Secrets to Really Analyzing Resumes

Any hiring manager or recruiter knows that the intent of a resume is to market a specific candidate. Jobseekers sit down and spell out the stories of their careers, doing their best to mold the dry facts into an exciting and positive yarn. You can pick up the resume, read it over, and fairly quickly determine whether the candidate is a good fit for your position.

Within seconds, you can toss the resume on top of the ‘A’ pile, the ‘B’ pile, or the ‘Are You Crazy?’ pile. However, if you stop there, you’ve just thrown away the baby with the bathwater.

Resumes are a unique insight into the world outside of your office walls. They contain far more than just the details of one person’s work history. With just one resume, you can build an entire recruiting campaign. With 10 to 20 resumes, the world is yours.

Passive Candidate Sourcing

Many resumes contain references, complete with names, titles, and contact information. That’s an obvious opportunity for passive candidate sourcing. Just call up the person mentioned and ask if they’re interested in discussing other opportunities. Easy.

To find resumes that have relevant references listed, search for resumes of people who would probably report to your target candidate. Use the phrase (AND reference*) within your search string.

There is another excellent reason to search for resumes of subordinates to your target candidate. Many subordinates want their bosses’ jobs and believe themselves to be qualified for the position, if only the boss would leave the company. It’s often fairly simple to get a subordinate to refer you to their boss, usually with the caveat that you “don’t mention who made the referral.”

Searching for older resumes (more than a year old) of subordinates can be a great way to find individuals who are now qualified for your post. Many candidates use permanent email addresses and/or phone numbers on their resumes, so they can still be contacted. Of course, don’t assume that the candidate is still on the same career path; treat these older resumes as passive possibilities. Also, don’t search for older resumes of qualified candidates, as the candidate has probably progressed in their career beyond any interest in the position you’re currently trying to fill.

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Competitive Research

Resumes contain specific job titles. If you search for resumes of your major competitors, finding each probable function within a given department, it’s a simple process to recreate the competitor’s organizational chart from the stated job titles.

Resumes often contain work-related email addresses and phone numbers. This gives you visibility into the email structure of the company (lastname.firstname@, firstinitial.lastname@, firstname-lastname@), which is a highly useful bit of knowledge. Phone numbers can offer similar glimpses into the probable extensions for your targeted employees.

Searching for a candidate with a long history at a given company is an excellent way to determine organizational charts. This is especially useful if you’re trying to fill a mid-level management position. Search for a more senior candidate with longevity at your target company, and you’ll find yourself staring right at the organizational location of your candidate.

Trends among layoffs, downsizing, and “bad” bosses are not difficult to spot from the information contained on a series of resumes from the same employer.

Marketing Effectiveness

If you are analyzing a resume from an applicant to your job posting, you have in your hand the equivalent of a market survey. Consider the following three reasons:

  1. If you are receiving more unreasonable candidates than reasonable candidates, your advertising source just isn’t working out. Let me explain why I say unreasonable instead of unqualified. You have to account for career-changers and aspirational applicants. In other words, if a teacher applies for your Presenter post with the explanation that he is comfortable talking in front of large groups, the teacher may be unqualified but is still reasonable. If an entry-level telemarketer applies for your Financial Controller position, that candidate is unreasonable as well as unqualified. If more unreasonable people apply than reasonable people, your job is being exposed to the wrong audience.
  2. If you are looking for candidates who need a special degree, certificate, or qualification, and you find that all your applicants lack that requirement, your job ad emphasis needs to be revised. The candidates are reading your ad and believing themselves to be qualified…so they clearly are not seeing or not understanding the prerequisites.
  3. If you are not getting any applicants at all but are pretty sure the advertising site is a good one, re-write your advertisement. Remember that you are not writing a job description! Job descriptions are boring, straightforward displays of facts and features, whereas advertisements are emotional appeals to tangible and intangible benefits. Imagine if you were trying to make a purchase decision for a product based on the instruction manual. Job postings that contain only job descriptions are the equivalent.

Phil Willson is a 12-year veteran of the recruiting industry with a diverse background spanning retained and contingent executive search, candidate sourcing and research, and Internet-based entrepreneurism in both the United States and Asia. His company, Kalypxo Unbundled, operates a baseline sourcing service through the website


5 Comments on “Secrets to Really Analyzing Resumes

  1. I agree, this article definitely has some great tips, well done! I’ve also found that resumes can also be a great resource for getting detailed job descriptions when you have a vague (or non-existent) job description from a customer.

    Thanks for the insight!

  2. Great article about the hidden secrets of resumes. Many times I ask my customers to send me confidential resumes of applicants so I can study their contexts. Very helpful info indeed – thank you Phil!

  3. I like this topic and substance. I’ve trained many recruiters on that exact area, it’s amazing how many seasoned recruiters don’t take advantage of the simple benefits of sourcing from resume info. You don’t need to spend a lot to get valuable info. and you can build an impressive database failry quick using those techniques.

  4. Good article, although would say, that any good recruiter worth their weight should already be using these tips, if not then they are missing out on a huge research tool

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