development roles in email marketing and ecommerce and was a researcher at Gartner.

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