How to See a Shining Candidate Through a Lousy Resume

I’m not prone to feel sorry for people who don’t put together a good resume and complain about not finding a job, just like I don’t feel sorry for recruiters who complain about bad applicant tracking software but who never took the time research such a crucial purchase.

But then again, I can’t tell you the number a times a recruiter has asked, “Why is it that the best candidate is never the guy/gal with the best resume?”

In other words, a lot of good candidates lurk behind those mediocre, poor, and maybe even downright awful resumes.

How do you find them without interviewing all of them? Assuming that a poor resume still contains all the basic information – education, experience, references – and is not padded, here are some good tips I’ve picked up for seeing a good candidate through all the dross:

  • Look carefully at the work history. Two things speak well of a candidate: 1) A long time with one company and 2) No long periods of unemployment. Both suggest a solid work ethic, dependability, and initiative. Along the same lines….
  • Look at the work history within a company. Did this person stay in the same position for a long time or did they steadily advance? If the latter, he or she is almost certainly skilled and is probably ambitious and eager for challenges.
  • Study the time frame of graduate degrees. MBA’s are great, but MBA’s earned while working full-time suggest dedication and the ability to multi-task. On the other hand, a Master’s done between jobs can suggest a directed effort to enhance or even shift a career, and there are few qualities better in a candidate than passion for what they do. Likewise….
  • Don’t dismiss “irrelevant” degrees. Everyone says that what’s most important is the ability to think and learn, but when it comes to hiring, most recruiters revert back to experience and relevant degrees – with “relevant” usually meaning something “related to business” like finance, accounting, or the ever-vague “business administration.” Philosophy and English Literature majors probably know more about analyzing an argument and communicating clearly than the average human resources major, so give them a break.

Have you noticed that I used the word “suggest” a lot? Like all good recruiters, I know that it takes a few interviews to know if a candidate is a good fit (and even then, every recruiter has a “He/She turned out to be a rotten employee” story).

Do you have any suggestions for squeezing good information out of a poor resume? Please leave a comment below.

Views: 2364

Comment by Darryl Dioso on December 14, 2011 at 11:29am

I completely agree. My problem as a 3rd party recruiter is that clients often don't "see the light" and want resumes filled with industry specific key words and acronyms. I have gone through numerous battles asking my client to overlook the resume and trust my assessment - sometimes I won and sometimes I went home looking for a strong stiff drink. 

Comment by Bill Schultz on December 14, 2011 at 1:23pm

Darryl- did you ask the candidate to change his resume?  We do that often when there are issues with the resume (usually they paid some resume writer)

I recently have been marketing this candidate whom I think is Superman, clients see him more like Clark Kent.

One of the problems is his resume says Product Marketing Manager  and the positions he is interested in are Product Managers.  The difference being that traditionally Product Marketing is outbound and Product Management is inbound.

However a lot of companies (Apple for instance) have their Product Marketing Managers (PMM) responsible for inbound and outbound.  So I told him just change his resume, because some of my clients are too thick to get past this.

Geez I need a stiff drink after just writing about it.....

Comment by Darryl Dioso on December 14, 2011 at 1:36pm

Yes I have Bill. Sometimes though, especially if pressed for time, no matter what is done with the resume it still does not look or sound 100% what the client was looking for. What's the saying about a pig in lipstick again? 

Anyway, clients and even us recruiters sometimes put way too much stock in the resume. Think of all the great candidates you sourced by phone with NO resume.

Comment by Bill Schultz on December 14, 2011 at 2:36pm

Darryl- one trick I learned.

Send your first email (even though email is dead) without the resume attachment.  

This method steers them to reading your presentation (which a lot of them skip)

before the resume.  Then they'll ask for resume and you go "whoops"

Comment by Darryl Dioso on December 14, 2011 at 3:01pm

I like it Bill! Will try it next time to try and avoid WWIII. Thanks.

Comment by Amy Ala Miller on December 14, 2011 at 3:16pm

It works. I've even been known to say "what will you be looking for on the resume that I haven't already shared with you?" If I have my eyebrow raised just right and give THE LOOK it sometimes works. Sometimes. hahahaha

Comment by Bill Schultz on December 14, 2011 at 4:16pm

@ Darryl, it actually is born from my competence level.  I forget to attach a lot and then noticed I get faster responses when I don't.

Yesterday, I presented a guy and instead of  typing Candidate, i typed Dandidate in the subject.

Didn't notice until the client responded, to which I said " of course that means he's a Dandy Candidate"

Comment by Darryl Dioso on December 14, 2011 at 4:17pm


Comment by Raman Ramamurthy on December 14, 2011 at 10:49pm

@Bill Schutz, experience in particular domain helps a lot to see thru badly prepared resumes. I realize that a good candidate is always spotted right while bad candidate cannot hide behind the best resume?


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