Monday, May 16, 2011

Lesson #35: How to Read Resumes & Screen Employee Candidates

Posted By: George Deeb - 5/16/2011


& Comment

In my last post, we learned How Best to Recruit for Employees and get high quality resumes coming in.  We also talked about ways to automate the candidate screening process, so your time is more efficiently spent on interviewing your best candidates.  So, now you are down to "reading between the lines", in finding the best candidate for your open position, by properly reading a resume and asking the right questions during the interview.

For any candidate, I am trying to ensure: (i) they have the right skills for the job: (ii) they have a proven track record of career or educational success for the position; (iii) I can afford them; (iv) they have the right personality fit with the company; (v) they have references that will validate their claims; and (vi) they fit the company on other tangential topics.  I will tackle each of these points below.

Making sure a candidate has the right skills for the job sounds intuitive enough.  For example, a candidates with 20 years of marketing experience, should know something about marketing.  But, the devil is in the details.  Was that marketing person in your industry, as marketing tactics vary wildly by industry.  Was that marketing person a B2C marketer, when you need a B2B marketer?  Was that person spending huge budgets in mass media, when you have small budgets needing viral social media?  Did the person do the marketing themselves, or were they relying on a big team they managed?  You get the point:  drill down from the 30,000 foot view to ground level, where the boots hit the ground.

As for a proven track record in their educational history, I am looking for the following.  Does the candidate have the right college degrees for the position (e.g., majored in accounting or finance for a CFO), with post college degrees carrying more weight than undergraduate degrees (e.g., MBA in Finance worth more than a B.A. in Liberal Arts).  What school did they go to, as a Harvard or Stanford degree in business is worth more than a Southern Illinois or Ball State degree?  Did the candidate get good grades while in school, with A students typically smarter, more studious and more diligent than B students.  But, there are always exceptions to the rule (e.g., grades impacted by working two jobs to put themself through school), so read accordingly.

As for a proven track record in their career, you need look for these kind of things.  Was the candidate in big companies their entire careers, or do they have real startup experience, which is more important for startups.  Has there been nice upward promotions overtime, with titles increasing in importance from manager to director to Vice President to Executive Vice President?  Does the candidate have longevity from position to position?  I get really nervous about candidates with 10 jobs in 10 years being poor performers or simply bored easily, and am looking for a minimum of 2-3 years per company, unless there are logical reasons for quick job moves (like the company was sold).  Was the candidate cut during a layoff, as sometimes, but not always, companies typically cut their under performers when they tighten their belts.  Are their quantifiable successes they can point to that illustrates they have led and managed rapid startup growth and success in a similar environment to your own?  Ask for examples.

Affordability of a new hire is pretty straight forward, but sometimes a candidates says they are willing to work for $100K salary just to get in the door, but are really looking for $150K and don't tell you until you are "sold" on them as your key addition to the team.  In that scenario, think creatively out of the box.  Will they accept $100K salary plus $50K in performance based bonuses or other incentives?  If appropriate for the position, would they accept a four day a week schedule, allowing the the open day to make more money elsewhere?   Would they work for equity until we close our financing, and then will pay you $150K after funding closes?  But, if there are any long term discrepencies between what you can afford to pay, and what a candidate thinks they are worth, they will most likely be looking for another higher paying job down the road.

Personality fit perhaps is the most critical to the whole candidate review process.  You are going to be spending a lot of time working with this person.  Entrepreneurs tend to be A-type personalities and like to be surrounded by other A-type go-getters, which help to infuse that energy into the rest of the company.  Nobody wants to be around a perpetual pessimist, constant downer or pain in the ass, so make sure the candidate fits your desired company culture, regardless how good they are on paper.  It's just not worth it, if you can't get along with the person.

References are always good.  But, remember, a candidate is going to provide you their best references, that will most likely only say good things about them.  So, a couple things to consider.  Did the candidate give you references that are relevant to the position (e.g., their former bosses and former direct reports and former investors)?  If not, there may be a red flag that they are trying to hide something.  So, be sure to ask to speak to those people that can speak best to their skills, if possible.  And, frankly, do a little digging on your own?   Do you share any colleagues in LinkedIn, that may be able to speak about this person?  And, in all cases, remember, the person you are calling could be worried about violating employment laws with any negative reviews, so take references with a grain of salt.  And, if you don't get a response to your reference call, that sometimes means they didn't have anything nice to say and preferred to avoid an awkward phone call.  So, read between the lines.

To get a sense of how a person thinks on the fly in the topsy-turvy world of startups, I like to see how candidates handle random questions on random random topics.   First, on something they are familiar with, perhaps related to their favorite hobbies (e.g., ask a book reader how they would go about writing a book).  And, second, on something completely random (e.g., how would you determine the weight of a jumbo jet).  You are simply trying to determine how they think and see how logically their brain works in unknown situations, which often a startup can lead to.

And, there are other things to consider.  What is going on in their personal life, that may require a lot of time away from the office?  Can you deal with 10 smoking breaks a day?  How far does the candidate live from the office, as a long commute won't last long, before they start looking for a new job down the road?   As people get older, they typically have less energy, so make sure they have the stamina for a startup?  But, tread lightly on these areas, avoiding direct questions about gender, age, pregnancy, etc. which violate employment laws.

There is no one right way to recruit for candidates, given the wide variety of people, talents and personalities, but hopefully this will point you in the right direction.

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