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Using Resumes to Gauge Job Applicants

Filed under Office & HR.

Resumes are a good way to gauge job applicants' qualifications, particularly if your hiring needs are more sporadic than frequent. You'll need to effectively evaluate the resumes applicants submit, which can be challenging as each resume is likely to be different from the next.

When hiring for an open position in your business you'll need to gather different types of information from applicants, including information that can help you ultimately choose the best candidate for the job. Resumes and job applications, are the two main methods used to get this information and can be used individually or in combination with each other. Depending on the type of position you are trying to fill and if you plan to hire only occasionally, you may not want to bother creating a customized job application and request applicants' resumes instead.

Resumes, almost always accompanied by a cover letter in which the applicant tells about his or her experience and background, can give you a much clearer sense of the applicant's qualifications than a standardized application could.

Work Smart

You may want to consider using both a resume and an application. While it might seem like a lot of extra work only to obtain duplicate information, the combination of methods can have a real benefit. You will be able to gather all the information you specifically need on the application in a standard format and also get a good sense of the individual's personality from the resume and cover letter.

Is there a downside to using resumes? There can be. One downside of using resumes to gauge applicants is that each resume is different and gives different information. Some give too much information, and some don't give enough, which may make it difficult to compare applicants.

The flexible format and individual license that some applicants take can also make it difficult to ascertain exactly what they did in past jobs because they have the option of wording things in the most positive way and of leaving off things that might be damaging to their chances of employment.

Although resume formats and individual touches may differentiate the resumes you receive from applicants, if you request resumes as part of your hiring process almost all will contain the following topics, which you'll need to evaluate:

  • job objective
  • work experience
  • education
  • references

Job Objective

The job objective section of the resume is usually the first thing on the page, if it is in the resume at all. Some experts advise job seekers not to put an objective on their resume because it is old-fashioned and because objectives can sound canned.


The following is an example of a typical job objective statement:

"To build a career with a stable firm using my office management skills."

While that statement is an objective, it tells you nothing about the person except that he or she has "office management" skills. And who doesn't want to "build a career with a stable firm?"

Some objectives can be much more specific and help you evaluate a candidate, but most are a formality and have little substance. You shouldn't hold it against a candidate who has one, though, because a resume guide or consultant may have advised it.


When it comes to resumes, form is important, but not as important as substance. The resume should give you enough information to decide if you want to interview someone, possibly leading to a hire.

Evaluating Resume Information

Work history, education, references and in some cases, other materials such as work samples, are the more pertinent parts of a resume that should be evaluated.

Work Experience

Unlike a job objective, work history is valuable information. The applicant's work experience is probably the most important item to look at. On most resumes, work experience information resembles the format of work experience on an application. Applicants will usually list their present job first and recount jobs backwards chronologically.

Unlike applications, resumes give applicants unlimited freedom to recount whatever they want to about their past jobs and what they did. Some applicants clearly exaggerate, while others can be intentionally vague.

Here are some potential red flags to look for on the work experience portion of the resume:

  • big gaps in employment
  • many jobs in a short time span (this could signal a job hopper)
  • vague descriptions of work (the applicant could be trying to make the job sound like more than it was)
  • lots of action words and specific information (this is a positive sign, in that it can indicate that someone is goal-oriented)


On a job resume, the description of a person's education should be pretty straightforward, but there are certain things to look for and perhaps inquire further about:

  • Some applicants may be working toward a degree but may represent themselves as already having the degree. Be sure you know which is the case.
  • Look for instances where applicants might have received training or education other than in a traditional academic setting, such as in past jobs.
  • Many universities offer online courses. If the individual indicates that they received a degree from a university in Arizona while holding down a job in Florida, you'll want to ask about that in an interview.


Most applicants will simply state, "references provided on request." It doesn't mean that they don't have any references or that they are trying to hide them. More often than not, references just take up a lot of room.

Not only that, but an applicant could decide to change whom to use as references over time. Not putting them on the resume saves the applicant the trouble of creating a new resume each time the applicant's references change.

Ask for this information only if you plan to check references. Often applicants will tell references to expect a call from you. Don't put the applicant in an awkward position by not calling references once you've requested the information.

Using Other Materials to Evaluate Candidates

Depending on what the open position involves, you may want to ask for other materials to help you evaluate a candidate.

  • If a position involves artistic talent, you may want to ask applicants to submit copies of sample works from their portfolios.

  • If the job involves writing for a certain audience or technical writing, you can ask applicants to submit written work or online links to writing if appropriate, that they feel demonstrates the ability to fulfill the requirements of your open position.

If you do not plan to return submitted items to applicants, make it known right at the start so that they don't submit originals. You don't want to be responsible for throwing away the original copy of an artist's work.


If you think that you may get a lot of responses to an opening that requires such submissions, seriously consider stating that you will not return submissions. The hassle of returning multiple submitted items is something you don't want to add to your plate!

If you do return samples, be prepared to send them insured and use a method that provides you with proof that you returned the materials (for example, certified mail). Be sure to return samples to all applicants, even the one you've chosen to hire. The samples are not your property.

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