Looking Past the “BQs” – An In-depth Look at Resume Review

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May 17, 2011

Sometimes, recruiters bypass even the best and most qualified candidates when they are looking to fill an open position. Why is this?

Most of the time, recruiters receive dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes for a single job opening, and with the pressure to fill, there is little time to carefully dig through each resume to see if the candidate has exactly what the employer is looking for. A basic keyword search, years of experience, and past employers are typically the determining factors when deciding if a resume will get an extra look. Because of this, most recruiters spend less than a minute deciding a job seeker’s fate.

The big question is: How can recruiters and sourcers spend more time effectively reviewing resumes, digging a bit more under the surface, without actually wasting time and decreasing productivity? 

Know the Job

Before reviewing any resume, it is important to make sure you have a strong understanding of the job description, as well as what the business actually wants in a candidate. Besides the basic qualifications, or the “BQs,” what is the hiring manager looking for? Are communication skills and writing style important? Does your company have a strong culture and a sense of pride when hiring candidates that fit into said culture? The way a candidate presents himself or herself on a resume speaks strongly about the candidate. A little bit of personality is presented in a candidate’s resume, whether it’s through format or how they describe their skills. Take some time to read their summary, their current job duties, and their list of personal achievements. What the candidate takes pride in can provide some additional insight into what motivates them personally, which can help you, as the recruiter, better understand whether or not they would “mesh” into your organization.


When doing keyword searches on a resume, take a look at the basic job description and determine whether or not there are synonyms for specific words, if a technology has been bought out by another company and renamed, and if any skills / applications are transferable. For example, a candidate who has spent twenty years selling technology software may have words and phrases such as “business development,” “proposals,” and “client facing” in their resume, not just “sales.” Look for past-tense versions of words and get an understanding of a candidate’s career development. Perhaps they sold software and now focus more on drumming up new business via research and business development work. They may still be a fit for the job, but understanding the industry ladder and how careers can evolve is extremely important when determining whether or not a candidate would be a good fit, skill-wise, for your position.

Also, avoid discounting any candidates who don’t quite match up 100% with a keyword search. Does the candidate posses specific skills that may be transferable to your organization? Someone with a strong Communications background may be an excellent fit for a Human Resources role, as they understand the most effective way to communicate with people and can be very engaging. Spending some time really understanding the duties of your future candidate instead of only reading the job description may result in better fits from unlikely candidates. Perhaps this candidate can bring something extra to your organization that may be a little outside of the job description, as different perspectives and experience can be refreshing.

Job Titles

Finally, recognize that job titles are nebulous. Focusing on a candidate’s current job title can be detrimental, especially if you are only thinking from your company’s perspective. A director level position at a small organization may be equivalent to a lower-level manager position at a larger corporation. Some companies allow employees to create their own titles, making them as glamorous as they wish. You can get a better understanding of what their job title might actually mean in their organization by focusing less on the title and more on understanding their day-to-day responsibilities. How much of their time is spent on tasks related to the position you are recruiting for? In a smaller organization, an impressive title most likely means they wear a lot of different “hats,” so try to focus in on the relevant skills and determine if any “extra” skills may be transferable. Look for increasing responsibilities within a position, and career progression within an organization. This may not always be clear on the resume, but typically the strongest candidates are performing at a level (or two) above their actual duties.

My advice? Give each resume at least 3-5 minutes. Of course, there are always going to be the candidates that you know immediately will not fit the bill, such as a software developer for a marketing role, but for the ones you can not immediately discount, take some time to really understand the candidate before making a decision. Anyone can put the necessary keywords for the position they are applying for, especially if they have spent a few minutes reading the job description and basic qualifications. Dig a little deeper into the candidate’s experience and history, instead of only reading what’s on the surface.

image source: Rian Castillo

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