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How to Look Beyond the Resume to Find the Right Talent

resumes 5 min

A resume won’t tell you as much about a candidate as some hiring managers wish. A list of skills and experience won’t give you a sense of how a candidate is going to fit within your company, or have the right soft skills to suit a role perfectly. A resume unfortunately doesn’t have a section on attitudes, social compatibility or adaptability.

Ask for a cover letter

Ask candidates to apply for the role with a cover letter alongside their resume. Cover letters will give you just as much useful information as a resume. Cover letters will often reveal the candidate’s real interest in the role. Has the letter been personalized to the job description you have advertised, or shown that the candidate has already conducted research on your company? Many candidates will use generic cover letter templates in their job hunt, but you are seeking that attention to detail - a cover letter which pitches a candidate being the solution to the specific role you have advertised for. You will also get a sense of the candidate’s tone of voice and writing style. Applicants who take time out to craft a personalized and unique cover letter are those who have a clear enthusiasm for your role and working for your company, and should be considered as serious candidates. An easy way to find serious candidates through their cover letter is to ask them to include a specific phrase (e.g. ‘Banana Flapjacks’, or ‘I actually read this’) in their cover letter at the end of your job advertisement and description. This way you will catch those who have attention to detail, and aren’t just skimming for jobs. 

Set a relevant task for your candidate

A resume is a candidate ‘telling’ you what they are capable of. But when hiring for a skilled role, it is best to see what that candidate can actually do. If you need to look beyond a candidate’s resume to see if they can ‘walk the walk’, set a relevant task for candidates around their skills needed or role they would be performing. 

If possible, ask your candidates to complete a task before attending an interview which will challenge the skills they have listed on their resume. Or, if you are looking for speedy and adaptable people, ask them to complete a task during your interview.You can also run candidates through hypothetical scenarios that may occur during the role to see how they react. Or, show the candidate an example of work or a project done within your company and ask them for their critique, and ask what they would have done differently. This will help you analyze their problem solving approaches, and see if they can come up with fresh ideas on the spot.

Assessing cultural fit

Take a candidate for a coffee (or a beer!) 

It can be very tough to determine if candidates will make a good cultural fit from their resume alone. It can also be hard to see how your candidate will work alongside your team when you are in a formal interview situation and your candidate is in ‘interview mode’. When choosing a candidate, it may be beneficial to see how they interact with current members of your team within a casual situation. Include them in a team catch-up over coffee, or even an after work beer. Here you can see a potential employee in their element, and it is important to see how they will slot in socially within your existing team. This will help you get an accurate reflection of how the candidate will be day-to-day, rather than in their more rigid professional guise. You can also take note of their listening and conversational skills, alongside their general manners and social skills. If you don’t have time to take all of your candidates out for a beer, another approach is to ask a candidate about something they are passionate about outside of work about during your interview. This could be a hobby, a creative project, or simply how they spend time with their family. Usually this question gives you a sense of the candidate’s personality beyond the work they do. 

Take advantage of references

 If you are not sure how a candidate is going to fit into your team, it works to ask their references the right questions. Don’t only cover information about their work performance, but about how they got along with other members of the team and any difficulties they faced. Remember, negative aspects of their reputation may be a positive for you. Ask questions which matter to your company culture. Did they best do their work in a team, or were they the type who preferred to work autonomously? You may want to request a ‘character reference’, not from a boss or manager, but from a family member or a good friend of the candidate. This helps you determine a candidate’s personality outside of the facts of their work achievements listed on their resume.

Personality matters: Are they curious, enthusiastic and energetic? 

When using these methods to look beyond the resume when hiring a new employee, you should keep a look-out for positive personality traits such as curiosity, an eagerness to develop beyond the role and a genuine passion for working for your company. Employees what are genuinely engaged and interested in their work will bring a lot of value to your company alongside their existing skill sets. You will be able to see enthusiasm and positivity from meeting the candidate for an interview. You can also test determine this through including a professional personality test during the interview stage. These can take many approaches, from multiple choice responses to hypothetical situations through to more scientific word choice tests. These are tests with no right or wrong answers, but instead will give you a good sense of the candidate’s approach to work and how their personality can be applied to problem solving. You are seeking an employee who will support and enhance morale within your team, and so it is important to test skills beyond what is listed on their resume. 

Consider their adaptability and potential 

When reviewing resumes, you can’t really get a sense of an employee’s long-term value. An employee with lots of relevant experience may look great on paper, but they may also be set to a certain way of working, or not be able to adapt quickly to changes or new technologies. Employees with adaptable skill sets, a passion for learning new skills and approaches, and the ability to embrace change and adapt to new systems and processes can be far more valuable than past experience listed on a resume. You should focus your search on discovering more about a candidate’s long-term potential without relying too heavily on the credentials listed on their resume. Ask questions in your interview about situations where they have been forced to think on their feet, learn quickly, or adapt to a new environment or situation. You may find a candidate who has the potential to be mentored into a leader figure within your organization, alongside introducing fresh new approaches and ideas to your business. Enthusiasm, drive and overall adaptability may trump your need for the specific requirements that you have requested in your job description. 

If you would like further advice about how to identify great talent, contact us for confidential chat.