8 Areas to Look for When Evaluating Resumes

The current job market makes thorough resume reads — and open-mindedness — even more critical. Here’s what to look for in resumes.

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Resumes are often your first look at a job applicant and a way to winnow down your pool of candidates. A good resume includes a job candidate’s employment history, qualifications, and education. It gives you a snapshot of a particular candidate and the benefits they might bring to a job at your company.

As resumes start to come in for an open position, it’s important to set aside adequate time to carefully read and review them with a critical eye for any holes, red flags, embellishments, or inconsistencies. Doing so will save you time as you identify the best possible candidates to move forward with. It will also help you avoid making a bad hire.

“It’s important to carefully read through every resume to really evaluate if this person is going to be someone you continue talking to,” said Tejal Wagadia, a senior talent acquisition specialist and author of career blog Coffee and Tejal. When you’re a small business, every hire is that much more important.”

Wagadia said the current job market makes close resume reads — and an open mind — even more important. A global talent shortage means there aren’t enough qualified candidates for the number of open jobs. Business owners and hiring managers should scrutinize resumes to see if an overall attractive candidate who’s missing 1 or 2 desired skills might still be a good fit for the job.

“People can potentially learn a skill that you’re looking for,” Wagadia said.

When you’re a small business, every hire is that much more important.”

Specific areas in resumes to look out for

As you’re combing through resumes, keep a look out for the following.

1. Facts and figures that don’t add up

When reviewing resumes, Wagadia examines all numbers to make sure they’re not what she refers to as “absurd numbers.” For example, if a candidate claims to have brought in $3 million for a company valued at $2 million, that doesn’t add up. Exact percentages can also be suspicious, and Wagadia scrutinizes those as well.

2. Spelling, grammar, and formatting errors

With resume templates, plenty of guidance online on how to write a resume, and spell check, there’s no good reason for a resume to be riddled with typos. If job seekers submit a sloppy resume that could be a red flag since it suggests a lack of attention to detail.

3. Vague language

Sometimes job candidates will use language on their resume that’s ambiguous to make past roles seem more important than they actually were. Language to keep an eye out for includes: “was a part of,” “am familiar with,” and “participated in.”

4. Major employment gaps 

There are benign reasons why a candidate might have a gap in employment, including military service, an illness, or taking time off to care for children or aging parents. But gaps can also be indicative of a personal or professional problem. If a gap is too long, a candidate may just not be prepared with the skills needed for your job. If you choose to move forward with a candidate with an employment gap, be ready to ask them for an explanation.

5. Evidence of excessive job hopping 

Workers ages 25 to 34 stay in a job on average for just 2.8 years.

Especially for millennials and Gen Z’s, the length of employment at any one company has shrunk from what it was for past generations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers ages 25 to 34 stay in a job on average for just 2.8 years. Don’t reject a candidate outright just because they have a number of roles on their resume. Be wary though if you see an excessive number as too many employers in too short a time could suggest an uncommitted worker.

6. Inflated self-ratings

Candidates in some industries including engineering and accounting have started to put self-ratings on their resumes, said Wagadia, ranking their ability as workers on a scale. “If it’s a one to five scale and they rate themselves as a five, I tend not to take them seriously,” she said. “It could mean they’re overconfident about the skills they have. If you see that, it should raise some concerns.”

7. Hidden degrees 

Candidates who list their degrees, but don’t specify where they’re from could be trying to downplay the fact that they’re not U.S. citizens, Wagadia said. That’s not a problem for a small business that can afford to sponsor a worker who’s not a citizen. But for many small businesses, that’s not feasible. Before you get excited about a candidate you might not be able to hire, reach out to the applicant to find out more.

8. Demotions instead of promotions 

Look at the trajectory of a candidate’s experience. You want to see them moving up in responsibility as the years advance. If you see plateauing or declining responsibility, that could indicate that a candidate took a step back for family or health reasons. But it also might mean they’re lacking in drive or direction and it could be a major red flag.

As you evaluate resumes, toss any ones with red flags. Even in today’s tough job market, you don’t want to invest the time, energy and money into a candidate you’ll ultimately have to let go. When you take the time to carefully weed through resumes, you’re more likely to get the best possible candidate to help your company grow and succeed.

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