How to Read an Applicant Resume: Resume Review Tips

Knowing how to quickly and thoroughly review applicant resumes is a valuable skill when hiring a new employee for your business. Like any skill, knowing how to do a resume review — and determine whether an applicant qualifies for the next phase in the hiring process — takes practice. The more time you spend reviewing applications, the more efficient you will be at resume screening.
 

In this article, we’ll take you through the process of reviewing applicant resumes, including what may be considered indicators of quality and what could be considered red flags.
 
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Why applicant resume screening is important

There are typically three main types of risk when it comes to hiring employees:
 

  • Risk of hiring an employee who is unqualified/doesn’t have the skills to do the job
  • Risk of hiring an employee who will not be invested in the role for the long-term
  • Risk of hiring an employee who has a difficult personality

Performing an effective resume review can help minimize some of these risks. Not only that, but reviewing applicants’ resumes quickly and effectively can also save you money during the hiring process if you post a job on Indeed. That’s because when you sponsor your job on Indeed, we’ll only show you applications that meet your minimum job requirements, also known as your “deal breakers.”*
 
After reviewing each applicant’s resume, you can then choose to accept or reject them. If you reject an application within 48 hours of receiving it, we won’t charge you for that unwanted application.*
 
*Product features not available to all users at this time.

What to look for in a resume when screening applicants

Before starting resume reviews, consider creating a resume scoring rubric or scorecard to help ensure that you’re evaluating candidates in a fair, consistent manner. Evaluating all candidates using the same criteria can help you make more objective hiring decisions and avoid unconscious bias.
 

Here’s what to pay attention to when reviewing resumes to help ensure that a candidate is suitable for the role, likely to stay at your company and may be a good culture add.
 

Work history descriptions

When reviewing resumes, consider looking for work history descriptions that highlight the scope of a candidate’s work (e.g., number of projects completed, analysis techniques performed) and show impact, such as revenue gained or a new process implemented. Long lists of responsibilities that appear copy/pasted without showing scope or impact may be a red flag.
 

Skills listed

Scan for matches between skills and the job requirements. You may choose to weigh hard skills more heavily than soft skills. Listing soft skills may not necessarily be a red flag, but if an excessive number are listed, it may not provide you with much insight. Instead, look for a brief, tailored list of hard skills that relate to the role you’re hiring for.
 

When you post a job on Indeed, you can also use Indeed Assessments to screen your applicants for skills that matter most to you.
 

Job changes

Job hoppers are generally considered to be individuals who stay in a role for one year or less (exceptions for internships and contract work). If a candidate appears to be a job hopper on their resume, look for justification for their career switches, which can be given via their cover letter or during an interview. Keep in mind that candidates with a history of job hopping can also bring benefits to your business, such as adaptability, a large variety of skills and industry knowledge, so avoid writing them off immediately.
 

Work history gaps

Similar to job hopping, you may want an explanation if a candidate has gaps of time between positions. Shorter gaps, especially frequent, short gaps may be signals of the candidate getting fired or being a difficult employee — although this is not always the case.
 

When reviewing your candidate resumes, take note of work history gaps but consider giving shortlisted applicants the opportunity to explain.
 

Promotions/awards

Promotions and awards listed on a resume can imply longevity and show that a job seeker is invested in their work. It’s especially positive if the job seeker describes how their responsibilities changed after a promotion or if they highlight the factors that led to their promotion. Overall, when a candidate highlights a promotion and the change in responsibilities that came with it, it can signal that they are motivated and invested in their work.
 

Evidence of being a team player

The ability to collaborate and get along with others can be beneficial for many different roles. Evidence of being a team player can be indicated in a resume by mentioning “encouragement,” “mentoring,” and “supervising.” Teaching experience can also be used as a proxy for these skills.
 

Evidence of taking initiative

If you’re looking for candidates who take initiative to better themselves and the company, there are a few things you can look for in applicant resumes. The ability to take initiative can be signaled in a resume by a work history that highlights process improvements, calling out inefficiencies and devising better solutions. Taking initiative can also be demonstrated through a willingness to learn new skills, complete and keep up to date on certifications and by being coachable.
 

Cover letters

Employers often use cover letters to get a sense of what candidates are passionate about. The best ones are typically not a restatement of what’s on the resume, but rather they tell a story about who the candidate is and how the position they are applying for aligns with their goals.
 

Overqualification

If a candidate has too much experience or too much education, it can lead to concerns about turnover and the candidate being bored with day-to-day responsibilities. Keep in mind, however, that there are pros and cons to hiring someone “overqualified” for the role, so avoid basing your hiring decisions solely on this factor.
 

Other potential applicant resume red flags

As you search resumes and review resumes you receive, watch for these other common applicant resume red flags. Note that these “red flags” don’t necessarily mean a candidate isn’t a good match for your role. Consider giving promising candidates the chance to explain their situation before eliminating them from the running.
 

Regressing career: Sometimes people lack career growth for valid reasons, such as an employee who gets laid off and takes a lower position to provide for their family. Other times it indicates a lack of growth or poor performance. However, this lack of growth may only matter if you expect the person in the role to advance.
 

Mistakes: Misspelled words, grammar errors and other mistakes may show a lack of care and attention to detail. This could affect an applicant’s work performance.
 

Failure to follow directions: Take note if an applicant doesn’t follow your application instructions. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the candidate isn’t a good match for your role, it can help you learn more about their level of attention to detail.

Tips for reading a resume

Now that you know what to look for in an applicant’s resume, here are six steps for how to read a resume and determine which applicants are best qualified for your position.
 

1. Review the cover letter

Even if you don’t ask for a cover letter, candidates may choose to include this document to explain why they’re the best fit for the role. A cover letter can not only clarify skills and experiences but also give you an idea of a candidate’s confidence and self-awareness, their excitement about the opportunity and background research they did before applying. It can also give you a peek into their personality.
 

This is a good place to look for any explanation about job hopping, work history gaps or other elements of a resume that may be considered a red flag.
 

2. Quickly scan the resume

An applicant resume includes a lot of information, so it’s a good idea to read through it more than once. The first time, quickly scan the resume to look for any keywords or specific skills that align with the job description you developed. Check for proper grammar and spelling, which can help determine if a candidate pays attention to details and knows how to present themselves professionally.
 

Read the summary at the top if the candidate has included one. Good summaries don’t have to be long, but they should convey what the applicant is passionate about and why they’ve applied to the role.
 

3. Deep dive into skills and qualifications

Your second resume read-through allows you to examine specific elements more carefully. First, consider the skills and qualifications and determine whether they’re relevant to the job role you’re looking to fill. Ideally, candidates should tailor their resume to each job they apply for and highlight proficiencies that will help them excel at your company.
 

Compare their list of skills to the job requirements and consider any gaps. If the job role requires a skill the applicant hasn’t listed, make a note of this. If you decide to pass them through to the next phase, you can ask them about their capabilities in that area later on.
 

4. Thoroughly review previous employment

Delve into the applicant’s employment history. Consider job titles and primary duties and consider whether these experiences match what you need. Carefully review dates of employment. Make a note of any gaps in employment or short stints, and consider asking the candidate to expand or explain if you decide to move them on to the next round.
 

5. Look for customized messaging

When the cover letter and resume have customized messaging, it shows the applicant took time to research your company. Some applicants send out the exact same resume to every company that interests them, or they simply don’t take the time to customize their application materials for a job they really want. That extra time and research show that the applicant cares and will go the extra mile.
 

6. Determine whether the applicant qualifies for the next phase

After you’ve read the cover letter, performed an initial resume scan and analyzed skills, qualifications and employment history, you can then decide if you want to move the applicant on to a phone screening or interview. Once you’ve made your selections from the stack, be sure to file away other impressive resumes for later. They may be a good fit for another opportunity in the future.
 

These six steps will help you learn how to review resumes efficiently so you can quickly recognize which applicants are the best fit and move along to the next part of the hiring process. When you sponsor your job on Indeed, we do some of the hard work upfront by only showing you candidates who meet your minimum criteria. You can then review their application and resume to decide if they’d be a good fit. If not, we won’t charge you for that unwanted application.*
 

*Product features not available to all users at this time.

Using an applicant tracking system for automatic resume screening

An applicant tracking system (ATS) offers a variety of tools to help streamline the hiring process, including the resume review stage. You can use it to manage applications, screen resumes automatically and communicate with applicants. The system works by scanning resumes for certain keywords that you enter based on what you want in an applicant.
 

Pros of using an ATS

The pros of using an ATS to review resumes automatically include:
 

  • Saving you time on screening to speed up the hiring process
  • Helping to reduce hiring discrimination because it doesn’t consider names or other factors that could create unintentional bias
  • Narrowing down the applicants to ensure they have the minimum qualifications before you manually review resumes
  • Creating a pool of potential candidates for future positions

Cons of using an ATS

There are some drawbacks of using an ATS, including:
 

  • Potentially missing candidates that are a good match
  • User errors, such as misspelled keywords
  • Learning curve for your staff to use it effectively
  • Technology issues, such as difficulty reading certain fonts or eliminating candidates due to formatting issues
  • Potential for candidates to keyword-stuff their resumes to make it through the screening even if they’re not qualified

When to use an ATS

Situations when an ATS can be useful include:
 

  • You receive hundreds of resumes for job postings
  • You don’t have time to look through all of the resumes you receive
  • You want a streamlined hiring process where everything is available in one location
  • You want analytics available to improve your hiring process
  • Your company prides itself on using technology
  • Your application process is difficult or candidate feedback indicates that it needs improvement

FAQs about the resume review process

Here are some common questions about resume screening:
 

How long should I spend reading a resume?

The initial resume review shouldn’t take long. It often takes less than a minute to determine if the candidate has the skills and experience you need and to spot any red flags. Go back to review the top candidates’ resumes more thoroughly. This can take as long as you need to determine which applicants you want to interview.
 

What would you look for first when reviewing a resume?

When you review resumes, start with obvious factors that eliminate candidates from the running, such as major errors or lack of qualifications. This eliminates people who aren’t a good match and lets you focus on candidates with potential.
 

How can I tell if an applicant is exaggerating on their resume?

Some people are dishonest on resumes, using vague language or buzzwords with no concrete examples of their experience. Look for claims that seem unrealistic or don’t match the position, or job titles that don’t match other experience or education. Review conflicting job timelines and/or a career progression that doesn’t make sense. Long lists of role responsibilities without impact can also indicate that a candidate has copy/pasted information from the job description for their current or most recent job.

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