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The Top 5 Ways to See Beyond a Résumé

If you want to know whether a potential employee is a good fit for your business, look past their career history and focus on these things instead.

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A business owner friend of mine recently complained to me after an afternoon of plowing through dozens of applicant CVs: “It’s like looking at 100 franchise restaurant menus — the food is the same; they’ve just described it slightly differently.” 

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But if you really want the best person for the job, here are the five things you should do.

1. Check their social media activity (but not for the reasons you think).

Sure, most people check this anyway, usually to just get a gist of the candidate, or even to see what they look like. But what are you really looking for? At the dawn of Facebook, the common wisdom was to effectively sanitize your social media of all personality when applying for jobs. Of course, the best hiring decisions these days are based just as much on how well a person would fit into the team, so use social media to check the culture fit.

A survey carried out by human resources membership association SHRM revealed 40 percent of surveyed HR workers think social media is useful when evaluating candidates, with more than one in five admitting to using it as a screening tool. There are limits, though: If you’re checking social media, a silly costume is a good thing, but rudeness isn’t. You want to gauge how they interact with the world: Did they thank the airline handle for help with the recent delay, or did they release a foul-mouthed tirade of complaints?

2. Check their awareness and networking.

Most résumés put a premium on hard skills, but they say nothing of how a person interacts with their peers and colleagues. Work today isn’t the deskbound slog it used to be. You need teams who are friendly, supportive and happy. 

Nine out of 10 résumés scream, “Look at all the things I’ve done. I was excellent at all of them.” No one wants to work with a person like that. You know it, and, let’s be honest, the candidate probably knows it too. Find out if their networking is something they pride themselves on. 

Are they interested in the world? Are they passionate about certain topics? Are they bringing their network to bear and keeping themselves and others informed? Are they using it to learn, or just to tell other people their opinion? Are they happy to be an ambassador for you through their network, and is that what you want? These are subtle but incredibly useful indicators for an employer. 

And remember that networking is about much more than turning up for business breakfasts or making friends with Janice in accounts. More businesses than ever are starting to realize the potential of LinkedIn as a powerful sales tool, too.

3. Reference off-piste. 

The references provided on a CV will undoubtedly be good ones — that’s why they’re there. But if a candidate has the strong network you’re looking for, it won’t be hard to give someone a quick call or send a LinkedIn message to find out what they’re really like. Dig down into their sources and try to go to people who they never thought you might ask: their third-to-last employer, or the leader of a church or social club they’ve mentioned as a brief bullet point. And when you do contact references, remember to ask the right questions.

4. Get out your metaphorical truth serum.

OK, so this one is a bit cynical — but the ends some candidates go to in order to get a job are truly astounding (if only they applied that effort legitimately, they’d probably make a great hire). Remember, they’re lying to themselves as much as they are to you: These people are toxic for any company.

The major drawback of a résumé here is that it gives a lying candidate a solid foundation to build a fabricated career on — they just have to learn what they’ve written and have a story ready for any potential questions. If you do think something looks too good to be true, then tell them you haven’t looked at their CV and ask them something really left field.

5. Test creativity

Perhaps the worst thing about a CV is how tick-a-box it is. Listing skills, creativity and ideas is not the same as demonstrating them; it’s about "know-how," not "know of." The candidate you want will almost certainly be someone who relishes the chance to show you what they can do outside of their résumé. 

One of the best hires I made was a woman who had crafted her résumé to look like a newspaper, with "Right Angles" as the title. She’d clearly gone the extra mile because she cared. You want someone who has researched your latest award and mentions it, or uses your real name rather than the archaic "Dear Sir or Madam." Boilerplate is so over. If you need some inspiration, check out 6 Creative and Out-There Ways People Have Applied for Jobs.

As the employer you can go further: Give them tasks, ask them questions, bring them in to meet your team and see how they approach a certain problem. Or simply ask them to best demonstrate their suitability however they want — but they can’t use a résumé. If they really are like their LinkedIn says they are, it’s very likely they’re not the person you want.

When you do make an offer, a résumé will be valuable in justifying it, but it should be seen as supporting info, not the measure of a candidate. If you do all the above, you’ll know you’ve made the right hire for your business, whatever their résumé says.

Paul Blanchard

Written By

Paul Blanchard is a PR consigliere, presenter of the popular Media Masters weekly podcast and author of the book Fast PR. He leads a global team of 30 reputation experts with offices in London, New York and Los Angeles.