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Diving for Pearls:
How to Identify Great Candidates in a Vast Pool of Applicants!

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Reading and evaluating a candidate’s resume isn’t that difficult nor time-consuming – it’s when you have to assess and compare several of them that it becomes a challenge. And with each online job ad now typically generating hundreds of responses, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here are suggestions on how to get to the bottom of that ever-growing pile and find those candidates that matter.

Focusing on the Task

Identifying leading candidates from a large pool of applicants can be a daunting process, which is why you should prioritize weeding out as many poor matches as soon as possible.

Start by minimizing the possibility of distractions. “The more you can concentrate on the resumes, the better,” says Human Resources Management professor Susan Kaplan. “If possible, set aside a few hours that you can devote solely to this task.” Next, have all the resumes at hand and ready for review, printing all of them out if necessary. Evaluating resumes collectively instead of glancing at each one when it comes in will let you give every candidate equal attention and compare qualifications side by side.

Selection through Elimination

Once you have all the resumes before you, it’s time sort them. Experts recommend starting two piles: one for ‘Yes’ candidates, or those that you will retain for further consideration, and one for ‘No’ candidates – those whose resumes will be discarded. “If you come across resumes that seem neither a definite ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, don’t let them slow you down,” says Kaplan. ”Simply create a third pile for “Maybes” that you can revisit later.” Now that you have three possible destinations for reviewed resumes, you’re all set to dive into the pile.

Phase One: Get Rid of the Red Flags
A clean, professional resume that is accompanied by a clear, concise cover letter demonstrates attention to detail and a desire to make a favorable impression. At the very least, both should be free of any red flags such as typos, misspellings and grammatical errors. Any application riddled with these red flags can be indicative of an unenthusiastic or disorganized candidate and is highly recommended for the ‘No’ pile.

Phase Two: Keeping those that Count
Once you have gotten rid of all the obvious red flags, it’s time to pick out the keepers. “One way to make this part of the task easier is to create a profile of the ideal candidate,” says AppleOne Senior Account Executive Debra Gray. “Start by breaking the job description for the position into bullet points, and enumerate the specific skills necessary to be successful in the position.” For example, must the new hire be proficient in Excel, PowerPoint, or the Macintosh platform? Should the candidate possess an Accounting or Business degree? Are you willing to help with relocation? List down those ’must-have’ qualifications, including industry background, technical certification and years of experience.

Before you toss out the ‘No’ pile, revisit those in the ‘Maybe’ pile, making sure to check them against your must-have list. After this is done, you should have only two piles – one which you can now discard.

Filtering the Final Few

The remaining, pared-down ‘Yes’ pile comprises the ‘finalists’ for the position. Ideally, your task should now shift from deciding whether they are right or wrong for the position to determining which of the remaining candidates are among the best people for the job. Once again, have a “No” pile ready for those resumes who do not meet your requirements as well as the rest of the other finalists. Below are some pointers on how to spot the strongest contenders:

  • Look for details – the more detail candidates provide in their previous jobs’ descriptions, the more reliable the information. The strongest resumes contain specific explanations of work-related duties and achievements.

  • Keep an eye out for terms such as "developed," "organized," "led," “earned,” and other words that indicate leadership, responsibility and achievement. “At the very least,” cautions Gray, “Look for statements of specific responsibilities, those that demonstrate a specific skill worth considering and talking about during the interview.”

  • Be wary of vague phrases such as, “was part of,” "exposure to," "familiar with." These often indicate candidates who may lack hands-on experience, but are trying to pad their qualifications via association.

That Crucial Extra Step

If, even after carefully reviewing resumes, you still have doubts about which candidates are suitable for in-person interviews, consider conducting brief telephone interviews. “Actually speaking with the candidates will not only give you a better insight on their suitability for position,” says Kaplan. “It can also give you a solid indication of how serious they are about pursuing the job.” Additionally, while an unproductive phone interview may take up five minutes of your time, it can save you – and the candidate – at least an hour that might have been wasted on a pointless formal interview.

It takes some practice, but by following these simple resume screening and evaluation approaches, you will soon be able to discern what resumes say and do not say about the candidates that submitted them. In time, you will be able to quickly and efficiently drill down through numerous resumes to eliminate unqualified candidates early on, and zero in on the ones that really count.

Strong Resumes...
  • Scan easily
  • Look neat and organized
  • Convey professionalism
  • Demonstrate career direction and focus
  • Explain any gaps in time sufficiently
  • Stimulate interest for further inquiry
  • Describe increasing responsibility
  • Demonstrate quantifiable results or achievements
  • Connect the candidate’s background with the employer’s needs
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