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What to Look for in a Resume

If you are a manager, you have probably experienced the difficulty of spending hours sifting through carefully (and not-so-carefully) crafted resumes, attempting to assess the true character and talent from documents that just slightly differ from each other in formatting and content… Only to realize your interpretation doesn’t match the person sitting in front of you at the interview, or worse, after you have hired them…

What should you look for in a resume?

Not much.

A big lesson that I’ve learned over many years of hiring, onboarding, and leading my own teams is that experience on a resume does not automatically equate to the person who is the best fit.

Most team leaders have seen resumes that read beautifully and met candidates that could speak very well about that experience, but once hired, demonstrated they lacked the skills necessary to truly succeed on the job. Just because someone is able to talk about their experience, doesn’t mean they were actually good at it.  

Some of the best employees I ever had came with very little experience in the exact role for which they interviewed. But, they had a passion for what they were doing, had transferable skills, were truly motivated by learning and being challenged, had the core personality and skills to do the job, and were a great fit for the culture and team.   

Did they require a little extra training up front? Yes, though not as much as one would think. The payoffs (increased team morale, long-term productivity, innovation, and financial savings from retention) far outweighed the cost. They were natural self-starters, quick learners, and—most importantly—the best fit for the position based on their core personality.

I’m absolutely not suggesting discounting experience, and sometimes there is just not time or resources to train someone who doesn’t have it. What I am suggesting, however, is to look at the whole person, and not to base hiring decisions on experience alone. I am also suggesting taking the time to think outside the box (beyond job postings, traditional recruiters, etc.) to find those people (attending events, networking, etc.).

Since transitioning from hiring and leading my own teams to creating my own business helping my clients hire and lead their teams, I’ve seen proof of this with my clients as well.  

All that said, there are still a few things I pay attention to in a resume in that very initial screening process when determining whom to interview:


  1. If the job requires any level of attention to detail, there can be zero errors on a candidate’s resume / cover letter
  2. I want proof of staying power at one place – I’m concerned if all of their past positions were fewer than two years
  3. The intro email / cover letter is important. I’ll write a full blog post on this in the future
  4. Experience is a bonus, but absolutely not my only screening factor (unless it is imperative to my clients)

Nice to Haves:

  1. A heavier “we” focus than “I” focus (demonstration of being a terrific team player)
  2. Not having spent 7+ years in their last position. I absolutely won’t screen out based on this, but in the interview I’m going to want to look for their openness to doing things differently
  3. Some progression in their role / demonstration of increasing responsibilities and openness to new challenges

Leila Blauner

March 23, 2016

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