Pangbum Asses Resume
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How to Assess a Resume

Going through a pile of resumes to find your top candidates can be a daunting task. Follow these eight steps to make the process more manageable.

By Wendy S. Pangburn, CAE 

Like people, resumes come in every shape, size, and color. Many of us dread reading a pile of resumes stacked on our desk. We often put off the assignment and tackle it only after we have cleaned out our email box, balanced our checkbook, and entered the office Super Bowl pool. Admit it: It’s a painful job for anyone on the hiring ladder.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to be. If you put some structure around the process, it actually can be pretty easy. I’ll tell you how. 

Start with the job description. You should be working from a formal job description that outlines the position’s key elements and the core experience you require from candidates.

You should see a career trajectory on the rise. Are you seeing an elevated title, more responsibility, greater staff oversight, larger budget oversight, or bigger accomplishments with each job?

Now take that job description and develop a quick acid test—meaning list five to 10 things that are critical to success in the position (for example, the candidate must have managed a team, must have international experience, must have P&L experience of $X million or more annually, must have grassroots advocacy experience, and so forth). Now rank the items in your test from one to 10, with 10 being most important. This is your assessment blueprint. Keep it in the back of your mind when reviewing each resume.

Now tackle that pile of resumes. Begin by putting them in alphabetical order, and grab the first one. These eight steps will make the review process manageable:

Flip to the last page. It is easiest to read a resume backwards. First, get some clues about education. Where did the candidate go to school, and what did she or he study? Determine if the candidate’s formal education will play a role in the position.

Look at early jobs. Is there anything you can learn about the candidate from the early career phase?

Continue going from one job to the next. You should see a career trajectory on the rise. Are you seeing an elevated title, more responsibility, greater staff oversight, larger budget oversight, or bigger accomplishments with each job? Has the candidate succeeded in telling you a clear and compelling story about his or her career to date?

Grab a pen. Circle things. Underline bits and phrases. Be sure to markup highlights, facts and figures, and notes on how many years in each position. Scribble question marks if you don’t understand something. When you’re finished, the resume should look messy. 

Don’t get hung up on early jobs as you run up the candidate’s career ladder (although I do love knowing that the candidate was a Peace Corps volunteer or worked on a Texas oil rig). Remember that you also are looking for clues to what makes this person tick.

Focus on the most recent one or two jobs. Read these descriptions closely. This is where your time should be spent. After reading, do you understand exactly what this person does or did in these positions? Do you have a level of basic knowledge about the organization the candidate currently works for or has recently worked for?

Grade each resume.You are now at the top of the candidate’s resume, on the front page. Think again about your acid test. Put an “A” on top if he or she seems to be a pretty good fit with the test. Put a “B” on top if you aren’t sure yet because some things are there and some aren’t. Put a “C” on top if you don’t see the candidate as a good prospect.

If it is an “A” or “B” candidate, pull out a copy of your acid test. Put the candidate’s name on the top of the sheet and scribble down a couple of notes next to each criterion. I am willing to bet the “A” resume is looking pretty good. Perhaps even a “B” is now a potential “A” after adding your notes. I also bet that a couple of the “B” resumes start to look like “C” resumes when you finish the note-taking challenge.

As you go through the rest of the hiring process (phone interviews, live interviews, and so on), concentrate on the “A” resumes. Put the “B” resumes in a holding pattern unless the “A” resumes aren’t panning out. Forget about the “C” resumes. If you have to go fish for more “A” resumes out in the market, do so. Don’t settle for a “C” resume. 

Remember to acknowledge every candidate who has submitted a resume. Write each a letter or email expressing gratitude for his or her interest in the position and for the time that he or she devoted to the process. Also, once you know a candidate is no longer being considered for the position, inform the person in a direct, professional, and timely manner. After all, you are representing your organization.

Wendy S. Pangburn, CAE, is president of Pangburn Partners, LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to executive advice and counsel to a varied client base of nonprofit and travel/hospitality organizations. Email: [email protected]