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How to Read an Applicant Resume to Make Selections More Efficient

For business
Apr 27, 2023
How to Read an Applicant Resume to Make Selections More Efficient

Once a job opening is posted, it usually only takes a couple of days or even hours to get a hundred applicants or more. Being able to quickly review a candidate’s skills and experience, then, might become a life-saving skill, especially in the face of piles of unread resumes.

What is the best way to develop this professional skill? The natural questions most likely to arise include how to read a resume or what to look for when reviewing a resume. The real key to success, however, is developing a system of specific markers to help define a candidate’s eligibility for a position.

How to Read an Applicant Resume

Before starting to review resumes, it is essential to discuss with the team the key competencies that define a successful candidate. Next, prioritize these competencies and create a scoreboard for future resume evaluation (or set up your tools if you use any). The importance of developing a system in this manner is first and foremost about time management; you don’t want to burn yourself out before closing an open vacancy. But no matter what process you choose, manual or automated, the primary aim should remain unchanged—an objective evaluation of resumes with similar criteria for all qualified candidates. 

The criteria that make a successful candidate include a particular set of hard and soft skills, a strong motivation to invest time and effort into the role, and a long-term perspective. And just as importantly, never ignore personality and values. You need to consider whether this person will match the company culture.

Make sure candidates meet the minimum qualifications 

Experience and education

Having an extensive educational background is not always required in today’s work environment. College degrees have become a relatively new norm on resumes, and employees tend to underline their importance. Even if the candidate has little relevant experience for the job they are applying for, their educational background and any certifications mentioned on their resume might become a strong argument in their favor while undergoing review. 

Some candidates have a solid educational background, while others have a strong work experience history. There is no “right way” when it comes to how to score resumes. Stay flexible and don’t filter candidates by their college or university degrees.

Hard skills

For any hiring manager, it’s crucial to split the desired skill set into “must haves” and “nice to haves.” You can do this by discussing with the team what skill knowledge is necessary and what can be taught on the job to understand how to evaluate resumes better.

The candidate's skill set is never completely knowable ahead of time, but by studying their previous experience, you can make educated guesses on competencies they might have gained. You can also think about certain positions via the responsibilities and knowledge mentioned on candidates’ resumes and brainstorm which person might succeed in a specific job.

Spot soft skills if they are needed for the job

Brainstorm the soft skills a candidate might need to feel comfortable doing a job you are about to offer them. Prioritize and make a list of the top five skills—the fewer you are looking for, the easier it is to spot them.

Since candidates tailor their resumes to spotlight their best competencies, it’s generally sufficient for the hiring team to scan an incoming resume twice. Don’t worry if you don’t see a certain skill, however. Once you decide to move forward with the candidate, you can discuss it during the interview.

Thoroughly review previous employment history

The lists and infographics on a typical applicant resume are easy and quick to evaluate. As we’ve mentioned above, the bulk of a person’s qualifications is often easily found in the educational and work history sections. These parts of resumes can tell you a great deal about candidates.

Any job qualification is formed by a mix of soft and hard skills and positive character traits. Any accomplishments listed on a resume are a good sign of a successful candidate who grows professionally. Volunteering work also counts the same way—in either case, your goal is to spot progress.

Evaluate the candidate’s achievements

Pay attention to detail when reviewing resumes. Take notice of key achievements and any awards or promotions a candidate may have won. These are all signs of a dedicated employee who is ready to invest time and effort in their job. Another positive side of any achievements mentioned on the resume is that it shows the candidate is proud and motivated to grow professionally.

Watch for potential red flags

Not all resumes are polished enough to hide all signs of possible issues. Red flags don’t always disqualify a candidate, but they might indicate the need for a further review of their background. Here are some possible warning signs that you might want to look out for:

Employment gaps

Any employment gaps should be thoroughly explained. A motivated candidate should be eager to explain all the gaps that might occur on their resume. 


Short employment spans, usually less than six months, look suspicious. Try to spot such things on resumes before conducting interviews. Companies spend a lot of time, money, and effort on onboarding, so they typically don’t want to hire someone who will likely leave the company soon. 

Sometimes a bit of job-hopping is understandable. After all, employees tend to seek better workplaces and conditions that fit their lifestyle. On the other hand, constantly switching companies can signal the candidate lacks commitment and dedication, something often associated with a complicated character. 

Static career

This is a form of job-hopping but with no defined career path. In a static career, the person changes companies, but the positions are equal with no extra responsibilities. Coming across such a candidate can be tricky since sometimes it is more beneficial for a person to take a stable yet monotonous job. At the same time, it can also be evidence of a candidate’s lack of motivation for change, career growth, or seeking unique solutions.


In the modern world full of grammar- and spell-checking tools, it's bad form to have any mistakes or slipups on a resume or email. It’s just too easy to use the default, built-in tool or extensions like Grammarly. 

Pay attention to the structure of the resume as well. This is definitely a case where details matter. Is the document easy to read? Can you quickly find the necessary information?

Poorly balanced

Some candidates give too much space to personal interests on their resume. A person with a resume where hobbies and skills dominate the professional history might look suspicious. They are usually signs of a poorly motivated person who lacks professional dedication and ranks personality above productivity. 

Over- or under-qualified

Education or work experience sections that are overly extensive should trigger a warning since they are indicators that the candidate may be bored with the job or doesn’t have a clearly defined career path laid out. You can use your list of desired and must-have competencies to help you decide on the candidate in this case.

Not following directions

Imagine you’ve asked a candidate to fill in a certain form, look through a list of some requirements, or answer a set of questions on the company’s website along with submitting their resume. If candidates deliberately ignore the initial instructions, they are likely to do it once hired as well.

Determine whether the applicant qualifies for the next phase

Once the candidate’s skill set is analyzed, the education and job experience studied, and red flags are filtered, it’s high time to decide on the candidate’s eligibility. If you like the candidate, move forward to a phone screening before an on-site or video interview.

But don’t throw all the other candidates’ resumes and cover letters in the recycle bin just yet. Save the data for the future. You may end up with another open vacancy, and you will save a ton of time by not having to analyze a fresh stack of applications or look through similar material again.

Tips for better resume viewing

In the typical hiring process, after discussing and forming the list of requirements, the recruiting team decides how to review resumes. Check out our list of things to look for in order to make sure you don’t facilitate a lack of attention to detail in your process.

  1. When doing resume screening manually, quickly scan through them to identify the keywords and phrases related to a given job post. Pay attention to whether the keywords are spelled correctly. 
  2. Read the summary. Winning summaries are brief and consistent, showing why a candidate may want to apply for this position.
  3. Study the history of employment. Review dates, spot any gaps, and identify job-hoppers. Look at descriptions, too, since they show the scope of work that was done.
  4. Define the candidate’s personality type. Are they more of an individual or a team worker? Will this person fit into the company’s existing culture? The hobbies mentioned on a resume can help answer that question. Social networking websites, including LinkedIn, are another good source you can use to find out more information about the candidate’s overall personality.
  5. Seek a team player. Collaborative skills are always in demand and benefit many roles.
  6. Look for people with initiative. Candidates who seek to improve themselves by completing courses and boot camps are likely to continue to gain new skills, grow professionally, and bring value to your company.


Even the best job posting will not automatically land you the best candidate. By posting a job opportunity, a recruiting department is committing to look through a high volume of resumes from candidates of unique backgrounds. Before starting to evaluate them, it’s necessary to define the critical knowledge and competencies you are searching for, make a checklist, and start digging down. The crucial part of any recruiting process is staying flexible and being able to spot the candidate who will fit the position well and will be able to grow professionally within the new role. Keep in mind that the strategy of how to look through the resume is what the recruitment department decides, so be sure to make it easy and convenient.

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