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Reading between the CV lines: An employer’s guide

There are a number of ways to tell whether or not a potential employee is 'fibbing'
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
A client seeks work at an unemployment office in Jerusalem (Photo by Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Imagine you have just publicized a job opening, and have begun receiving applications. Many applications.

At this point you may realize that this process is going to take up a tremendous amount of your time and energy, and you may decide to turn to a professional recruiter to assist you in your search. However, if you plan to conduct this search on your own, read on.

After sifting through the 50-60% of candidates who are completely inappropriate for the position, (Hmm, he worked as a security guard and a telemarketer, applied for the position of Academic Director…what was he thinking?) you are still left with many candidates who could be a good fit. They seem to have the training and the experience that you are looking for – at least on paper.

And yet, if you determine who you will interview based solely on the experience and training in the candidates’ CVs, you are in for a tedious process that will include quite a few unnecessary interviews.

To make your search process easier, here are some tips to narrow down your selection.

Formatting has a tale to tell

CVs come in all shapes and sizes. Fonts, structure, order, length and other elements such as pictures and color, are all there to communicate with you, the employer. Listen to what they are saying.

A savvy job seeker will make your job as easy as possible by summarizing their professional persona succinctly (read: one sentence), and presenting a job history that backs it up. S/he will make the relevant information – such as the training you require and the experience you are looking for – really easy to spot.

However, while a CV like this certainly makes your life easier, it shouldn’t necessarily prejudice you in favor of such a candidate. If this is a marketing, fundraising, PR or other soft-sales position, a CV that is crafted to suit the needs of the target audience – you – is a great sign. But there are plenty of jobs that require other skills, and where marketing skills are less important. So take the time to gather the relevant information, even if it requires some effort on your part.

A CV that is flamboyantly different from the others, either in its structure, its color scheme or its graphic layout, is a making a clear statement, and whether that statement is positive or negative depends upon the position to be filled. If you need a creative, confident and perhaps brash personality for the job, this kind of CV is a good sign; if you are looking for an organized, responsible team player, maybe not.

Education and training: Is it for real?

Many jobs list a certain level of academic training as a requirement.  For some jobs, specific academic training or a certain level of education is really a prerequisite. For other jobs, this requirement is a screening tool to receive CVs from more intelligent, focused or well-rounded applicants. If your job is in the second category, keep an open mind about applicants that don’t have the exact training you specified; sometimes the perfect candidate will come from a more unusual background.

However, if the position you want to fill really does require a particular educational background, read the education section on applicant CVs carefully. Does it read: Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, University of Toronto? Or perhaps something like: Psychology Studies, University of Toronto? If the job indeed requires a degree, make sure they really have one.

Job History: Checkered or square?

These days it’s very common for people to change jobs every two to three years, and even to change careers completely once or twice in their job history. This relatively new reality stems from complex influences, including a rapidly changing market, an ethos of “follow your dream”, and the increasing irrelevance of job-specific experience in roles that will in any case require on-the-job learning of new technologies or skills.

So, if you receive a CV that shows a drastic career change mid-path, and/or job changes every three years or so, fear not. These career elements are not proof of instability or a difficult personality; they are simply a sign of the times.  However, if your candidate has changed jobs every year or even more often than that, or has made drastic career changes every few years, it’s generally a warning sign.  Even if in other ways this candidate seems perfect, I would recommend speaking to references first to investigate the concerns raised by his/her work history.

Career progression: Upward, downward, sideways?

Take a step back from the details to look at the candidate’s career history. Even if they have changed jobs or careers a few times, you should be able to tell if this person has overall been moving upwards in their career, and if their professional development shows increasing responsibility and skill. If the details of his/ her job history come together into a mosaic of overall development and professional success, even if that process includes changes of focus and even of field, it is a positive sign.

By the way, if the overall the picture looks good, and you find one time period where the applicant seems to have slowed down or stepped down professionally, it is worthwhile to find out why. It may be that this is reflection of other influences, such as child rearing, illness in the family, or a move.

The personal section: Passé?

Some job seekers have a “personal” section on their CVs, which will include details such as their hobbies, talents, interesting skills, and perhaps the candidates’ marital and parenting status. Some recruiters feel that this section is largely irrelevant to the search, since whether the candidate is a hockey fan or loves to cook Asian food probably will not influence your hiring process. However I do recommend giving a look to this section if you come across it: sometimes a personal section can offer valuable insights into a candidate’s character or skills.

It takes effort to give real attention to CVs, but the rewards are great: you will save yourself, and the candidates, time, energy and anxiety. Best of all, you will be rewarded with a faster, more efficient recruiting process, and hopefully a great new employee, whom you are not too exhausted to welcome to your team.

About the Author
Gila Weinberg, CEO of Mikum Consulting, is a recruiter and a career coach. She helps organizations and companies find great employees, and helps great people figure out their next career move. Gila is also the author of Not So Grimm: Jewish Fairy Tales, a comparison between tales from the Talmud and classic fairy tales.
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