Employers: want to make better hires? Here’s how to screen a CV

As the hiring manager you’ve written and posted out the job advert. It’s now time to sit back and wait to be inundated with applications. But perhaps past mistakes have left you wondering how you can be more effective at hiring and avoid costly, time-consuming mistakes?

As the hiring manager it’s your responsibility to make calculated decisions. After all, if you fail to hire the right people you are going to be creating a lot of issues. It’s impossible to truly know how someone will perform once hired. But you can still ensure the screening process is efficient and effective to minimise the risk.

Of course, this screening process starts with the CV.

Our first piece of advice would be to create a must-have checklist. This will help to quickly filter out the ‘rejections’ so you can focus upon the ‘potentials’. This quick and efficient process should help to quickly move onto the more important stage. Reading each CV should take no longer than 30 seconds to begin with, allowing more time once the better applications have been chosen.

Now that you’ve created a new pile of CVs to read, it’s time to take a closer look. Apart from the obvious need for the right skills and qualifications, here are six things to be aware of when screening a potential candidate’s CVs:

1. Good spelling, grammar and overall presentation

“If a CV is full of errors and inaccuracies, it’s not a huge leap for the recruiter to presume that this equates with an overall lack of polish and ability.”

~ Dan Lewis, New Creative Talent

Before you being your in-depth analysis of a CV it’s important to take a step back and check the basics. Here are a few things you should check:

Most employers have a policy of instantly rejecting a candidate if there is just one spelling mistake. This may seem harsh, but it’s completely understandable when considering what’s at stake.

As the hiring manager you need to consider what that error could say about the applicant. Are they a sloppy worker and prone to making consistent errors? Does this error indicate that they are not really interested in the role? Do they value the importance of accuracy and diligence?

There may be an exception to this rule of ‘instant rejection’. It’s worth noting that you make your own decisions as the hiring manager. So if you come across a mistake but the candidate is highly qualified and of interest to you, then maybe you shouldn’t reject them. This one small error could be deemed by you as unimportant, and you would still like to see them for an interview. This is completely your decision, but don’t forget to make a note on their CV of this error for future consideration.

Remember, when making the final hiring decision you should compare applications if all the candidates under consideration are equally qualified. This could make your choice much easier if it just comes down to the presentation and quality of the CV, when everything else seems equal.

The number one reason why an employer rejects a CV is because of a spelling or grammatical error. A fantastic study in Australia was conducted with 40,000 CVs to measure the impact a spelling mistake had on the applications success (find out more about the study here).

2. A focused career progression and performance indicators

The ‘work experience’ section of a CV is naturally an important place to analyse. Whilst not every employer puts a large emphasis on relevant work experience, it’s still nice to see some – even for an entry level position.

Relevant work experience is first on the list, and if this is vital for the role then you should hunt this down. But has the applicant made it easy for you? Can you quickly spot the relevant work experience and skills?

If you have to dig for the information you need, it’s probably best to move on to another CV if you have plenty of choice. The job seeker should have taken the time to highlight the relevant work experience and go into detail on what really matters. If they haven’t been able to do that, you may be better off looking at other candidates that have. They are more likely to have their finger on the pulse as they can recognise your needs as an employer.

Is the candidate focused and committed?

“Constantly moving to new roles without demonstrating a good reason might make new employers wary. They may question the candidate’s ability to commit to an organisation and it may appear that the candidate cannot adapt to new environments and challenges.”

~ Nigel Heap, managing director at recruitment firm Hays UK & Ireland

A focused career progression can have a huge effect on the longevity of an employee. Every employer would always like to hire someone that will stay loyal to the company for many years, and won’t jump ship within a few months. So when reading a CV you should check to see what kind of career progression they have to date.

Do they have a diverse history of employment, with a random selection of roles throughout the years? This could indicate that they have little to no direction, and could move on to another role within a matter of weeks or months. Not an ideal candidate at all!

In the UK, it’s typical to change employer about every five years (Source: LV=). In the US, official stats show it’s more like four years.

You are specifically looking for someone who clearly has a career objective – someone who knows what they want, and have taken the right course of action with a continued focus on progressing up the ladder. Ideally you would like to find a candidate who has progressed in the same industry, but this isn’t essential. If the candidate has worked in a similar industry and shows commitment and passion, this is just as good.

Of course, in certain sectors, regular change is not only desirable, but a necessity.

“In technology, advertising and public relations, where professionals are known to change jobs every few years or even months, job hopping can be considered to be a necessity in order to keep up with changes in the market.”

~ Robert Archer, regional director of human resources at recruitment firm PageGroup

How have they performed?

Finally, you should be looking for an indication (evidence) of performance. If the candidate chooses to simply list all of their previous tasks and daily responsibilities for each role, it will not demonstrate their efficiency. A candidate needs to take the initiative and prove their abilities through a list of achievements, stats, and even examples.

One of the most frustrating aspects of reading a CV is when the job seeker decides to make bold cliché statements. These types of claims come in all shapes and sizes, and here are a few examples to look out for:

Hard worker

Great communication skills

I can work well as part of a team

I have good leadership qualities

These claims hold little substance and do not provide any indication of performance.

“I can tell you I am funny; I can even tell you that when I taught English, at least one person laughed in every single one of my classes every day. But what does that mean to you? You are reading my little blog here, and I have not said anything funny, so that is not a characteristic you would attribute to me.”

Katie Chambers, Beacon Point

Evidence is of course difficult to provide on a CV, but the candidate can attempt this with revenue figures, sales stats, examples of customer service, and so on. Look for a CV that ‘shows’ rather than ‘tells’.

3. No unexplained employment gaps

“CV gaps are understandable, but they are a red flag to potential employers. They can suggest the candidate is an uncertain hire who doesn’t stick at roles for long and raise questions as to why they haven’t been working for several months prior to applying.”

~ Charlie Benson, Gradtouch

Look for a continuous timeline of employment. Are there any lengthy gaps? What could this mean? Is this a problem?

An employment gap always needs to be adequately explained by the candidate. This could either be in their cover letter or on the CV itself – possibly within the ‘Personal statement’. In any case, if they have failed to explain a lengthy spell away from work, it could ring a few alarm bells.

What does an employment gap say about the candidate?

With a failure to explain a gap you are now left playing the guessing game. Did they struggle to find a job? Do they fail each time at the interview stage? Is there something else wrong and you’ve not yet spotted it?

The problem is that there could be any number of reasons for an employment gap, and the fact that the job seeker has failed to explain it means they could be hiding something. If you are happy with everything else on the CV then you could consider calling them to ask. You should be able to tell from their response if they are trying to hide something, or if there was a genuine reason – and nothing of concern.

With so many other CVs to choose from you could even decide to reject and move along. But if you do have an adequate reason as to why there was a gap, then hopefully this will satisfy your curiosity. For example, they may have written on the CV that they took a gap year, travelled the world, studied for another qualification, or were out of work for personal health reasons.

If the candidate has given any of the reasons above, our advice would be to accept it and don’t worry. You can always quiz them further in the interview if you want, but if their credentials are to a high standard then this would likely be more important.

4. Goals and aspirations that align with your organisation

“A company with employees aligned on goals for the future is able to reach those accomplishments faster. The employees enjoy a greater sense of teamwork and may be less likely to leave the company.”

~ Shelley Frost, Chron

After reading the CV does the candidate seem to be aligned with your company? What is their career objective and aspirations for the future?

We’ve already discussed how important it is to find a passionate, dedicated and committed individual to hire – so how do you find that out? Well, not only will a focused career progression prove to you that they are committed to their career and the industry, but a personal statement or objective will also help you decide.

Scrutinise the personal statement and also a cover letter if one has been provided. This should help you understand what they would like to achieve in the future, and if your company is able to assist them. Do they seem to lack a good level of ambition that’s required? Or do they seem too ambitious to the point of being unrealistic?

If the candidate is clearly expecting a promotion within your company, you need to ensure this is what you’re looking for. It would be unfair to hire someone that is striving to move up the ladder when you know there is little to no chance of that happening. Their goals and aspirations need to align with the company’s if you want to hire someone for the right reasons. If there are any doubts then this could be raised during the interview. Let them know what kind of scope for promotion is available in the future, and also confirm the type of training and support that’s offered. In essence, you need to ensure that both the company and the candidate are on the same page.

5. Hobbies that demonstrate desirable soft skills

A soft skill relates to a more general skill which is used on a daily basis. For instance, communication, problem solving, and organisation are all examples of soft skills. A CV should clearly demonstrate the relevant soft skills to further show that the candidate can function effectively in the workplace.

If the manager of a customer service department is hiring, they would obviously be looking for someone who can demonstrate their communication skills. The CV should provide plenty of examples and experience indicating their high level of communication. However, did you know that the hobbies and interests section can also do this?

As a hiring manager you may have in the past decided to spend little time reading the candidate’s hobbies. You may have even ignored this section altogether! But you may be missing a trick!!

Instead of skipping over this section you should look a lot more closely. But what should you be looking for? Sporty or creative hobbies will demonstrate soft skills. For example, someone who is the captain of a sports team must have some level of leadership ability. They would have to also organise certain aspects of their team, arrange matches, and hopefully lead the team to victory. This candidate is clearly someone who is confident and has gained the trust of others. In addition they have taken an interest in their personal health and wellbeing. Are these the qualities you are looking for when hiring?

“A study conducted by several psychologists of about 1,400 people found that people who said they engaged in enjoyable leisure activities had lower blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference and body mass index.”

~ Marguerite Ward, CNBC

Creative hobbies could also align with the business. Playing in a band, web design, or even painting all show creativity, and could just fit nicely into the role and the company.

“A study of 400 employees published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology found marked differences between those who engaged in creative hobbies and those who did not. Having a creative hobby is associated with positive work-related traits, like creativity on projects and a better attitude on the job.”

~ Marguerite Ward, CNBC

So if creativity is what you’re looking for, then don’t pass by the hobbies section without taking a good look.

6. Social media accounts that put the candidate in a good light

Social media hiring

Above source: MRI

Most, if not all of the candidates you come across will have some kind of internet footprint. This could be in the form of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but more importantly – LinkedIn. Growing in popularity every single day, more and more users are signing up and creating networks to impress employers. A LinkedIn profile is now seen as a ‘second CV’ and can be used by job seekers to connect, share, and even make themselves available for head hunting.

Hopefully the candidate will have provided information on their CV to a LinkedIn account. This will make it easier for you to find them and see what else they have to offer. Check to see who they are connected with and that their career history aligns with their CV. This can be a great way to see how honest they are being and that they really do understand the industry.

However, one thing to take note here is that a candidate who has clearly taken the time and the effort to create a comprehensive LinkedIn profile is a far better prospect than someone who hasn’t. Some candidates have an account but don’t take the time to connect and create a network. A study has shown that this has a negative effect on their chances of getting an interview. This is likely because the employer is frustrated at the lack of effort. A job seeker who has a bare LinkedIn account is slightly better off leaving out their account details from their CV.

For more information on this fantastic study which was conducted into ‘the influence a LinkedIn account has on the employer’, here’s an article you should read – Why a good LinkedIn profile boosts your interview chances by 71%.

Facebook and Twitter can be useful indicators too

Although LinkedIn is seen as the main website to create a professional network, Facebook and Twitter are also often viewed by the employer. Even though these other platforms are not typically geared towards careers and recruitment, the employer can still gain some valuable information.

One thing which is often missing from a CV is personality. Before the employer chooses who to interview they would like to find out even more about the candidate. They can do this by visiting Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram. But what can be gained?

After seeing these accounts the employer may still be none the wiser. But in some cases they may have a good idea whether this person may fit the company’s culture. A frequent party goer may struggle to create the right impression. It could mean a lot of sick days on a Monday! Whilst a family person may just be the perfect fit.

“It’s a great way to see applicants’ natural behavior, without the stress of the job interview. You can see their thoughts on a platform where they feel comfortable visiting, scrolling and consuming content.”

~ Mile Živković, Hundred5

When it comes to social media we would always advise the employer to proceed with caution. Just because someone has lots of party pictures doesn’t mean to say they are not great at what they do. Don’t pass up on potentially hiring a fantastic individual just because you don’t approve of how they live their life. Instead, use this information to put yourself in a better position to decide after the interview. If they have great credentials we think you should still interview them. Only then should you take social media into account when making a final decision if it’s too close to call.

Here’s a quick video from Leadership Coach Stephen Goldberg which will help with the overall screening process:

About Martin Carline

Martin has been a senior manager of a large customer service team within the education services industry, dealing with all aspects of staff recruitment and management. He now authors and manages content for CV Template Master and a number of other leading websites. In his spare time, Martin is an accomplished pianist and teaches all styles with a particular focus on boogie woogie and blues.

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