In July of 2012, I was hiring for an administrative role within my office and received approximately 60 resumes (you may remember my former post on Missing Writing Skills). Today I want to share my approach to narrowing down a candidate list and a dirty little secret among those who need to trim applicant pools to reasonable interview numbers.
Let’s start with the secret, recruiters (and myself included) often approach the initial review of applicant resumes to find reasons why not to interview you. This is especially true for those who cannot use filtering software to eliminate candidates who are missing certain qualifications (technical skills, major, GPA, too high of a salary desired, etc.). Sounds backwards, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the hiring manager review resumes with an eye to finding the best 5-6 candidates? Of course, but often that is not how it happens.
It would be easy for me to find admirable qualities in all 60 of the applicants who applied for the role – I could have made a case for probably 50 of the 60 applicants to receive a phone interview. Conducting fifty phone interviews in a timely fashion while completing my regular job responsibilities is not feasible. Knowing I needed to trim the list from 60 to 6, I approached the initial review with an eye for reasons to eliminate candidates rather than reasons to keep candidates. Then, with the ‘yes’ pile that remains, I reviewed the application again, spending more time now to find the 5-6 best applicants for phone screen interviews.
So what are some of the red flags that I see on resumes and cover letters that make me place the candidate in the “no” pile.
- Cover letter for another job (I actually had three cover letters in this most recent applicant pool that were for other jobs at other schools).
- Poor writing skills
- Resume that highlights why you are a great fit for another job
The last bullet point is often the one that tips an applicant into the “no” pile. By highlighting responsibilities that have nothing to do with the job in which I am hiring, it makes it easier to put the application into the “no” pile because the candidate is telling me that he really does not want to the job in which I am hiring for.
This happened to a college senior who wanted to get into finance. Although he had an economics major, all his work and extracurricular activities were IT related (web page design, IT help desk, Technical Chair for his dorm, etc.). He was not invited to interview for finance related jobs and he could not understand why. When I took his name off the resume and changed the company names (but left everything else the same), I asked him what type of job would someone with these skills be most interested in. He glanced at the resume and said IT – and then he smiled and got the point. Although he said he wanted finance, his resume said he wanted IT.
So the first resume pass is the “Why should I not interview you?” approach – make it through that pile by highlighting only relevant skills or experiences and limiting extraneous information. The second pass is the “Why are you the best candidate?” Before you submit your next application, re-read your materials trying to find reasons why you would not interview yourself. Then correct those issues and review to ensure your materials also demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the job. Don’t let your resume and cover letter cause you to lose out in the first review.