How Resumes Get Read
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Ever heard of the thirty second rule? The one about how long recruiters actually spend reading resumes?
Good recruiters, that is. It takes a lot of practice to accurately read resumes at the speed of a QR code scanner. Note the word “accurately”. It’s one thing to make a brief read of a resume. It’s another thing entirely to achieve a high quality assessment at the speed of light.
New and inexperienced recruiters tend to spend a lot of time trying to knock square pegs into round holes. They waste a lot of time trying to match jobs to candidates instead of candidates to jobs. Tenured recruiters tend to know how to quickly size up a resume. So rather than focusing on those thirty seconds as if it’s a negative thing, let’s dive into what should happen inside those thirty seconds.
Here are some strategies for reading resumes at the speed of light while still catching every qualified candidate that makes their way onto your desk. For job seekers, know that this is the way a lot of recruiters will read your resume – prepare your resume as such!
First ask yourself: Does the candidate live near where you’re recruiting for or have they clearly stated that they want to move to that specific area? If not, you just saved yourself thirty seconds.
Hold the resume at arm’s length: Really. Look at the way the resume is formatted and laid out on the page. Is it five pages long? One? Is it highly stylized? What’s the font tell you? Does it look like someone else, like a professional resume writer, wrote it for them? Compare this first impression to your perception of other qualified candidates in the domain that you’re recruiting. Does it look like other people’s resume or does it look weird? Weird isn’t bad, but it might cause an outside of the box search.
Next, read it backwards: Just figure out where they went to school, if they went to school, and if it looks like they did a good job and value education. It’s important, especially if your company or client organization values education.
Then read their current job: Determine their core industry and what the person did on a day to day basis. Try to ignore job titles. If you’re recruiting for people to process annual reports, does it look like the person regularly processed annual reports? It couldn’t be simpler. But it’s hard. Just get out of the way and ask yourself, has the person been recently doing what the job requires? Determine if the employer is in an comparable industry or type of company. Think like you’re dumb. Insurance companies like to hire employees at other insurance companies. Startups like people from startups.
Now figure out their “big” job: Everyone had their break somewhere. Don’t pay as much attention to chronology and the formatted length of each job description – look for the job that gave the candidate the bulk of their experience. Oftentimes because of a natural tendency to favor the most recent, candidates will spend more time detailing their latest three assignments – even if those assignments comprise only 5% of their overall career. Find that big, real job where the person spent the majority of their career. In trying to figure out what a person does, that’s where the money is.
Do a check for job hopping: Then look again, it’s vital. In general, you want to see a solid work history with long(ish) tenures at their employers. However (and this is also necessary), you have to figure out if the person either A) consulted a lot or B) had an incredibly fast and regular progression through job titles. Consulting work is fine, but you want to see a long history of success with consulting. Fast climbers will also tend to move through employers rapidly, as they jump for new opportunities – this can be good or bad, depending on the opportunity that you have for them. When you’re scanning for job hopping, what you’re really asking yourself is “Does this candidate seem to have a rational progression and a history of success?” Anything else usually can suggest a low performer.
Finally, do a gut check: Ask yourself if you think the person could do the job that you have for them. This means not just trying to line up past experience with the required experience, but rather asking yourself if your job feels like a natural progression for someone with that background. Certain job titles tend to slip naturally into the next. Other times, you have to make a reasoned leap of faith – if the person doesn’t even have a previous position that would normally fit into yours, do they have a background that could indicate success? Have you had “luck” with people from a particular company or with a certain set of skills? Your gut is the part of a recruiter that needs the most training to be strong. If you’ve lived inside a certain geography or industry, recruiting day in and out, you’ll be able to trust this last step more than any other. If you’re just starting out, don’t give yourself the luxury – think dumb and simple matches. A recruiting machine and nothing more.
Do you have a solid feel for the resume? Can you imagine the person doing what they do? Do you have a sense of their real job and skills beyond their simple job titles? If so, then you have done your job well. Have thirty seconds gone by yet?
If you’re getting all the right signals, it’s time to pick up the phone. And get down to all the easy stuff. Salary requirements. Culture match. Hopes and dreams – really. But that’s another discussion entirely.