How Can I Evaluate Candidates Without Interviewing Everyone?

A resume is not a lot of information to go on. When you’re skimming tons of seemingly qualified applicants, what’s the best way to quickly narrow the pool so you can start scheduling interviews and really getting to know who’s best for your organization?

When I’m reading resumes, I put myself in the mindset that all of them are bad until they give me a signal that they’re not. The signal doesn’t have to be flashing in big red letters, but there has to be something there that sparks my interest. To aid in this, I pick out a few major markers to look for in every resume:

.. Objective. Sometimes software engineers want to be project managers. Know who actually wants the job you’re offering.
.. Experience. Where have they been and do you like where they’ve been? Have they included dates of employment? How many jobs have they held in the last year? Relevant experience?
.. Skills, Languages & Technologies. Are they versed in the capacities listed in the requirement section of your job post? Are they too expert-sounding in too many languages? Did they list MS Office Suite?
.. Projects. Do they include the duration of the projects they have listed, as well as people they worked with on these projects?
.. Education. Did they go to an exceptional school? Complete their degree? If they didn’t, what was their GPA? Honors, awards, scholarships? Achievements?
.. Outside of Work. Do they list their interests and activities? Do they appear to exhibit a sense of passion for the work you are asking of them?

These guidelines give you a way to skim resumes, while still keeping your eye open for depth. In every resume, you’re looking to extract a sense of who this person is and if they would be a good fit for your team. If you don’t get something from a resume, keep moving.

Think before you start reading: “What does my ideal candidate look like?”

For me, what I’m looking for when I’m hiring is a candidate with passion who wants to get the job done with me. Sometimes I’m up until 2:00 am because I just have to get a project done – not because of pressure from my boss, but because I care so much about doing it and doing it right. And that’s who I’m looking for when I’m reading resumes.

While scanning resumes and pulling the very best candidates first, I always keep an eye open for the “diamond in the rough” candidate too. But more on that later.

When you know who you’re looking for, it will be so much easier to spot them.

Within the major points you’re looking at when you scan a resume are telling details about the candidate. These details will give you more information about the candidate than they probably realize, and will be the ticket to separating the obvious “yes” candidates from everyone else.

Resume Details Used to Evaluate Candidates Quickly

1. Record of Promotion

If the candidate has moved up the ladder, successfully filling multiple roles while at one company, that’s probably something worth noting.

2. Know the Good Companies from the Bad
This might seem obvious, but successful companies usually have strong employees behind them. How did they get those strong employees? They have a rigorous hiring process. If a candidate has worked somewhere you know hires only really good people, they are probably worth checking out.

Don’t forget about small companies and new startups too! Not sure? Sometimes their mission statements, or job postings showcase the type of employees they hire. Next time you are looking at a resume, check out the companies your candidates worked for and see what THEY looked for in a candidate. You can also look at their current employees in similar roles on LinkedIn to get a feel for the caliber of talent they were looking for.

3. School Is Cool
Obviously, if you are hiring for a tech position and the candidate earned advanced degrees in Computer Science, Linguistics, Physics, Mathematics from top programs…they are probably pretty dang smart. But don’t overlook those that have high GPAs from the lesser-known schools. A degree is still an accomplishment – especially if they graduated Cum Laude with a GPA higher than 3.7, honors, or additional degrees. Those candidate are extremely interview-worthy because of their impressive achievements; it shows they worked hard and take pride in their work. Isn’t that what you want in a candidate?

I have interviewed candidates with otherwise unimpressive resumes because the candidate’s achievements at school or in their personal lives warranted a phone screen. On the other hand, school isn’t necessarily everything a candidate has to offer either, so don’t base judgments on school success alone. If you take all factors into consideration, and they exceed your expectations overall, give them a chance.

4. Trophies, Patents, Awards, and Certificates
Not everyone receives a fancy award or honor, so these are good to look for – especially fellowships, grants and scholarships. (If someone else is willing to pay them for something amazing they did, you might find them worthy of a few peanuts, too.)

It also shows that the candidate is willing to go that extra mile to prove they have mad skills. And that’s what you should be looking for, right? Find out: are they involved with Startup Incubator as a finalist or member, have they participated in industry events such as Google Summer of CodeStartup Weekend, or have they attended conferences, or presented at conferences? These point to commitment and passion that they’ll bring to your team too.

5. Projects and Mad Skills
Instead of being impressed by a long list of known technologies, an example of how the candidate has used them is way more impressive.

Pretend we are looking for someone with experience in building a house using a hammer, screwdriver, nails and screws. I would prefer to see this: “My last project was building a house. For this project I used a hammer, a screwdriver, nails and screws.” As opposed to this: “Skills: hammer, screwdriver, nails, screws.” You want to see what they know, but also what they can do with what they know.

If the developer is truly passionate about being a developer, then he or she is probably working on side projects or learning a new language. If an applicant includes a link to a personal website or project where they are developing their skills outside of the workplace, that is a great indication they have the passion you want.

Red Flags!

There are a couple of quick signs you can look out for to quickly eliminate candidates as well. Be wary of anyone who presents:

A Never-Ending Resume – If they are listing every job they’ve had since high school, is it because they never made much of an impact at any of them?
The Expert at Everything – A resume that demonstrates a sense of having nothing else to learn because they’re already the best can indicate someone unwilling to grow or be accountable for mistakes.
Job-Jumpers – If a candidate has worked at 14 startups in the last 2 years, are they going to commit the time you need them to? Probably not. Look out for the commitment-phobic.

Keep in mind: half of all job-seekers lie on their resumes. Sometimes these are little half-truths that we all tell to make our experience sound just a little bit shinier than it really is, but sometimes you’ll run into candidates who have completely fabricated entire work histories and accomplishments.

How do you tell the difference?

Checking references is an important step that we’ll focus on in depth later on, but at this stage you can weed out obvious fakers by conducting a little bit of preliminary research. Simple searches on LinkedIn can turn up discrepancies in job title and employment dates, and can also give you a better look at their full work history if you have any doubts about the candidate.

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