Aline Lerner, one of my favorite recruiting bloggers, has devoted a few posts to how resumes are ineffective predictors of candidate success. I’m not as data savvy as Aline but I would tend to agree with her. Resumes, as a general rule, stink at telling what the candidate is capable of doing. But, they are usually the only thing you have on hand to tell you about your candidate.
So how do you derive value from one or two pieces of paper that were written by a subjective, error-prone human being?
My rule-of-resume-thumb is to consider the entire story. You can’t look at just one factor of the resume and learn about your candidate. You have to look at the entire document as a whole.
What’s the Story?
Consider the entire work history. When scanning a resume, look at where the person worked and for how long. Ask yourself these questions:
What is the industry? If you are a SaaS software company looking for sales executives, you should probably stick to candidates who have sold SaaS software before. Even the best sales candidates from pharma or hardware may have a hard time learning the SaaS model.
Who does the company sell to? Try to ascertain the ACV (Average Contract Value) of the product. If the candidate has only sold to large enterprise companies, you can bet she has sold only 5 figure or 6 figure deals. Contracts of this size have a much different sales cycle than smaller deals.
What is the tech stack at each company? If your candidate has only ever worked at traditional Java shops on backend systems, she will likely not be a fit for a front-end based role at your company.
What is the release cycle? Quite a few large, older companies are still using waterfall and/or a long release time. What this means for you, especially when considering engineering or product resumes, is your candidate may never have experienced the fast release cycles common at startup companies. This may be fine for individual contributors, but team leads or managers need to understand how to engineer software at a faster rate.
Given the company size, what do you think the candidate contributed given his or her title? A VP at Google is a much different candidate than a VP at a 5 person startup. This is an extreme example but it shows that you can’t always rely on titles to tell you what the candidate has done.
Focus on what they’ve built, not on the keywords they’ve added. Keywords are a way to beat the search algorithms that large companies use to filter the thousands of resumes that they get every day. When I see a big chunk of text in a resume I assume a few things:
The candidate may have only ever worked at and applied for jobs at big companies
The candidate may be inexperienced
The candidate doesn’t know how to write a resume
All in all, I don’t rely heavily on keywords. Just because a candidate writes Java on a resume doesn’t prove he or she actually worked with it. Instead, look for bullet points that explain how the candidate used Java to build a product.
M & A
Mergers or acquisitions are especially useful when looking at VP or C level resumes. A VP or executive who was at a company for two to three years prior to a merger or acquisition most likely had a hand in the successful outcome of the deal. A person who joined the same year this deal went down probably had little impact on this event. This matters when you are considering senior leadership. For more junior or individual contributor roles, this matters less.
Ramp is another thing to keep in mind when reviewing VP or C level resumes. A candidate who joined a company at $10M with a Series C, is much different from a candidate who joined a company at < $5M. If you need a VP, Marketing to ramp your company from $10M-$25M, focus on resumes from candidates who were at companies during this ramp period. A VP, Marketing from Yahoo, post IPO will not have the right experience.
Be careful with rejecting resumes based solely on job hops. Sometimes there are good reasons for these: maternal/paternal leave, personal illness, care for an aging parent, or other factors outside of the candidate’s control. And some candidates, especially junior ones, may have had bad luck in their first few jobs, either choosing two losing companies in a row, or choosing two opportunities that weren’t a fit.
A slight digression – I think these are the absolute worst. When reviewing resumes for my friends, I tell them to leave these statements off.
Now what to do if you see one of these on a resume? Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. If the candidate is a new grad searching for his first job, he probably does not know any better. In this case, I would take the objective statement with a grain of salt. If this resume is a submission from a seasoned sales executive, I reconsider. My assumption when I see bland objective statements on resumes is that the candidate doesn’t really care where he or she is applying. This is where the cover letter can be a huge help; I’ll overlook a bland statement if it is paired with a meaningful cover letter.
One caveat: Max, an engineer I tried, and failed, to hire at my first job, had one of the best objective statements I’ve seen. Instead of writing a generic sentence, Max quoted Edsger Djikstra. This single sentence stood out and gave me a sense of what Max wanted to achieve. Well done.
Speaking of College Grads…
To me, where someone went to school and what her GPA was are not strong indicators of future success.
For most roles, I find it’s better to look for students who have taken a full course load and had one or two internships in their chosen field. For students applying to entry sales or customer support roles, I like to see school work + work in customer-facing jobs.
So that student from an unknown, small state school with a 3.2 GPA and three internships under her belt? Probably worth a shot.
Sloppy? Yes. Should you regret resumes solely on the fact that someone misspelled aesthetic? No.
When viewed together with the resume, these can be a very handy tool for assessing your candidate. If a candidate takes the time to write a genuine letter that specifically references why she is interested in Greenhouse, I take the time to read it. And usually, it’s these cover letters that push me to overlook a resume that is too junior, contains mistakes and/or isn’t a perfect fit.
The thing that stinks about resume reviews? You will definitely make the wrong call on a resume. I’ve reviewed thousands of resumes during my career and I know I’ve passed on some great candidates. Resumes just don’t give you enough information to have a high degree of certainty that the applicant will be a great hire. And it doesn’t help that resumes are written by humans and are subject to human error and subjectivity. But recruiters need to optimize for time (we can’t speak to all 500 sales candidates who apply for a role), so make sure to pay attention to the entire story.