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.

One final note:  I still don’t feel sorry for those who buy bad staffing software. Didn’t anyone tell them to look at Bond International Software, Inc. first?

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