BY CAROL QUINN
This is not the first time in my lifetime that the unemployment rate has been high. Basic supply and demand principles are at work. There have been times when we’ve had an abundance of job openings and not enough applicants to fill them and now, for the most part, we have the opposite. Rather than employers begging for applicants, the applicants are begging for the jobs. This too shall pass. However, wading through a mountain of resumes is the task at hand plaguing many employer currently hiring.
In the past, when companies where downsizing and rightsizing, I taught workshops on interviewing skills for job seekers. For those I have helped with salary negotiation, 100% got more money. As for resumes, I can make a mediocre track record barely noticeable and can usually get it into the “A” stack. I’ve also been the one who has had to sift through a mile-high pile to decide who to interview. One time, two job openings rendered 1000+ resumes. With no time during the week, and an urgent need to fill, screening resumes became my weekend task. As much as I love what I do, I don’t want to be reading other people’s work history on my time off. However, knowing the tricks of the trade plus being passionate about hiring, I made effective use my time. When it comes to screening resumes, I’m like the thief who can teach you how to make your home burglar-prove.
Interviewers who have never been trained on what makes a High Performer tick often believe its “skills” that enable them to go above and beyond. Not only do they base their hiring decisions solely on this information, this is how they determine who gets an interview and who doesn’t. Even though skills are important, they’re not a reliable indicator of future performance - they won’t tell you who’s a High Performer and who’s not. They are only one of the three components common to ALL the best job performers. Realize…’skills’ are enablers; they enable a person to do a job. They have nothing to do with a person’s motivation. For example, you can not know how to do a job but be highly motivated to learn. Recognizing this difference is very important. Just because someone can do the job doesn’t necessarily he or she will do it better than anyone else. So, let me give you some pointers on screening resumes beyond skills.
With a large number of resumes to go through, I rarely read cover letters. When the resume doesn’t tell me everything I need to know, that’s when I take a look at it. I typically start with the resume and the job applicant’s job history. I look at the most recent employer first. I review in detail their job duties and responsibilities, and employment dates. I don’t like job-hoppers. Loosely defined, it’s someone who stays less than a year or so per job. Of course there are exceptions. In the U.S. we went from the job-for-life mindset just a few short decades ago to it being no-big-deal to change jobs often. And why not? For a while there we had an unemployment rate teetering around 4% which made it almost effortless to find a new employer. I believe our current economic crisis will settle us somewhere in the middle and for the better. Some people bail from their jobs far too easily. When the going gets tough, they seek something less difficult. Do this a few times and a pattern is established that shows on their resume or job application. This provides a valuable clue for resume screeners. Unless your jobs are conflict-free, always fair, and easy-to-succeed-at then it’s likely the job hopper won’t stay with you too long either. Hiring right is one of the best ways to reduce turnover. One Harvard Business School study on sales people found that 76% of turnover could be traced back to poor hiring decisions. Not to mention…achievement doesn’t happen instantly or easily. If it did, everyone would be an overachiever. Hiring high achievers involves hiring people who stick with what they are doing for long enough to make great things happen. High Performers have a different attitude about obstacle-hurdling than others. They’re not easily scared off. On resumes I prefer to see at least average tenure for the industry…if not more.
As I work my way down the resume, in addition to job title and responsibilities, I continue to pay close attention to employment dates. Employment gaps are easily concealed by showing just the starting and ending year.
For Example: .Employer Y: 2012 - present
……………………….Employer X: 2010 - 2011
In the above example, it’s possible that this person left Employer X in January 2011 and did not start with Employer Y until December 2012. Leaving off the month can hide up to a 2 year employment gap. Combine gaps, or ambiguity due to only the employment year being listed with similar or lesser job titles on the jobs and you’ve got a red flag. Behind this scenario it’s common to find someone who got fired or quit first. After thousands of interviews, this type of work history is more often found with marginal or low performers than it is with those who produce top results. When asked during an interview, candidates often try to explain their reason for leaving by saying, “for a better opportunity” even though their next job involved less pay, no increase in responsibilities or span of control and no other stated or obvious benefits. Sometimes resumes shout out information that applicants wish you didn’t see. I personally like to see some stability and advancement, and I notice when it’s not there.
High Performers are motivated. Their particular type of motivation isn’t the same as those who lack it but can be prodded or persuaded into doing their job. Theirs is different and it’s imperative to know the difference. Employees who need a push are not self-motivated. High Performers are. Their motivation is connected to both their attitude towards difficult challenges and also having a passion for the work they do. Place them into a job they don’t like and watch even their results diminish. Loving what you do is a very powerful self-motivator. Even in tough economic conditions like we’re in right now, people forced into new careers due to the evaporation of their old one don’t become High Performers without the love for their new direction. It’s important to look for signs of this on their resume. I like to see some congruence. This is when there are multiple signs that a person is into their line of work. For example, their objective, college major, seminars and workshops, organizations and memberships, volunteer work, accomplishments and awards and their skills ALL align. They ALL come together to generate a synergy that’s missing in many others. It’s something all High Performers share in common - they love what they do and it shows. Many profess their job isn’t “work” to them. You can find clues of this on the resume and on some introduction letters too. Be on the lookout.
When screening lots of resumes, you need a system in place from the start. Once reviewed, I place resumes into one of three piles: A, B, or C. My “A” pile is for the resumes that WOW me. They appear to have everything I want and no major flags. My “B” stack is for my “Maybes”. If I don’t hire anyone from my “A” pile, maybe I’ll take a second look…or maybe not. Usually you only get one chance to make a great first impression, especially in this kind of labor market that so heavily favors the employers because they have an abundance of choice when it comes to filling their job openings. My “C” pile is for the obvious “No’s”. They’ll get a “Thanks but no thanks” letter or email right away.
My resume screening process does not stop here. I include a brief telephone interview before deciding who I want to bring in. I call only those that made it into my “A” pile. With a little more information, great looking resumes can get downgraded to another stack or can impress me even more. If I like them, I schedule them to come in while I still have them on the phone. Telephone screens usually take me about 15-20 minutes of time whereas an in-person interview takes typically a full hour. They have saved me a lot of time and my time is very important to me. Sometimes applicants may go through this step with me, other times, it’s with my assistant. I think it’s a great developmental opportunity to delegate. I once inherited an assistant who touted her years of recruiting experience yet many of the candidates she scheduled for interviews could have been initially ruled out. They easily got by her. She did a brief phone interview but beyond skills, she didn’t know what to look for. Whether it’s you or someone else doing the screening, it’s paramount to know what makes a High Performer tick. If not, you’re transferring inadequate interviewing skills to the screening process and you won’t be effective. Take the time to learn and invest in the interviewer right training. The same principles that help you to identify and hire High Performers can also help you in the screening process. I use a motivation-based interviewing telephone screening form that briefly touches on all 3 of the areas common to High Performers - skill, attitude and passion. This form is available on the My MBI Tools Membership site, along with motivation-based interviewing interview guides and create-your-own templates. You can learn more about it here: www.HireAuthority.com/MBI-interview-guides.
Finally, you cannot determine if you have a High Performer just by a piece of paper or online job application, but you can do a relatively good job at bringing in the right applicants to interview. From here, your next job is to correctly distinguish those candidates attempting to look good in the application process and in person, from the ones who will produce top results. If you have never been trained on motivation-based interviewing, which is an interviewing method specifically developed for hiring High Performers, I recommend you look further into it. There are many ways to learn it from reading a book, to attending a workshop, to learning it online. You can even request a free preview of the online web course by signing up for this (also free) newsletter on hiring. Click HERE and make sure you check the “FREE MBI Preview” box.
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