Discover Exceptional Candidates – Scan Resumes For These Talent Indicators

Most resume scans are shallow, so they pass over factors that reveal if a candidate is exceptional. 

Descriptors | Recruiting/Resume screening – Talent indicators – How-to – 5 min read

Why Most Resume Scanning Approaches Fail To Identify Exceptional Candidates

Most traditional resume-scanning processes come up short. They are designed primarily only to identify the job selection requirements that each candidate meets. However, in the cases where you must hire an exceptional candidate, these scans are painfully inadequate. Most of these scans literally “pass over” and fail to record the resume talent factors that indicate when a candidate is exceptional because they have Advanced Talent Capabilities (ATC). These advanced capabilities can include the ability to innovate, learn rapidly, be an early adopter of technology, and have broad industry contacts. And, of course, it is important to realize upfront. Identifying these ATC factors is critical for great hiring because having only a handful of these ATC factors will upgrade a merely qualified candidate… to an exceptional one.

The “Advanced Talent Capability” Indicators That You Must Identify

During the decades I taught a master class in aggressive recruiting, I continually asked participating hiring managers and recruiters to look beyond the basic selection criteria for a job (i.e., job skills, experience, and credentials). And to identify the advanced capabilities that would make any new hire truly exceptional. So, I now recommend that everyone include a process for identifying them during all human and software resume scans and interviews. The highest impact ATC factors appear early in this following list.

  • They focus on their accomplishments – rather than only listing their duties and skills. An exceptional candidate names and then highlights each of their major accomplishments. Highlighting these accomplishments demonstrates that they are results-oriented and provide every one of their deliverables. An example of content to look for: I reached 100% of the xyz project goals, including its on-time and under-budget metrics. The director noted that it was the #1 team accomplishment all year. As a result, I was nominated for and won the Employee of the Year award!
  • They quantify their results and provide comparison numbers – the language of business and executives focuses on numbers and dollars. So, the best candidates use numbers throughout their resumes to quantify their major results. And to make comparisons between the accomplishments in different departments easier. They also include a dollar value estimate for each major accomplishment and a comparison number to show the extent of the change in the metric (i.e., compared to the average and the previous best and worst numbers). An example of content to look for: I implemented changes to our quality control process that resulted in a 32% increase in output quality (valued this year at $106,000). Last year’s increase in quality was only 12%, and its value was only $34,000).
  • They measure the quality of their work outputs – exceptional candidates show that they understand the importance of work in product quality. They do that by reporting the quality of their work immediately after they have revealed the volume of their work. An example of content to look for: I have been consistently ranked as the high-volume producer within the division. At the same time, it maintains a .001% error rate and a 98% customer satisfaction rating.
  • They reveal the quality of the organizations they worked for in their resume – this may seem like a minor factor. However, the reviewer downgrades many exceptional candidates because they worked at a weak company or a mostly unknown organization. Automatically downgrading them would be a mistake if the individual worked in one of their most successful business units or teams. So, look for candidates that proactively educate the resume reader. By highlighting several indications of organizational quality (not the size) at each organization where they worked. An example of content to look for: I worked at the most innovative business unit at the start-up XYZ Technology. It was ranked #6 for product quality and innovation out of the 167 companies in our chip manufacturing industry.
  • They make it clear that they have worked with key people and the top organizations – because the best executives and vendors only want to work with the best. Exceptional candidates highlight the fact that they were chosen to provide input, advice, or work for your key executives. They also highlight that they were chosen to work with the best customers and external consultants. An example of content to look for: I was selected by my CEO to be the only division employee who was appointed to serve on her strategic planning committee. I was also chosen to shadow the director of Google’s strategic planning during his visits to our facility. 
  • They demonstrate that they are early adopters of technology – rather than fearing new technologies, this candidate actively embraced them. And as part of their commitment and without being told. They demonstrated that they have continually researched, benchmarked, and reported to the team what they have learned about emerging technologies in their field. An example of content to look for: As part of my self-directed, continuous learning on industry trends. I noticed that AI was projected to become a critical technology in our industry soon. So, I became an AI expert by first reading and then using my extensive industry contracts to benchmark our industry’s “emerging next practices” in the area of AI. As a result, my recommended AI implementation plan was accepted within six months by a unanimous vote of the team.
  • They provide a web link to their actual work – resume screening and interview processes both have inherent weaknesses. Because you only read/hear a candidate’s words. Even though, in many cases, the best assessment can only occur when an analyst actually reviews their work. So, you should consider it a positive factor whenever a candidate shows that they are proud of their work. By making it easy to access with hyperlinks to samples of the work and what they have written in their field. An example of content to look for: With the permission of my superiors, I published an online white paper covering the advantages of implementing AI in the sales function. You can gain access to it here on LinkedIn.
  • They demonstrate that they utilize data and metrics everywhere – Because a top growth area in most business units is to become a data-driven function. So, it makes sense for an exceptional employee to serve as a role model in developing that capability. Look for candidates that “pepper their resume” with the actual performance metrics that they used. And also to show how they have used data to support each of their important decisions. An example of content to look for: Because of my interest in and knowledge of metrics and data. Even though I didn’t work in recruiting, I was assigned to lead the team that was developing success metrics for that function. As a result, the team developed, tested, and implemented recruiting metrics that covered the quality of hire, time to hire, the new hire failure rate, the cost of a weak hire, and the new hire turnover rate. The head of Google recruiting even called and benchmarked against our work.
  • They demonstrated that they are a serial innovator – in a rapidly changing world, few outputs are more important than continuous innovation. However, realize that it is often a mistake to only search for the word innovation (because others often misuse the word). Instead, search deeper and look for the actions and behaviors that reveal that an employee is really an innovator. Those actions include developing hypotheses, benchmarking, collaborating with others, experimenting, and learning from failure. An example of content to look for: I created an internal learning group of outside-the-box thinkers with the goal of exploring how we could increase innovation in the sales area. Within three months, the VP formally sanctioned and funded the group. Later, I was asked to successfully develop and lead two other formal innovation groups (in customer service and WFH policy).
  • They admit failure, but they learn from each other – Teams that operate in a high-risk environment often fail. However, rather than not mentioning the topic, most exceptional candidates are instead open about their major work failures. The employee has used them as an opportunity to learn and improve. An example of content to look for:  Our DEI team developed a new diversity training class for managers. Unfortunately, the reviews of the new class were embarrassing. But rather than waiting, I took ownership of the problem. And I subsequently collaborated with our engineering function’s failure analysis team. And with their help, we identified the 2 root causes and the 6 critical success factors. In this case, we found that the #1 critical success factor always involved “the customer” in the design and the final testing of all new classes.
  • The candidate is on the leading edge in their profession – exceptional new hires usually require little formal training because they pride themselves on being self-directed, continuous learners. One of the ways that you can determine if a candidate is on the leading edge of knowledge in their field and business is by using industry buzzwords throughout their resume and during their interviews. What to look for: To stay ahead of our industry developments. I completed an online course covering industry trends. In it, I learned about currently hot and emerging subject areas. Including AI, Quantum Computing, Salesforce, Python, overhiring, blockchain, ESG and online team communications platforms
  • They take ownership of problems before others – all good employees accept accountability for their area. However, exceptional employees go further and “accept the ownership” of problems no one seems to own. This willingness to act proactively obviously helps to accelerate the team’s overall problem-solving effort. An example of content to look for: I noticed that no one within our team seemed to be addressing our falling customer service scores. So, with my leader’s permission, I alerted everyone that I was accepting ownership, which involved researching the problem and seeking their input on a solution. Within three months, our team leader thanked me for returning our customer service scores to normal.
  • They have business acumen – no matter how strong a candidate is in their functional area. It is a fact that they will be able to provide much more additional value. If they are also strong in each of the important functional business areas. So, look for evidence that the candidate also has knowledge and experience in the business competencies. Customer service, selling, goal setting, leadership, metrics, finance, and problem identification. An example of content to look for: Even though I was the youngest store employee, the store manager trusted me. She gave me the financial responsibility for store closing and the end-of-the-day cash reconciliation. During my tenure, we had only one day when, initially, the cash and the receipts were more than $10 out of balance.
  • The candidate will soon be promotable – the most desirable candidates are often those who will soon qualify for a promotion. So, when you are assessing a promising candidate, make a rough estimate of how long (minimum and maximum) it will likely be until they are promotable. This assessment of their likely career trajectory after they join your company will help to ensure that you will have a sufficient number of future leaders. An example of content to look for: Have the resume review check their resume to determine if the candidate currently meets over 60% of the promotion requirements for their next level of job. If so, designate them as an exceptional candidate. 
  • Their resume includes powerful quotes – resume screeners should be aware. Exceptional employees are constantly “talked about” by executives, customers, and managers. As a result, they have received many positive quotes about their capabilities and accomplishments. So, you should expect exceptional candidates to repeat some of those positive quotes in their resumes and during their interviews. An example of content to look for: The owner said he was completely impressed with my work at his gas station. “That he would fully pay for my college education” (And he did).

Additional Indicators Of Candidate Excellence

Of course, every organization has to identify its own set of ATCs that make a candidate exceptional. So, in addition to the above list, I have provided some slightly less impactful talent capabilities in this section. It may also indicate that you have an exceptional candidate.

They are proactive
They have a global perspective
They quickly adapt to major changes
They are a problem solver
They are self-motivated
They move fast
They work effectively in a diverse team
They are consistently highly rated and ranked
They are an influencer
They make others around them better

—————————————-

Note: When updating your own resume.
Make sure that each of the advanced talent capabilities that you have
are included and easy to find in a quick scan.

If you only do one thing – From a recent key position opening, identify your preferred top seven capabilities from the Advanced Talent Capabilities list in this article. Next, capture the resume of a recent new hire in that job. One that you have already determined to be an exceptional employee. Thoroughly scan their resume to determine how many of your seven chosen capabilities were covered in that exceptional employee’s resume. Next, do the same resume scan on an average candidate for the same job. Finally, compare the difference between the number of ATCs identified in each resume. These results should reinforce your inclination to develop a formal resume-scanning process that will more accurately identify exceptional candidates in the future. 

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, it is fairly common for resume reviewers to rely on their subjective judgment to decide when a candidate should be rated as exceptional. This “soft approach” often results in fewer candidates being designated as exceptional. So, instead, what is needed is a more systematic and objective approach that first identifies each of the important Advanced Talent Capabilities that are relevant to this job. Then, it develops a mandatory process for systematically and thoroughly scanning the resume for all indications of these capabilities.

Author’s Note

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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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