Post an attractive corporate position in an industry journal or the local paper and you’re likely to be flooded with résumés. You could get hundreds of résumés from qualified candidates in specialty fields like IT or internet marketing. Sorting through this stack usually involves several people.

It’s not hard science, but there are certainly résumé elements you can identify as worthy of a second (or third) look. As “possibles” résumés move across your desk, what do you look for before passing it on to the next reviewer, or putting it in the “don’t bother” pile?

A résumé presents the applicant in the best possible light, and the possibility of exaggeration is one aspect of a serious review. Of course, applicants send out their best résumé – a document refined over and over – until the text is perfect, and the person behind the résumé is worth a closer look, and maybe an interview.

The first review of that stack of documents weeds out the obvious “no-go’s” from “maybes.” The first review of each résumé should cover skills, certifications, and present a clear picture of the applicant. Some job seekers send a résumé and canned cover letter to any company, anywhere, for any position. This scattershot approach to finding the right job and finding the right person for that job is easy to identify.

Scan the SKILLS section and compare each applicant’s skill set against the job description. If the job description includes required licenses and accreditations, look for industry-standard documentation. If the applicant lacks necessary skills, put that résumé and employment package aside.

Develop a review system for new hires. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Develop operational systems from the initial notice of a job opening through to the hiring process. Have your hiring review system analyzed by the legal arm of your business. Your company lawyer should review the company’s written hiring policies to ensure they’re compliant with regulatory guidelines.

Applicants who don’t follow directions in submitting a résumé probably won’t follow directions when hired. If your job posting says “no telephone calls,” everyone who calls is crossed off the list. Once again, applicants put their best foot forward in a résumé, cover letter, and other elements of a professional employment package. 

Employment gaps may not always be negative. In many cases, employment gaps are big warning signs – especially when the résumé shows a couple of gaps over the past 10 years. On the other hand, an applicant who started a business that failed doesn’t mean that entrepreneur is a failure. Creative, innovative employees aren’t easy to find, and an employee with entrepreneurial drive may be a positive. Recognize, too, that the economy hit many companies hard, and some had massive layoffs. If everything else on the résumé is impressive, give the applicant the benefit of the doubt.

Typos tell the tale. A résumé with a single misspelled word or misplaced comma reveals volumes in the quality of each applicant’s work. It’s a résumé and cover letter – their best stuff. If the applicant doesn’t know the difference between there, their and they’re, you don’t want them on the team.

Go over the information, but look for misspellings and improper use of punctuation. A poorly-written résumé as an indication of the care this applicant brings to the job. You’re looking at what she considers a “letter perfect” résumé, and you may discover six misspellings before you even read the cover letter.

Look for the professional. The newbie right out of college may have his résumé done by a pro, but submit it in a hand-addressed envelope. The professionals – the men and women with the experience your company needs – know how to present themselves.

  • They employ industry jargon, and reveal “industry insider” knowledge.
  • Professionals with experience will be able to provide references and contact information as part of their employment package.
  • Call references and spend some time learning all you can about an interesting prospect. Listen for hesitations and other “tells” that reveal you may not be getting the whole truth. After all, no one would post a bad reference on a résumé, so it’s fair to assume you’re talking to someone who wants to help his nephew or next-door neighbor, or a recently laid-off employee who’s a really nice guy.

Look for signs that a career has plateaued or moved backwards. Each position should be an improvement over the last: more responsibility, more trust, more experience, higher salary. If the applicant has been at her current level of employment for a number of years, you’d want to know why. Was this applicant passed over for promotions? Did he make a lateral move in his last job search? You want to see a steady history of job growth, and if you don’t, it’s worth asking why.

Recognize that each résumé and cover letter was sent to you to make a positive impression. You’re looking at that candidate’s best effort, so if you’re not impressed with it, it’s time to look at the next one in the stack.


The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice. Any views expressed in this article may not necessarily be those of Nevada State Bank, a division of Zions Bancorporation, N.A. Member FDIC