Resume Screening, the 4 Key Questions Every Hiring Manager is Looking to Answer

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Understanding the resume screening process and tips for applicants

Before we start – I’ll use resume and CV interchangeably throughout, even though they are different things. In the UK, where I am, we rarely use the word resume, but I know it’s more common elsewhere. My thoughts are obviously from my experience reading CVs in the UK. YMMV.

Data engineering and data science can be a highly competitive market for candidates. I had a role as a data analyst I was hiring for at a customer organisation that got 1300 applications in just over a week. 1300!

The ability to sift through candidate CVs effectively is a crucial skill for hiring managers and something I’ve done a lot of. I only use tools like applicant tracking systems (and some custom thing I’ve built in Python that’s grown over the years) to filter down to the best-fitting 100. I always read the top 100 CVs because I find it hard to capture everything important to a role with a simple filter.

This article will talk about some of the screening process that doesn’t just focus on the technical aspects of a role.

One of the most surprising things I’ve learnt over years of doing this is just how few CVs seem to understand what it is a hiring manager is looking for. Now, I’m not saying I know what all hiring managers think, but the advice here is general enough to give most folks a good start.

This process involves assessing a candidate’s technical abilities, potential for growth, work ethic, and fit within the team and company culture. Here’s a deeper look into this process:

Understanding the Basics of CV Screening

CV screening is the initial step in the hiring process, where recruiters review the CVs received and select the candidates who meet the job requirements. This process evaluates a candidate’s qualifications against the job’s requirements and determines their suitability for the position.

Key Factors in CV Screening

This should come as no surprise but screening data candidate CVs, hiring managers are typically looking to answer four core questions about any candidate:

  1. Can they do the work? This is assessed by whether the candidate has done similar roles before and where most CVs spend all of their time. Their past experiences, projects, and roles are scrutinised to determine if they have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the job.
  2. Can they learn to do the work? This is evaluated by looking for evidence of continual learning. Here I’m looking for both a strong academic record and other signs of professional development, such as additional courses, certifications, or degrees that indicate the candidate’s willingness and ability to acquire new skills. Furthermore, I want to know if the gap between the current skillset and desired one isn’t too far – a Harvard Law grad might be a great learner, but the ramp-up time to them learning the data platform skills my team need might not justify them in the role.
  3. Can they work smart and/or hard? This is gauged by looking for instances where the candidate has been under pressure or overachieved. Past experiences where the candidate had to meet tight deadlines, manage multiple tasks, or solve complex problems can indicate their work ethic and problem-solving abilities. Fast progression through the ranks can sometimes indicate this, too, but it is a little murkier.
  4. Can they fit into the team, culture, and environment? This is often the hardest to assess from a CV and is usually evaluated during the first interview. However, hints of being a good team player can be gleaned from the CV, such as involvement in team projects, societies and communities, or general interests and activities.

While these points may seem obvious, many CVs fail to address them adequately. As a hiring manager, it’s important to think about what you’re looking for: someone who can do the work, fit into the team, grow with the role, and hopefully, overachieve.

It’s not all about skills

One of the key traits I look for in a CV is evidence of being an overachiever or someone who handles challenging situations well. This can be indicated by various factors such as having worked at a notoriously tough firm, attended a highly competitive school, or achieved something extraordinary like being an ex-Olympian or starting a charity during their studies. These individuals are invaluable, and their potential often outweighs the lack of certain technical skills which can be taught.

Another aspect that I consider is the cultural fit. While this is usually assessed during the interview, sometimes clues can be found in the CV. For instance, if the team is passionate about CrossFit and the candidate lists a similar sport as an interest, it could indicate a potential fit.

Similarly, if the company values green living and the candidate volunteers for an eco-friendly organisation, it could be a positive sign. However, it’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes, the best technical candidate may not be the best fit for the team, which could lead another candidate to the first interview instead.

Enhancing the CV Screening Process

These are hard questions to answer; doing so well is one of the major challenges of modern recruitment. There’s no wonder many CVs fail to address all four questions mentioned above – I think hiring managers can enhance the screening process by considering the following:

  • Accurate Job Description: Start with a clear and accurate job description that outlines specific tasks that make up the bulk of the role. Not just the desired tech skills! The actual tasks they’ll be involved in! This will help candidates understand the requirements and expectations of the role, allowing them to tailor their CVs accordingly.
  • Go beyond the Applicant Tracking System (ATS): Investing in an ATS is worthwhile if you get large applicant volumes to help manage and streamline the screening process. These systems can automatically filter CVs based on keywords, skills, and other criteria, saving time and effort. Be sure to, you know, use your human brain to do the more challenging job of looking for clues an ATS just won’t pick up.
  • Provide some insight: How can a candidate understand your team and culture if your job advert is just a big list of technology? Be sure to give them some clues as to what the role and business is like. Don’t be afraid and play it down if you’re in a high-pressure cutthroat environment – some people love that stuff (I did!).
  • Give them the chance to shine: give people the right platform to show their value. If you want to see projects and portfolios, then say so! Many applicants are guessing at what you want or just scattering as many applications to the wind as they can – telling them how to shine will give those few who really want your role the opportunity to stand out.

Final Thoughts

Effective CV screening is crucial for finding the right talent in data and analytics – it’s a process both hiring managers and applicants need to think deeply about. Hiring managers can ensure a more effective and efficient screening process by focusing on the candidate’s ability to do the work, learn, work smart/hard, and fit into the team.

This, however, is very hard and modern recruitment is a challenging problem.

Effective CV screening can ultimately lead to more successful hiring outcomes, contributing to the overall success of the team and organisation.

All the best,

P.S. I might start doing article/posts of the week, check this article from Seattle Data Guy about improving your data infrastructure – well worth your time:

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