How To Use Resumes to Effectively Evaluate Applicants

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Robbie KaplanHow To Use Resumes to Effectively Evaluate Applicants
Presented by Robbie Kaplan
Sure-Hire Resumes
Contact [email protected]

Tuesday, August 28, 2001

Visit the AccountingWEB Workshop Calendar for upcoming sessions.


You can read the complete transcript of this workshop.

If you are having difficulty hiring qualified applicants, the culprit may not be the applicants themselves but the hiring process your organization uses to screen and recruit candidates. In this workshop, "How To Use Resumes to Effectively Evaluate Applicants," Robbie Kaplan explained how to:

  • Identify criteria to evaluate resumes
  • Implement resume sorting techniques
  • Discover tools to assess whether an applicant is a good fit
  • Recognize factors that should make you cautious

Workshop Transcript

Session Moderator: Welcome everyone and thank you for joining us today! I'm happy to introduce Robbie Kaplan, who will present a workshop on using resumes to evaluate applicants.

Robbie Kaplan is a trainer, writer, and practitioner with an expertise in job search techniques and career planning. She is the author of How to Say It in Your Job Search (available November 2001), Sure-Hire Resumes, Resume Shortcuts, Sure-Hire Cover Letters, 101 Resumes for Sure-Hire Results, The Whole Career Sourcebook, and Resumes: The Write Stuff.

Ms. Kaplan is a frequent speaker and lecturer for business, academic, community, association, and governmental organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from George Mason University and has a management background with Xerox Corporation.

Welcome Robbie!

Robbie Kaplan: Welcome to the workshop on using resumes as a key recruitment tool.

My name is Robbie Kaplan and I specialize in resumes, the job search, and careers.

I have written thousands of resumes for job seekers for every occupation and job level in all types of organizations and industries.

I will share my experience with you today from both sides of the desk. I spent eight years with a Fortune 50 company, five of those years managing and recruiting.

I once had four openings to fill and a stack of over 200 resumes on my desk. That was just the resume response our classified advertisement in The Washington Post had generated on Monday and Tuesday.

On my credenza were large manila envelopes stuffed with letters and resumes from our post office box. I was overwhelmed with the 200 resumes and I never even got to the resumes received from Wednesday onward.

Resumes are an effective screening tool for evaluating prospective employees and if used wisely, they can significantly increase the quality of your new staff members.

For this reason, it is important that you know what to look for when screening resumes, especially in light of the increase in resume fraud, for example: lies, omissions, and exaggerations.

DANIEL BRYANT: What stands out on a resume both good and bad?
Robbie Kaplan: Good question - I will be covering that in detail in just a few minutes

Robbie Kaplan: This afternoon we will discuss two options for scanning resumes; the visual scan with human eyes and the computer scan using computer-based applicant tracking systems, also known as resume scanning systems.

It has been said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and this is certainly true of resumes.

You will find talented candidates who put forth little effort and produce marginal resumes and so-so candidates who get some professional help and turn out dynamite resumes.

If you are to be a successful in finding the diamond in the rough, you'll need some screening techniques that will help you quickly identify a job seeker's education, skills, employment background, and strengths, easily determining if their credentials meet your job requirements.

But first, you will need to identify the selection criteria you'll use for the evaluation. Selection criteria are statements that relate specifically to the proven abilities, skills, and personal qualities required to achieve the outcomes of the job.

Their primary purpose is to help you - the hiring manager - determine which job candidates meet the qualifications of your job opening.

Selection criteria should be: established before the job is advertised, clearly defined and relevant to the position, used to evaluate applicants for the position, easy to use when evaluating the applicants, and understandable and defensible.

Position descriptions that specify clear job requirements are the best starting point. They should contain enough information to clearly define what duties are to be performed.

If no position description exists or the one you have is either short or vague, you can create one.

Business plans and job documentation are useful sources of information as well as discussions with colleagues in the same or similar jobs.

Other sources include professional associations or occupational Web sites.

You will need to identify what work experience, education, credentials, or skills are needed for the position.

List the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for job performance. This may include knowledge of practical procedures, specialized techniques, and specific skills such as skills required for either written or direct contact with other employees.

Distinguish the soft or helpful skills (problem solving) from the hard or job-related skills (LAN administration).

Separate qualifications based on what is required or preferred and establish the desired level of education, years of experience in specific jobs, types of skills, and licenses, certifications, and affiliations.

The finalized description defines the characteristics you seek in your ideal job candidate.

Techniques and tips to the evaluation

Robbie Kaplan: Resumes are truly a job seeker's first impression.

You can winnow the pile down by assessing the condition of each resume.

Here are some of the don'ts you were looking for Daniel.

  • Does it have glaring grammatical or typographic errors?
  • Is it a bit dog-eared?
  • Is the paper unprofessional (mottled blue or with a background of clouds) or does it have a coffee stain?

Kaplan: I've even seen resumes in pencil. My favorite is a resume that a colleague received and the applicant had highlighted in yellow the points they thought should be of particular interest.

Margaret Bentley: I received a round one on a paper plate!
Robbie Kaplan: That's a new one Margaret.

Robbie Kaplan: Now you are ready to carefully assess the rest of the resumes, sorting them into piles that indicate either no interest, good fit, maybe, or save for other openings.

I know some hiring personnel that like to read resumes from the bottom up because they feel many resumes are written with data the candidate wants to hide or downplay at the very end.

While this is true, I find it is much easier to evaluate resumes from the top down.

Read between the lines and look for achievement and accomplishment. Problem solving is a good indication of what a job candidate can do for you.

Look for statements that indicate what problems were solved, how they were solved, under what circumstances, and the outcomes. Past performance is an indicator of future performance.

Consider applicants who indicate volunteer activities and leadership roles in professional, community, and fraternal organizations.

Additional activities and responsibilities usually indicate motivation and responsibility.

It may be quicker to do a visual scan of the resumes if you are working with a large applicant pool and a big stack of resumes.

You can do this by making a list of keywords essential to the position.

Keywords are often noun or noun phrases as well as technical, industry, occupational, or skill terms that reflect experience, education, skills, abilities, certifications, professional licenses, and affiliations.

Now, scan through the resumes to locate key words that trigger a match with your desired qualifications.

Some other evaluation tips:

  • Assess the applicant's work history for compatibility with your type of organization.
  • How are their written communication skills based on the résumé's content? Have any of you hired applicants with great resumes only to find they had poor written communication skills? If so, they could have had some professional help writing the resume.

Margaret Bentley: When the resume is "too good" I ask if they wrote it themselves.
Robbie Kaplan: That is a great question Margaret. Are any of you turned off is someone has had help?
Margaret Bentley: Not necessarily.
Session Moderator: If a resume looks too professionally done, it makes one wonder about the applicant's skills
Robbie Kaplan: Writing resumes are tough for many individuals and lots of people need help to articulate their histories and assets.


How many of you have had professional help with your resume? Or wish you had?

Talented individuals will tell me they have exceptional communication skills but are totally inarticulate when marketing themselves.

Robbie Kaplan: Getting back on track here.

  • Pay primary attention to the most recent job, title, and what they have done.
  • Look for descriptive phrases that give you a sense of the type and scope of industry, organization, and responsibilities. I always feel resumes are flat pieces of paper and the resume writer must make them come alive with descriptive writing for you to get a sense of their capabilities and talents.
  • Scrutinize the text for desired skills within the summary, work history, and skills section.
  • Evaluate the education and training.

Tip: If you find an applicant that is short on education but with similar job experience, do not eliminate them. The similarity in work experience makes them a credible candidate.

Robbie Kaplan: Daniel - getting back to your question again. What red flags should trigger caution?

  • Lateral moves that bring no more money or responsibility.
  • Lack of specifics in job descriptions.
  • Incomplete employer information.
  • Extended periods of employment (from fewer than one to three years) with companies currently out of business.
  • Experience with more than one company that is out of business. What red flag does this signal to you?

Jim Kaplan: Bad decision making
Tom Boozan: Or the job may never have existed in the first place?
Margaret Bentley: Easy for the applicant to disguise bad references of periods of unemployment.
Jim Kaplan: Inability to verify employment
Robbie Kaplan: Good ideas Jim and Tom. This is also true Margaret. Or - may be gaps in employment that someone is trying to hide - maybe experiences during that gap that they would rather you not know about.

  • Periods of unemployment and frequent job changes. While these are more and more common and shouldn't eliminate the candidate, they are a flag that indicates areas that need explanation during a phone screen or the employment interview.

The job market has changed dramatically in the past year. You may have a large pool of applicants or a small one.

You might want to consider marginal applicants if you find yourself with a small pool. Many job seekers find resume writing a difficult task and their resume may reflect it.

A quick phone call to the marginal applicants or contact through electronic mail may expedite your sorting.

If your organization does not have the time or expertise to visually scan resumes, computer-based applicant tracking systems or resume scanning systems may be your best option.

The major downsizing and reorganizations that have occurred in the last decade have increased the job hunters and resumes in circulation while reducing the number of staff to evaluate them.

Computerized resume systems have filled the needs of these organizations enabling them to easily handle, scan, and store large volumes of resumes, thus eliminating the need for manual processing and paper storage.

The systems simplify the recruitment process by quickly identifying, sorting, and storing individual credentials and recognizing those most qualified for your job opening.

Systems can be customized to meet your needs and enable you to establish the criteria for each job opening, extract key qualification information, assign weights based on a sliding scale to the level of importance for qualifications, and automatically match the most qualified candidates with open positions.

The majority of resumes received for scanning arrive through the mail. Some systems allow applicants the ability to fax or electronically mail their resumes directly into your system.

Many organizations keep resumes active in their databases for periods ranging from 6 to 12 months.

At first, only the Fortune 500 used these systems. However, outsourcing has become a more viable option for resume scanning and computer-based applicant tracking systems are projected to decline in price, making them available to more employers, regardless of organizational size.

The scanning devices are a recruitment tool that enables you to track, view, print, store, and acknowledge resumes.

Human resources professionals and staffing specialists predict that automated resume systems may lead to a paperless workplace, minimizing filing and resume loss.

Robbie Kaplan: Let's look at how this all works.

Once resumes are scanned into a computer system, Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software reads and identifies every letter, number, and mark it can find.

The computer creates a text file (ASCII) of all the information it's been able to identify and organize. The most sophisticated systems will store three copies of a resume:

  1. The original scanned image,
  2. The OCR'd text, and
  3. An extracted summary.

Computer-based applicant tracking systems are set to search for key words that make up job requirements or requisition criteria. The system will search the database and identify the strongest matches for the job specifications.

The more key words in a resume that matches requirements (known as "hits"), the more likely the resume will make the preferred candidate list, the most qualified applicants ranked in order of qualifications.

Some organizations seeking employees in specific geographical areas may even use area codes and zip codes as key words.

In the last few years, there has been a proliferation of resume scanning software. Resumix and Webhire (formerly Restrac) were the first to appear on the market.

You can better evaluate what is out there and what might meet your needs by accessing This Web site rates 40 applicant-tracking systems and provides links to their sites.

Another excellent source for recruitment information can be found on

No matter how diligent you are in screening resumes, resumes can be misleading. I recently had a client that told me he wanted me to "lie through my teeth" on his resume.

Session Moderator: Didn't the person assume a potential employer would check his references?
Robbie Kaplan: They had been in business for themselves for a number of years. I don't think they really cared.

According to Xukor, an Internet company, after compiling the following statistics from over 10,000 application and resume evaluations; they found:

  • 30% altered date,
  • 22% made false claims,
  • 41% inflated salary claims,
  • 33% inflated title and responsibility,
  • 25% listed a phony former employer,
  • 34% untruthful termination reasons, and
  • 27% falsified records.

Robbie Kaplan: Once you have identified your candidate (s) of interest, you might want to obtain a copy of the employment application from your human resources department.

It will contain information not found on the resume such as:

  • Criminal convictions
  • Reasons for leaving prior employers
  • Eligibility to work in the United States
  • Salary history and expectations
  • Desired work days and times of work

Robbie Kaplan: Another screening tool is a comparison of information provided on the resume with the information on the employment application.

For this reason, never accept incomplete applications that state, "see resume." If in doubt, applications are more factual as prospective employees see them as official documents and are more hesitant to sign their name to a document they've falsified.

All applicants should be required to fully complete and sign an employment application.

It is always prudent to thoroughly check references and confirm the work history, employers, and education.

Hiring mistakes are costly and it might be most cost effective to conduct background checks and verify application information.

If you can't do a thorough check yourself, you might want to hire a firm to conduct a background investigation of your top candidate.

You'll find resources, services, and companies on My Recruiter Inc..

Resumes are still the best tool in locating job candidates. Use them wisely to expedite your recruitment.

Robbie Kaplan: Thanks for joining me. Any closing questions?
Session Moderator: I really want to thank all of you for attending today, and thank you so much Robbie for such an informative workshop!
Margaret Bentley: Thanks Robbie. Your info has been helpful.
Robbie Kaplan: I enjoyed sharing this information with you.
Jim Kaplan: Thanks Robbie

Margaret Bentley: Are your books available thru Amazon?
Robbie Kaplan: Yes they are. Sure-Hire Resumes and Resume Shortcuts. How to Say It in Your Job Search will be soon.

Frances Pyle: thanks, Robbie. I hope you'll do another discussion in the future
Robbie Kaplan: I'm glad this has been meaningful to you. It was fun researching and sharing my experience. It is so much easier to do a good job recruiting than to deal with a disappointing hire.
Barbara Rapp: Thank you Robbie.
Robbie Kaplan: You can visit my Web site at for additional career / job search information.


Robbie Miller Kaplan is a trainer, writer, and practitioner with an expertise in job search techniques and career planning. She is the author of How to Say It in Your Job Search (available November 2001), Sure-Hire Resumes, Resume Shortcuts, Sure-Hire Cover Letters, 101 Resumes for Sure-Hire Results, The Whole Career Sourcebook, and Resumes: The Write Stuff.

Ms. Kaplan is a frequent speaker and lecturer for business, academic, community, association, and governmental organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from George Mason University and has a management background with Xerox Corporation. Check out her Web site at

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