How to assess CVs from job applicants

How to assess CVs from job applicantsCVs play a key role in the recruitment process, by helping employers to assess someone's experience, key achievements and knowledge. But if you look a little closer, CVs can tell you much more - crucially, whether an applicant is likely to fit into the culture of your business. So, what should you be looking for?

Never discriminate

Employers should not discriminate against applicants based on their age or any other criteria, warns Stacey Mead, HR Director at The HR Dept, which provides advice to small-business owners throughout the UK via a nationwide network of professional HR advisers.

"You should assess CVs objectively, focusing on skills, experience and achievements, more specifically, whether they'll enable someone to perform the role with your business successfully," she recommends. "Obviously, someone's gender isn't relevant, and you shouldn't discriminate against someone based upon their age, whether they're younger or older than other applicants."

Mead says small-business owners should have the specific requirements of the job to hand or front of mind when assessing CVs. Moreover, having someone else in the business provide a second opinion on suitability, if possible, especially if they will be managing the new recruit, is advised. "It can help if you're not entirely sure whether to invite someone for an interview or not. Base your decisions on clear evidence within their CV that someone has the skills, experience and attributes for the role, although whether they're likely to fit in with the culture of your business is also a key consideration to explore at interview."

Career breaks and hobbies

Stacey Mead

Mead believes career breaks shouldn't put you off. "They happen for various valid reasons, including people having families or wanting to take time out to travel and gain other experience. Often there are interesting stories to tell, which candidates can tell you about at interview."

Someone's leisure interests can also reveal much, says Mead. "Think about whether the skills they've gained or are learning will help them in the role." This can be obvious, such as a Sunday league football coach who's applying to run a sales team. But it could be subtler, for example, someone who paints watercolours having patience and meticulous attention to detail.

"Another positive sign is that someone has built something, such as starting a society or organisation within their community. This can show that people are enthusiastic and highly motivated, with good organisational skills who want to achieve good things. Small businesses need self-starters."

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Small business - big difference?

Whatever the role, employers need employees with basic attributes such as reliability, flexibility and a desire to fit in and succeed, so you should also look for proof of these when assessing CVs.

The reality of working for a small business is usually entirely different to working for a large organisation. "Job roles at small firms can be more wide-ranging and fluid, which means it's not for everyone," Mead concedes. "However, don't assume that someone who's spent their career working for larger organisations won't fit in.

"There can be many reasons why an applicant might want to leave the corporate world behind by joining your small business. Again, look for evidence of relevant skills and experience in their CV, and be honest about the realities of the role at interview. And as with others, if you believe they have the experience, skills and knowledge, you'll have to make a judgement about whether someone is likely to fit in."

Presentation matters

Mead says a CV should conveniently summarise all relevant career information and be nicely laid out and laser printed if hard copy. There shouldn't be any sloppy spelling mistakes, she adds. "If someone can't present themselves in a professional way through their CV, it can say a lot about them.

"Applicants should want to make the best possible impression. Jokey email addresses don't do that and although gimmicky CVs can work well in creative industries, otherwise, you should expect a professional-looking, well-written two-page CV. Cover letters are important, too, because they enable applicants to briefly summarise why they believe they're suitable for the role."

Cover story

Olly Culverhouse agrees with Mead when it comes to cover letters. He owns Signable, a company with ten employees that provides e-signature software for businesses. Culverhouse says: "The cover letter says so much about someone's personality, which allows you to get a better idea of who they are whether they're likely to fit in. Their CV, basically, just shows whether they have the experience we need."

If a letter consists of information simply copied and pasted from a jobs website, Culverhouse says it doesn't make a good first impression on him. "Applicants should address key points in your job description. Their cover letter should engage you, fill you with intrigue and interest and make you want to read their CV. The best ones make you want to interview an applicant without even looking at their CV.

"CVs are important because they enable you to save time and shortlist those who are best placed to perform the role with your business. But, interviews are crucial, because they enable you to find out much more about someone, their personality, culture and values and whether they're likely to fit in. When you're running a small business it's really difficult having to manage people who don't fit in."