Key things to look for in a resume when screening candidates

Screening candidates is a very tricky task. By just skimming through a 400-600 word document, recruiters are supposed to discern who the best candidates are, and there is not much time to dedicate to each resume, so you have to be quick. Being quick means that as you open to review applicants’ resumes, you know exactly where to look and exactly what to look for in a resume when screening candidates.

Dividing your candidate screening process into separate stages

What to look for in a resume depends entirely on how much time you have to conduct your screening. If you have lots of time, you can go more in depth with your screening and read entire resumes, and conduct candidate evaluation and recruitment collaboration with more depth. However, it’s usually best to divide candidate screening into separate stages, slowly raising the standards and depth of the screening as more and more candidates are filtered out of your recruitment funnel. This strategy lets you conduct important in-depth screening, while also saving time by eliminating the least relevant candidates early on.

Initial Screening

Initial screening is undoubtedly the trickiest part of the screening process. For high-volume hiring, initial screening should aim to eliminate nearly half of your candidates based on less than 1-2 minute screens. This is an extremely stressful process, and is the single most error-prone screening stage, where it’s extremely easy to lose out on some quality candidates. To prevent this from happening, you need to make sure that the things you are looking for in your candidate’s resume are revealing to their aptitude and are not arbitrary.

Usually, recruiters will consider and look for the following things as revealing information for the candidates’ lack in aptitude.

  • Lack of relevant work experience
  • Bad spelling
  • Bad grammar
  • A poorly structured resume
  • A poorly designed resume
  • A list of skills irrelevant for the respective job position

These are all relevant criteria by which you can decide if your candidates have gotten at least the basics right, advancing them through to the next hiring stage. You can expand this list with many more telltale signs of subpar candidates you have thought of.

As effective and practical this may be in eliminating a good chunk of your candidates, halving the size of your applicants to a manageable workload with a standardized criteria shouldn’t be the only goal of your criteria. You need to make sure that your criteria is as effective as possible in eliminating all the irrelevant applicants, which means removing all subjectivity possible from the screening process; a difficult task considering that recruiters are humans after all. 

This is where recruitment AI comes in. With recruitment AI, hiring teams can remove all subjectivity from the initial screening stage by letting the machine do the screening for them. This is one of the most actionable solutions to reducing candidate screening bias, and the technology has enhanced over the years to churn out the top 50% of candidates for recruiters with great accuracy.

With automated candidate screening, initial screening can be extensively delegated to a resume matching algorithm, which compares the contents of your job description with the contents of the candidate’s resume. That is why it is also extremely important to have a perfectly crafted job description, not just for the sake of your applicants, but also for the resume matching algorithm to perfectly understand what you are looking for in your candidates’ resumes.

Read more on how you can reduce candidate screening bias >> How to reduce candidate screening bias with these 5 hiring hacks – Hirebee

In-depth screening

In-depth screening requires a more laborious effort, as recruiters can now afford to employ more time and resources into discerning the most qualified candidates after halving the hiring volume. If the hiring volume is still too much for you to handle, you can still divide your screening into more stages and employ your time efficiently.  Here are some of the most important things to look for in a resume when screening more in-depth.

Make sure to read the entire resume

You want to make sure that you have absorbed as much information as possible from your candidates’ resumes. This makes implementing productive screening practices such as keeping candidate scorecards and collaborating with your hiring team way more efficient.

Carefully analyze your candidates’ work experience

  • What job responsibilities have your candidates been delegated? In addition to matching your candidates’ skills to your job responsibilities, if you are hiring for a higher level position and need your employee to have extensive relevant work experience, it is important to keep note of the candidates that have already had experience in handling similar job responsibilities to your position’s.
  • What sectors and industries have they already worked in? A huge advantage some candidates will possess in comparison to their competition is experience in a similar industry or field. If your company has consistently had difficulty with onboarding, or operates in a niche which is difficult to understand, it can be extremely valuable if candidates already have a level of familiarity with the industry, sector or market which can be reflected in their work experience. Some roles may even value possession of that experience more than the depth of the candidates’ professional skills.
  • Do they have gaps in their work experience? Whilst not always a cause of concern, employment gaps are usually a subject of discussion during interviews if the candidate has any. And this is not for no reason. Whilst recruiters can and often do assume the worst because of the strict nature of their candidate selection process, usually employment gaps are usually just things to take note of and assess later down the line if the candidate makes it to the final stages of the hiring process. But depending on the recruiter, they can look into employment gaps earlier on as well if they find it a cause of concern
  • Do they have a tendency to work for companies for a very small amount of time? With many employers investing heavily into talent learning & development, loyalty has become one of those highly sought after traits in the job market. Whilst it has become increasingly valuable, it has also become increasingly rare, with career and employer changes becoming more common by the day. Some businesses can be at a stage where they need to find employees to grow with and build from the ground up, where losing a single employee can deal a devastating blow to the business. For such businesses, it is especially important to look out for job hoppers who have a tendency to work for companies for extremely short tenures.

These are all relevant questions that you will need to answer and possibly keep track of in your candidate scorecards.

Evaluate candidates and enable recruitment collaboration with Hirebee's interview scorecards

See how interview scorecards can elevate your candidate evaluation and enable recruitment collaboration >> Advanced candidate scorecards – Hirebee

Look for accomplishments

What candidates have accomplished in their past tenures should be one of the greatest indicators of how great of a job they will perform at your company. Look for candidates’ mentions of their successes and accomplishments in their resumes, and dedicate some of your interview time to exploring your candidates accomplishments even further. A great plus is if a candidate has also included a portfolio with their application. This make candidates more credible and reliable.

References from co-workers

Unfortunately, not all resumes give an accurate portrayal of their respective candidate. In a recent study, around 56% of job seekers confessed to either stretching the truth or outright lying in their resumes. This can be a huge problem, because you may end up moving people who blow their accomplishments and aptitude way out of proportion, while punishing those who remained truthful throughout the entire application process. That is why it is important to be on the lookout for references from co-workers and other credible professionals, and to do everything you can to verify the competency of your candidates before reaching the interviewing stages.


Not all roles require years of work experience and a resume filled to the brim. That is why screening for entry level jobs and internships becomes way harder, as there is very little to usually go off. That is when recruiters can go off grades, academic prestige and academic or career ambitions; most important being the latter. How invested is the candidate into this career? Do they know the journey ahead of them? You can only assume how invested these candidates are into these careers by looking for references from teachers/professors, extrapolating from their personal profile, requesting a cover letter or by asking for the statement of purpose/personal statement they submitted to their university.

In conclusion

In conclusion, what to look for in a resume when screening candidates can vary by the role you are hiring for. Hiring for more senior positions will require some work experience, which should become your main area of focus, whilst hiring for entry level roles or internships will put you on a completely different track. Either way, it is usually a good idea in either case to separate your candidate screening process into separate stages, and conduct initial and more in-depth screening to maximize efficiency.

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