The Ultimate Checklist for Recruiters: What to Look for in a Resume

You’re a recruiter, and you’ve just opened your email to find a flood of resumes in response to a job posting you recently advertised. You’re enthusiastic, excited even, to dig in and start shortlisting potential candidates for your client. But as you begin the process, you’re met with a flood of information – employment histories, educational backgrounds, skills, achievements – each candidate presenting a unique professional narrative. Where do you start? How do you sift through this sea of data and identify the best fit for the role?


Welcome to the demanding, yet incredibly rewarding world of recruitment. As a recruiter, your role is akin to that of a matchmaker, pairing the right candidate with the right job. And the first step in this matchmaking process? Resume screening.


Resume screening is undoubtedly one of the most crucial stages in the recruitment process. It’s your first interaction with the candidate, and it’s through this paper or digital document that you get your initial impression of who they are as a professional. But with each resume telling a different story, and with limited time on your hands, it’s vital to know exactly what to look for.


That’s where this post comes in. My aim here is to equip you with an ultimate checklist for screening resumes, a handy guide that you can refer to when you’re knee-deep in resumes and need to make efficient, effective decisions. From understanding job requirements to spotting red flags, this checklist will cover every aspect you need to consider in your evaluation process. So, let’s get started and turn you into a resume-screening pro.


Understanding the Job Requirements


Before you even lay your eyes on a resume, it’s crucial that you have crystal-clear knowledge about the job you’re recruiting for. How can you possibly evaluate a candidate’s fit for a position if you don’t know what the position entails? It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack without knowing what the needle looks like. Get to know the ins and outs of the job. What are the essential skills? What kind of experience is the hiring manager looking for? Are there any specific qualifications that are non-negotiable?


How a Well-Defined Job Description Can Serve as a Foundation for Evaluating Resumes


A comprehensive job description is not just helpful for candidates; it’s your roadmap. It sets the criteria against which you will measure each resume. Here’s what you should focus on:


– Responsibilities: Know the daily responsibilities of the role. This will help you identify candidates who have experience in similar tasks.


– Skills: Familiarize yourself with the required skills, both hard and soft. You want to look for candidates whose skills align with those needed for the job.


– Experience: Understand what level of experience is needed. Is this an entry-level role or does it require a seasoned expert? This will help you quickly weed out candidates who don’t meet the experience criterion.


– Cultural Fit: Don’t underestimate the importance of cultural fit. Does the hiring company have a particular work culture? Would the candidate be comfortable and able to thrive in that environment?


– Education & Certifications: Especially important for certain roles, know if there are any mandatory educational qualifications or certifications required.


Here’s my insider tip: When you’re working with a hiring manager or client, don’t shy away from asking questions. Sometimes, job descriptions can be vague or not detailed enough. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarification. 


Evaluating Professional Experience


As you glance through the resume, the professional experience section is likely to catch your eye first. So, let’s break down how to properly analyse this section of the resume.


The Candidate’s Work History and Relevance to the Job

First things first, let’s talk about relevance. The candidate might have a work history as long as the Great Wall of China, but if it’s not relevant to the job at hand, it’s just not going to cut it. Pay close attention to the roles they have held and the responsibilities they’ve undertaken. Does their past work align with the responsibilities of the job you’re recruiting for? If it does, that’s your first tick!


Assessing Progression and Career Growth

Now let’s talk career progression. Ideally, you want to see that a candidate has been climbing the ladder, taking on more responsibilities, or diving deeper into their specialization. This demonstrates ambition and a commitment to personal development. However, keep in mind that everyone’s career path is unique, and sometimes there are good reasons for lateral moves or even stepping back. Just make sure you understand the story their career progression is telling.


The Importance of Relevant Experience in Specialized Roles

This one’s a biggie. If you’re recruiting for a specialized role, relevant experience is your Holy Grail. For instance, if you’re recruiting for a Senior Data Scientist, a candidate with extensive experience in data analysis, machine learning, and statistical modelling is much more appealing than someone with a generic IT background. The nitty-gritty matters in specialized roles, so be sure to dig into the details.


Here’s some advice: When evaluating professional experience, it’s not just about what’s on the resume, but how it’s presented. Look for candidates who quantify their achievements. For example, “increased sales by 35% in Q1” is much more compelling than “was responsible for increasing sales.” The more concrete information, the better.


Education and Certifications


Alright, let’s keep moving and dive into the next checkpoint in our ultimate resume checklist – Education and Certifications. You might think this is pretty straightforward, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. 


Importance of Educational Qualifications for Specific Roles


Not every role requires a PhD or even a college degree. Sometimes, experience and skills are the real deal-breakers. But hey, there are positions where educational qualifications are absolutely non-negotiable. Think about roles in law, medicine, engineering, or academia. In these cases, you want to verify that the candidate has the necessary educational background.


Verifying the Authenticity of Degrees and Certifications


Now, this is a little touchy, but I have to say it: not everyone is 100% honest on their resume. Shocking, I know! As a recruiter, it’s part of your job to ensure that the degrees and certifications listed are legitimate. This involves a bit of work, but trust me, it’s worth it. Depending on your company’s policy, this could mean anything from checking LinkedIn to see if the education lines up, to contacting the educational institution for verification.


Understanding the Relevance of Certifications to the Job Role


Okay, onto certifications. This information can be a dealbreaker, especially in industries that are constantly evolving. IT, digital marketing, project management – you name it. Certifications often mean that the candidate is committed to staying current in their field. But, be cautious here. Not all certifications are created equal. Some are rigorous and highly respected, while others… not so much. Understand which certifications are relevant and respected in the industry you are recruiting for.


Here’s a bonus tip for you: Sometimes, you’ll come across candidates who may not have the formal education but have compensating experience and certifications that make them an excellent fit for the role. Be open to these non-traditional candidates; they can sometimes be hidden gems.


Scrutinizing Skills and Competencies


Skills and competencies, my friends, are where you get to see what a candidate is really made of. 


Differentiating Between Hard and Soft Skills


Here’s the deal – there are two types of skills: hard and soft. Hard skills are tangible, teachable abilities like coding, writing, or operating machinery. Soft skills, on the other hand, are the intangibles like communication, leadership, or problem-solving. While hard skills might get the job done, soft skills make sure it gets done well. Be sure to look for a balance of both, depending on what the role requires.


Identifying Key Skills Required for the Job


Remember when we talked about knowing the job requirements inside and out? This is where it comes in handy, big time. Keep a mental (or physical, if you’re old-school) checklist of the key skills required for the job. As you go through the resume, tick them off. 


Evaluating How the Candidate’s Skills Align with the Role


It’s not just about the skills a candidate has, but how those skills align with the job. Someone might be a spreadsheet wizard, but if you’re hiring for a creative writer, that’s not going to be much help, is it? Really dig into how the skills listed can translate into success in the role you’re hiring for.


Alright, let me hit you with some wisdom: Sometimes, the most obvious candidate isn’t the best one. There’s this thing called “transferable skills.” These are skills that might not be an exact match but are close enough that they can be applied successfully to the job. Be on the lookout for these – they can be game-changers.


And, please, don’t be swayed by fancy jargon. Some resumes can be like buzzword bingo. Look beyond the fluff, and try to discern the real substance.


Checking for Customization


Importance of a Tailored Resume


I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “One size does not fit all.” This couldn’t be more true when it comes to resumes. A generic resume is like getting a plain, store-bought cake for your best friend’s birthday. It’s okay, but a customized, homemade one is so much better. Customization shows that the candidate took the time to understand the role and tailored their resume to reflect why they’re a perfect match. It demonstrates effort, dedication, and, frankly, it’s just more appealing.


Signs That a Candidate Has Customized Their Resume for the Specific Role


Let’s talk about the telltale signs of customization:


– Alignment with Job Description: This is the big one. If you notice that the skills and experiences highlighted in the resume closely match the job description, that’s a win!


– Using Company Lingo: If the candidate uses terminology or language that’s common in the company or industry, that’s a good indicator that they’ve done their homework.


– Objective or Summary: If the resume has an objective or summary section that’s specifically geared towards the role, that’s customization gold.


How Customization Reflects a Candidate’s Genuine Interest in the Position


Customization doesn’t just make the resume more relevant; it speaks volumes about the candidate’s interest in the position. It shows that they didn’t just hit ‘send’ to every job posting they came across. They took the time, they researched, and they care.


Before we wrap this up, here’s something to take away: Customization is not just about what the candidate says, but how they say it. It’s about the thought and the strategy behind the words.


Spotting Achievements and Contributions


The Difference Between Responsibilities and Achievements


First, let’s clear the air on something – responsibilities and achievements are not the same thing. Responsibilities are the daily tasks someone was expected to do. Achievements, on the other hand, are the moments when a candidate went above and beyond. It’s the difference between “attended meetings” and “led a meeting that resulted in a new client partnership.” See the difference? Achievements are where the candidate shines.


Identifying Achievements That Align with the Role


Now, while all achievements are great, we’re looking for the ones that sing to the role you’re recruiting for. If you’re hiring a sales manager, a candidate’s achievement in streamlining the sales process is like hitting the jackpot. Keep your eyes peeled for achievements that show the candidate can and has performed in areas that matter to the position.


Analyzing Quantifiable Achievements


Here’s a secret weapon for you: numbers. Achievements that include quantifiable results are fantastic. “Increased customer retention by 40%”, “Cut down costs by 25%”, “Grew an online community to over 10,000 members”. Numbers provide context and scale, and they make achievements a whole lot more credible.


Understanding How Achievements Reflect a Candidate’s Potential Contribution


The achievements on a resume are not just about what a candidate has done. They’re a window into what they could do for your company. As a recruiter, your job is to piece together this information and paint a picture of the candidate’s potential contributions.


Recognizing Red Flags


Unexplained Gaps in Employment


Now, I want you to tread carefully here. Gaps in employment aren’t always a deal-breaker. Life happens. However, unexplained or frequent gaps might be a cause for concern. Make sure you ask the candidate about these gaps in the interview to get the full picture.


Frequent Job Hopping


Changing jobs frequently can be indicative of several things – maybe the candidate is not sure what they’re looking for, or they’re not sticking around long enough to make a real impact. Keep an eye out for this pattern, and if it’s there,  ask about the reasons behind it.


Overuse of Buzzwords Without Substance


Remember when I mentioned the buzzword bingo? Well, if a resume is packed with buzzwords but lacks concrete information and achievements to back them up, raise that red flag. They are the jazzy terms that people often sprinkle throughout their resumes or use in conversation to sound more knowledgeable or impressive. However, without substantial evidence or context, they can come off as empty or insincere. Here are some classic examples:


  1. Synergy: Often used to imply that combined efforts create better results, but without examples, it’s just a hollow term.


  1. Thought Leadership: This phrase is meant to convey that someone is an authority in their field, but it’s often used without any proof of such leadership.


  1. Dynamic: A fancy way to say that someone or something is energetic or forceful, but without specifics, it doesn’t say much.


  1. Innovative: One of the classics. It’s meant to convey that something is groundbreaking but is so overused that it often loses its meaning.


  1. Leverage: Often used to indicate making use of resources effectively, but without context, it’s unclear what’s being leveraged or how.


  1. Cutting-edge: Intended to mean that something is extremely modern and advanced, but used so frequently it’s lost much of its impact.


  1. Holistic Approach: Implies considering all factors in a particular endeavor, but often used vaguely.


  1. Empower: Intended to show granting power or authority, often used without context of how it was applied or what the results were.


Discrepancies and Inconsistencies


Look out for inconsistencies in the resume. Maybe the dates don’t add up, or there’s a mismatch between the resume and LinkedIn profile. These discrepancies could be innocent mistakes or a sign of something more sinister. Either way, put on your detective hat and investigate further.


Generic and Non-Customized Resumes


A generic resume that could be sent to any company for any role? Red flag! It suggests a lack of genuine interest in the position.

Wrapping It Up


We have come to the end of this blog post and I hope you have some tips to take away with you and use in your job to find the brightest and best talent for your organization.


Let’s do a quick recap, shall we?


  1. Knowing the Job: Understanding the role you are hiring for.


  1. Scrutinizing Skills and Competencies: This is where you figure out if a candidate has the right tools in their backpack for the adventure that is the job.


  1. Checking for Customization: A customized resume shows that the candidate really cares.


  1. Spotting Achievements and Contributions: This is where you find the true treasure – those golden nuggets of achievement that can add value to your company.


  1. Recognizing Red Flags: Watch out for those pesky red flags that can be signs of trouble.


And there you have it, the ultimate checklist for recruiters. I hope this guide serves you well in your recruitment endeavours.

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