How to Review a Resume: A Guide for Employers

You’ve got some candidates rolling in and you’re ready to review resumes. That’s great! You’re one step closer to filling your open role. But the pressure to hire the right person can be brutal. 

In a labor market where employers are hiring faster, being able to evaluate candidates quickly and effectively is more important than ever. Resumes help you make better hiring decisions and prevent you from risky hiring – if you know what to look for. 

Let’s cover the most important steps of resume review so that you can make better hiring decisions. 

Know who you need 

To effectively evaluate a resume, you have to know what kind of person you’re looking for to fill your open role. What kind of experience do you want them to have? What skills should they possess? 

Getting clear on who you need at the very beginning of your hiring process can help you stay focused when reviewing resumes and make recruitment much smoother. We recommend creating an Ideal Candidate Profile before you even post an open job. 

When creating your profile, think about things like: 

  • Specifics for the role
  • Your key culture drivers
  • The job responsibilities, objectives, and outcomes 

Our Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan goes into detail about Ideal Candidate Profiles in the video below: 

Use pre-screen questions 

There’s one more step before we get to the actual resume review. You can save yourself a lot of time in the hiring process by including a few pre-screen questions on your application. 

Think about those minimum requirements (you should have them listed in your candidate profile) and create questions based on those. For example, if you’re hiring for a role where a specific license is required, ask all applicants if they are licensed to weed out those that you can’t hire. 

Don’t go overboard with pre-screen questions as they can cause applicants to abandon your job posting. However, asking the right questions can help you ensure that the resumes that make it to your desk (or your inbox) have all the minimum requirements needed to perform the role. We recommend using 3-5 prescreen questions on the initial application.

What to look for in a resume 

Resume review can help you get to know your candidates a little better. But what should you be looking for in a resume? How can you tell on paper if someone is the right fit for the role? Let’s discuss. 

The candidate’s location 

This may seem simple, but the first thing to look for if you are hiring for an in-person position is the candidate’s location. If you don’t recognize the address, then type the ZIP/Postal code into an online search.

If you get a qualified candidate who does not live nearby, don’t rule them out just yet. It may be worth a conversation (or at least an email/text) to see if they plan to relocate to your area. Don’t make any assumptions about a candidate’s address or you could miss out on some great talent.

What does the candidate want to do? 

Next, move to the summary or objective section if the resume has one. Look for keywords that help you determine if the candidate has the experience you’re looking for and see if you can tell what next step the candidate wants to take in their career. 

This is a good place to look for any major discrepancies – like if you’re hiring for an entry-level client support role and the candidate has written they are looking for a management position. These don’t always have to be deal-breakers, but it doesn’t hurt to take notes on whether or not you and this candidate are aligned on what the role entails. 

Minimum qualifications 

If you choose not to include pre-screen questions on your application, you will need to look for minimum qualifications when reviewing a resume. Keep in mind those two to three things that are must-haves and do a brief scan of keywords or sentences that fit the bill. 

Work history 

When reviewing work history, look for specific examples of the impact a candidate has made. Dig deeper than just the job title; pay attention to how the candidate describes the role and responsibilities. 

This section gives you a great idea of a candidate’s track record as an employee. Take a look at the story that the resume tells you: Do you see someone constantly advancing on a career path or an inconsistent job hopper? Past behavior is usually a good predictor of the future. 

Keep in mind that specific work experience isn’t the only predictor of success. Soft skills in unrelated positions might be more valuable than an employee that checks all the work history boxes, but has no proven results or measurable professional growth. Keep growth potential in the back of your mind when reviewing work history. If you’re unsure, it never hurts to ask them for more detail about why they believe they’d be a good fit for the role despite not having the exact experience.

Attention to detail 

Depending on the role you’re hiring for, attention to detail in a resume may be more or less important. For example, if you’re hiring a copyeditor, you’ll want to pay attention to the resume’s grammar and spelling. If you’re hiring a designer, the resume format would be very telling. 

Attention to detail is an important skill, and it’s always a good sign when someone puts a lot of time and effort into crafting their resume. However, as Senior Director of People, Natalie Morgan advises, “You’re not evaluating someone on how well they write their resume, you’re evaluating whether they can do their job or not.”

Keep in mind the type of role you are evaluating for when grading resume details. 

Do gaps in a resume matter? 

At first glance, big gaps in a resume timeline may seem concerning. It may leave you wondering about a candidate’s professional trajectory or ability to maintain a job.

However, we strongly urge you not to let gaps in a resume deter you from a great candidate. Life happens. There could be a hundred different explanations for why there is a gap and it isn’t up to employers to judge another person’s situation or circumstances. 

Sometimes people take gaps to raise children or care for a sick loved one. Sometimes gaps in a resume mean someone took off work to travel and see the world. Other times, there are gaps in a resume simply because an applicant left off irrelevant work experience. 

Don’t let gaps in the resume trip you up too much. Keep in mind that you are hiring for a certain set of skills and qualifications, not a long, uninterrupted work history. 

Ask clarifying questions

When reviewing resumes, one thing to keep in mind is that asking clarifying questions is totally an option. If something throws you off or you want to know a little more about something, send a quick email with your questions or schedule a 15 min phone screen. There’s no need to commit to a full interview if you just need a little context first. 

Don’t write off an otherwise great candidate without giving them the chance to provide further explanation for any red flags or discrepancies on their resume. 

Don’t get stuck in decision paralysis 

Here’s the tough part. It’s time to make a decision on whether or not you want to move the candidate to the next stage of the hiring process. This can be even more challenging if you’re hiring in bulk or are lucky enough to have a lot of great candidates. 

When it’s time to evaluate, come back to your Ideal Candidate Profile and the minimum qualifications that you need for this role. Don’t get distracted by “shiny objects” – great things on a resume that may not have anything to do with the role you’re looking to fill. If you need to, keep a post-it note in front of you as a constant reminder of the things that are absolutely most important. 

Don’t miss out on good candidates because you’re lost in decision paralysis. Follow the guidelines you set before the process began and make decisions quickly and systematically. 

Keep candidates in the loop

After reviewing a resume, you will most likely either A) Want to invite someone for an interview or B) Move on to more qualified candidates. It’s important to let applicants know either way. 

A recent CareerPlug survey found that candidates want more communication in a hiring process. And even if you don’t plan to hire someone, it’s important to keep them informed. 

For the resumes that check all your boxes, schedule interviews with applicants as soon as you can. (Use our Ultimate Guide to Conducting Interviews to help you in this next stage of the process.) And for those that don’t? Send them a polite rejection letter promptly. 

Communicating with all candidates helps you provide a great candidate experience, which is crucial for making the right hires. 

Resume review checklist 

Evaluate Candidates Faster and Easier with CareerPlug

Need to speed up your hiring without sacrificing quality? CareerPlug’s easy-to-use applicant tracking system can help you evaluate candidates quickly and make the right hires.


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