How to Hire Smarter: Unlocking the Hidden Messages in Resumes

by Keith Francoeur

As Vice President, he is responsible for training and managing PCI’s global assessment team, designing and updating the assessment process (including the research and selection of the test battery and interview format), and handling custom competency mapping.

What do you look for when you are reviewing a candidate’s resume? If the first thing that came to your mind was how well their experience fits with the role you are hiring for, then you are missing a lot. And not just because experience in one company is a poor predictor of long-term success in a new company. If you know what to look for, a resume can provide you with insight into whether a candidate might lack crucial, non-trainable capabilities. What’s more, unlike experience, these things are strong predictors of future job performance. In order to uncover these capabilities, you need to learn to view a resume differently.  

Change Your Perspective

Instead of looking at a resume to see if a candidate has the required experience and education for the job, you should first do a careful and thorough screening for misspellings and any formatting and grammar issues and inconsistencies. While everyone makes mistakes because no one is perfect, a resume that contains many such problems or those that are egregious should be a bright red flag. Why? Because it means that a candidate was either unable or unwilling (or possibly both) to prevent them. To the extent that they were unable, it points to cognitive processing limitations that interfered with their ability to perceive the errors. To the extent that they were unwilling, it points to a lack of diligence, as they failed to focus and take the time needed to limit and fix mistakes before finalizing their resume.  

None of the above possibilities bode well when it comes to how the candidate will perform should they join your organization. Why? Because research has consistently shown that two of the best predictors of job performance, regardless of the position, are intellect and work ethic, in that order. These things also happen to be non-trainable. Moreover, especially for positions at or above the professional level, many of the tasks that you need them to do and problems that you need them to solve will undoubtedly be more complex than the act of putting together a resume that is not replete with typos.  

Unfortunately, time and again, we assess candidates whose resumes fail to meet basic quality standards. I can tell you from seeing many such cases that the assessment data almost always bears out the above assertions. This is unfortunate, because the issues that the assessment uncovers could have been identified quicker and more inexpensively if the screener knew the secret that you now know; a resume can be viewed as a sample of a candidate’s work that they would produce in the role that you are thinking about hiring them for. Thus, you should first judge the quality (or lack thereof) of that work.

Does it Work Both Ways?

At this point, you may be wondering if the reverse holds true. In other words, does an impeccable, aesthetically pleasing resume suggest that a candidate is bright and/or hardworking? Again, from viewing the assessment data for many such cases, I can tell you that this is often the case. However, the relationship is not as strong, and you can’t be as sure about the candidate’s future performance. Why? Because the individual may have solicited someone else’s help in putting their resume together, and it is unlikely that they could leverage such help consistently in carrying out their job duties should you hire them.

Key Takeaways

  • Experience is a poor predictor of long-term success in a new organization.
  • Intelligence and Conscientiousness are much better predictors. 
  • Thus, instead of looking at what (i.e., experience) a resume says, you should first look at how (i.e., formatting, grammar, and spelling) it says it.  
  • By doing that, you can screen out candidates who have lower levels of non-trainable competencies, saving you time and money in the hiring process. In turn, your resulting candidate pool will be stronger, increasing your odds of hiring top talent.
  • While a well-crafted resume usually means that the candidate has favorable abilities, that is not always the case. Moreover, a resume will give you very little insight into a candidate’s interpersonal tendencies and leadership style.
  • A psychometrically sound assessment should be used on candidates who “pass” the resume screen and initial interviews so that you can gain a more objective and well-rounded view of the skills and improvement areas that a candidate would bring to the organization.
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