How to Effectively Read a Resume

So you have an inbox with hundreds of unread emails from candidates interested in working for  your organization. Cover letters, resumes, portfolios. How will you know if they’re a fit for your position and your organization overall?
Here’s how to read between the lines, interpret off the paper, and effectively understand a person’s resume:

Don’t jump to conclusions

Resumes are a story. It is easy to read what’s there and harder to uncover what’s not. Encourage yourself to dig deeper! Gaps between positions and/or career trails don’t always make sense. Don’t let this scare you. There’s almost always a reasonable explanation; consider contract work (it may not be stated this on his/her resume); a Master’s degree (blank space in career may be a forward-move in education/skills); or an illness (people get sick – they also get better). Give the candidate the benefit of the doubt to avoid the assumption that it was because the candidate was an unwanted commodity on the job market.

Gaps between positions or seemingly unconventional career paths often have reasonable explanations. It’s essential not to jump to conclusions or assume negative reasons for these gaps. Consider that someone may have engaged in contract work (even if it’s not explicitly stated on their resume), pursued further education, or dealt with personal matters such as illness. People do get sick, and they also recover and return to the workforce.

Giving candidates the benefit of the doubt and maintaining an open, understanding approach is essential to ensure fair and informed hiring decisions. Avoid making assumptions that may unfairly label a candidate, and instead, engage in open conversations during interviews to gain a more complete picture of their experiences and qualifications.

Know your companies

There should be a part of your brain marked “Glassdoor,” filled with reputations and reviews of the companies in your city and your space — the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Before a candidate says “yes” they hopefully have researched your company. Knowing where a candidate chooses to work will help you better understand how selective they have been and will also give you a window into the types of cultures and companies they work well in. Look for patterns and allow for one-offs.

By knowing a candidate’s previous employers, you can better gauge their selectiveness and discern their preferences when it comes to company cultures and values. Look for patterns in their career choices, as these can offer insights into the types of environments where they thrive. It’s important to recognize that there may be one-off experiences, but patterns can provide a more comprehensive understanding of their professional background and expectations.

This knowledge allows you to align your evaluation with a candidate’s career journey and helps you assess whether they would be a good fit for your organization’s culture and values. It’s an essential part of making informed hiring decisions.

How important is progression?

Career progression should be high on your “should-haves” list. You want to see clear advancement; someone who is climbing upwards either within the same organization or between separate organizations. But bear in mind that progress is not always linear and clear on paper. Not all organizations title their roles the same way – especially with companies trying to outdo their competition and retain employees with a creative competitive edge. (Think: People Operations Manager (Indiegogo) Chief Happiness Officer (Pivotal Labs) Crayon Evangelist (InteQ Corp) Ambassador of Buzz (Grasshopper)).

Titles are also influenced by the size of the company and may be country-specific. ‘Coordinator’ in Australia may mean ‘Manager’ in North America. Look at the role and responsibilities holistically before passing up a ‘not-so-good-on-paper’ candidate.

Additionally, titles can be influenced by factors such as the size of the company and regional variations. What’s considered a “Coordinator” in one country might be equivalent to a “Manager” in another.

To make informed hiring decisions, it’s essential to look beyond job titles and examine the role’s responsibilities and contributions within the context of each candidate’s career journey. Don’t pass up a candidate solely based on their job title; instead, evaluate their qualifications holistically to determine their potential fit for your organization.

Focus on transferable skills

The emphasis on industry-relevant experience is becoming increasingly laser-focused. It’s difficult to make a jump from, say, CPG to software. Just because someone’s area of focus may be specific and different from your offering/brand/cliental doesn’t make them irrelevant.

This person will have likely done quite a bit of research on the industry. (They may have wanted to switch industries for a while and you can bet they are learning yours like the back of their hand.) This fresh perspective could add unexpected value to your firm and position!

Candidates who are seeking to make a transition from one industry to another often invest significant effort in researching and understanding the new industry. They may be highly motivated to learn and adapt, making them quick learners and adaptable team members. Their fresh perspective, untainted by industry-specific biases, can lead to innovative solutions and approaches that you might not find from candidates with more traditional industry backgrounds.

Consider that this candidate’s unique blend of skills and their commitment to mastering your industry could be a significant asset to your organization. Be open to the potential value they can bring and explore how their diverse experiences can enrich your firm and position it for success in new and unexpected ways.

Pay attention to the skills they’ve acquired and mastered in previous roles and see how those can be applied to the one they’re interested in at your organization. Don’t let their out-of-industry experience mark them as an automatic “no.”


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Smart, Savvy + Associates is a recruitment agency that specializes in connecting companies with marketing, communications and creative professionals at all levels, from coordinators to C-suite. Based in Vancouver, B.C., our team of marketers-turned-recruiters have an in-depth understanding of the industry and work diligently to find best-in-class talent for each search. Get started today.