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Forgettable Resumes Hiding Talent - Interviewing Based on Recommendation Not Resume


If someone’s eyes are the windows to their soul, it stands to reason that when screening CV’s we may miss talent by assessing candidates purely on paper.

As a recruitment consultant I see the good, the bad and the ugly of resumes. In all three, a consistent theme is the candidate who isn’t quite sure how to capture their capabilities, achievements and work history - and most importantly the difference only they can make to an employer - in a brief and often impersonal career snapshot. And let’s face it; there are very few people who enjoy writing their resume. It’s usually more a chore than a pleasure.

This is where professional recruitment consultants add value. Reviewing resumes and phone screening is thankless and often unrewarding work. The magic happens when interviewing, but like all time-poor people, recruitment consultants guard their diaries carefully. (Click here for an excellent guide to writing the perfect CV.)

Invoking the sixth sense

Given sourcing talent is our profession and we are paid to match candidate capability and culture fit with organisations, I believe there is a sixth sense experienced recruiters develop over time. Something that enables us to identify the extraordinary disguised as the average. That’s where our reputation is put on the line.

Let me explain. I’m recruiting a standalone HR Advisor for an SME. The hiring manager (part of the exec. leadership) needs someone willing to be hands on, covering business-as-usual Human Resources Administration in addition to partnering with managers to improve their, and their team’s, capability.

Before engaging me they interviewed several candidates who “sort of” met their expectations but weren’t the right fit for the organisation, and a couple who were inspirational but too expensive. The hiring manager wants someone credible who can work autonomously but will grow with the organisation. They don’t want a more experienced candidate happy to take a step back or “settle” for the role.

I take the brief and lock in two interviews of candidates I have interviewed recently. Both candidates are deemed to be very appointable and can do the role, and one progresses to a second interview with good feedback. 

Looking beyond the CV

However, that “they are the one” feeling is missing for my client. After swallowing deeply I present a candidate with no conventional New Zealand HR experience. Their resume isn’t great, in fact, it’s pretty clinical and the formatting is horrible. But when I phone screened, communicated via email correspondence, and then in person during a face-to-face interview, they inspired and impressed me.

They inspired and impressed this organisation too, resulting in an offer, and both parties being delighted. But based on the CV alone there was no way that I, or the organisation, would have taken their application forward. That recruiter sixth sense told me to investigate further. In person I uncovered an experienced HR professional who just needed to regain their confidence, and get an opportunity to re-enter their career of choice after supporting their family in a new country in primarily administration focused roles.

At the other end of the spectrum, I had an executive level HR Manager. Their resume made the very long list for a challenging maternity cover role, but language patterns in the cover letter made me call to further investigate. Their communication skills over the phone won them an interview with me in person and confirmed their place at the top of the shortlist, despite knowing my client would struggle to see why, based on their resume, they would be worth meeting in person.

I pushed, encouraged, and then demanded my client meet this candidate. It could have gone horribly wrong. I could have lost all credibility. But instead, this candidate won the lucrative fixed term contract role over other well-qualified candidates who had stronger resumes and were more obvious choices in terms of recent experience.

In conclusion

Certainly, when job hunting either actively or passively, having a succinct and well-constructed CV and online presence is key. The vast majority of the time, underwhelming resumes will receive a prompt and polite automatic decline, as reading between the lines with resumes is a learnt skill that also requires time, patience and a willingness to pick up the phone. Internal recruitment teams juggling around 30 roles per recruiter usually don’t have this time, nor do busy hiring managers. 

Agency recruitment consultants are paid to find the best person for the role and organisational culture, not the best resume. When true partnership and open consulting occurs between the hiring manager, agency recruitment consultant and candidate, that’s where the magic happens. If you need help uncovering the best talent behind the resume, get in touch.