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Resume screening dos and don’ts: candidate screening tips


Résumé dos and don’ts abound for job seekers. But what about the hiring managers, HR directors and other business leaders tasked with résumé screening? Are résumés still a useful recruiting tool?

Although many experts predict that networking and job-hunting websites may one day render résumés obsolete, it will probably be a while before they go the way of wagon wheels and telephones with cords.

Why? Because they play a vital role in helping companies and job candidates find one another. Résumés provide those seeking employment with a way to showcase their skills and qualifications in a summary format that allows for easier screening on the other side of the interview table.

Even as technology continues to evolve, there will likely always be a need for résumés – or some futuristic adaptation of them. The look and feel may change over time, but the underlying concept will still be the same.

So, when you’re screening candidates in search of your next new-hire superstar, consider these 10 résumé screening do’s and don’ts.

Résumé dos

1. Do – Expect an error-free résumé

Whether you’re talking about a soft-copy or hard-copy résumé, it’s your candidate’s first chance to make a good impression. And some old-fashioned principles will never go out of style, no matter how technologically advanced the recruiting world becomes.

That means no formatting errors, inconsistencies or typos. Any résumé you receive should be well-written and explain the candidate’s work experience clearly and concisely. When a prospect takes the time and effort to produce a polished résumé, it sends the message that they take pride in their work.

2. Do – Make sure candidates’ offline and online information match

Discrepancies between a candidate’s paper résumé and online profiles should raise red flags. Look for matching titles, dates of employment and other details. While some discrepancies may be honest mistakes, such as when a company name change is reflected on the résumé but not the LinkedIn profile, it’s a good idea to always check.

Even if your recruiting process is paperless, you should still make sure the résumés or job applications your candidates submit online include accurate information. At best, a discrepancy is just a careless error. At worst, it’s a deliberate attempt to be dishonest.

A background check can be invaluable for helping you discern the difference when you’re doing your due diligence on prospects for employment.

3. Do – Check dates of employment and look for gaps

Missing or inconsistent dates of employment may signal that a candidate is trying to cover up periods of unemployment or a history of job-hopping. However, longer gaps may reflect legitimate career breaks, such as a gap year, maternity or family leave, or continuing education.

If a candidate’s experience seems like a good fit, but their dates of employment have been omitted from their résumé, ask if they would mind supplying the dates.

4. Do – Include keywords in job descriptions and postings

Keywords serve three key purposes:

  • First – keywords allow job candidates to find your job posting online.
  • Second – keywords allow your recruiters and hiring managers to do their résumé screening quickly to find people with the most relevant experience.
  • Third – if your company scans and stores résumés, keywords will help you pluck them out of obscurity when they match the skills you’re currently seeking.

For example, if you’re looking for someone specifically with inside or outside sales experience, make sure those words figure into your job posting and job description. This will help candidates find and apply for your open position, especially if the official title is something vague – like “business development rock star.”

The smart candidates will also parrot your keywords back to you by using them in their cover letter and résumé.

5. Do – Utilize industry-focused websites

Most industries boast multiple websites that focus on a particular career field or area of expertise. The petrochemical industry, for example, has used this type of forum for years to recruit engineers. Likewise, advertising and marketing agencies often recruit creative professionals through websites that target them.

The reality is, many professionals now keep their résumés posted online at all times, not just when they’re looking. And industry-specific websites can be a great resource to find potential job candidates because you can search – you guessed it – by keywords.

Specialty sites can also be helpful if you’re searching for employees who’ve worked for a particular company that has a reputation for training its people well. Or, maybe you’re looking for someone who specializes in “gas well engineering” or “consumer goods packaging.”

6. Do – Pay attention to recent accomplishments

If an applicant just graduated from college, it’s OK for them to pad their résumé with their GPA and college leadership positions. But, once someone has been working for a while, that information becomes outdated and should be eliminated in favor of professional accomplishments.

At the other end of the spectrum, if a candidate has 20-30 years of experience, don’t expect them to provide intricate detail about their first jobs or college affiliations. Look for detailed descriptions only for their last 10-15 years of work.

Résumé don’ts

7. Don’t – Limit seasoned professionals to one page

Someone new to the workforce or early in their career should have no problem keeping their résumé to one page. But, for a seasoned professional, a two-page résumé is acceptable, even expected.

Anything beyond two pages, however, can become a drudgery to review. Unless you’re in academia or a research field, this level of detail probably isn’t necessary.

8. Don’t – Give the objective much weight

That wordy paragraph at the top of the résumé that used to be popular? That information is obsolete, or at least it should be. It just takes up space and no one really reads it during the résumé screening.

Since the professional objective usually focuses more on what a candidate aspires to do, versus what they’ve actually done, consider it fluff and skip to the candidate’s employment history and list of accomplishments.

9. Don’t – Expect or require personal details

The old-school practice of including a photo, marital status, number of children or other personal details on a résumé has long been abandoned – for many reasons. As such, your company shouldn’t expect an applicant to provide these details, and you certainly shouldn’t ask for them.

And on the outside chance a job candidate voluntarily provides this type of information, you may want to redact it before reviewing their résumé. Blind hiring allows you to make a decision based solely on a candidate’s merit, without the influence of unconscious bias.

The one exception to this rule: If your company values community service, you may want to give extra weight to résumés that outline volunteer efforts, especially if the person serves in a leadership position.

10. Don’t – Overlook the benefits of working with a recruiting professional

Hiring managers are swimming in résumés these days. It’s not unusual for even moderate-sized companies to receive up to 500 résumés within the first few days of posting an opening. That’s because numerous services crawl the web looking for new job postings and automatically submit résumés stored in their system.

A professional recruiter, particularly one who specializes in your industry, can save your company’s managers countless hours by evaluating résumés for you and conducting your initial screening to identify the best candidates.

Résumés are just the tip of the hiring iceberg, and there’s no one right way to find new employees these days. Learn more about what you can do to find the best job candidates by downloading our free e-book, Building a better team: how to attract, recruit and hire top talent.