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Resume Screening: Titles and Tenure

April 1, 2011

Part one of an HR: Focus on Hiring series of articles.




Job titles and tenure are two crucially important pieces of information for each position listed on a resume. What was the rank and how long was it held? With each role and list of responsibilities provided, the resume screener has an obligation not to take what they are seeing at face value. Failing to properly investigate and delve into the duties the candidate actually performed or how much experience they truly have risks hiring an individual not qualified to do the job.

Let’s say you are looking to hire a Human Resource Manager for your organization. This position is part of a department with 15 personnel and reports to the Director of HR. You need someone tenured to support the Director in her role and as busy as your organization is, they need to be able to come in with little training required and manage the staff and daily activities. A resume is submitted showcasing Mr. A, a candidate with a solid history of HR Management experience with ABC Landscape Company – 20 years to be exact. It sounds like Mr. A handled all HR-related responsibilities while in his role (as HR Manager of course) and would be a perfect fit for your organization. You decide to check references and find out a little bit more about the company before you bring Mr. A in for an interview. Now for the shocking truth: ABC Landscape Company is comprised of Mr. A, Mrs. A and a lawnmower. How does 15 years of HR Manager experience sound now? He handled all employee relations, workers’ compensation and other HR-related issues. Of course he did; there were no issues to handle. Take a little extra time and find out if a candidate held a title befitting their job duties or just held a title in name only.

That brings up a side note on job responsibility inflation as well. I would go so far as to say that most resumes are at least slightly inflated. Any candidate savvy enough to search the internet can find a plethora (yes, plethora – maybe that’s one) of buzzwords to make even the most mundane or mindless tasks seem like duties that are imperative to running the organization.

Learn to read between the lines:

Resume Responsibility Description Basic Responsibility Description
Implemented document organization process Filed
Maintained a direct and positive impact on the profitability at my location Worked the register
Referred customers to the appropriate management when necessary Front desk greeter/answered phones…sometimes
Comprised statistical information and converted  into presentation materials Data entry, chart wizard, copy/paste into PowerPoint

Any responsibility can sound important if the right wording is utilized. Watch for buzzwords that are repeated throughout the resume. Some descriptors are typically legitimate: trained, edited, coached, created, performed, increased/decreased. Others can be red flags, especially if the position being described is not an analyst of some kind or at an executive level: overhauled, empowered, implemented, analyzed, single-handedly, guided, streamlined, diagnosed. Resume Help provides endless action and keywords to use on resumes. If certain curriculum vitae look as though they were run through Inflator 2.0, sort through the strategic descriptions to find out what duties the candidates were truly accountable for.

Tenure can be another grey area on a resume. This is especially true when candidates have something to hide. Employment gaps should always be red flags to employers. Instead of explaining the circumstances, candidates get tricky when listing employment dates. The most common is not listing day and month, just the year during which the position was held.  John Doe could list three positions he’s held, one from 2000-2003, one from 2003-2008, and one from 2008-2011. That would be three years, five years, three years – not bad tenure. In reality, if he left job one in January 2003 and didn’t start job two until November 2003, that’s an 11 month gap in employment that you aren’t seeing because of how this information is listed. Other candidates may simply fudge their employment dates hoping that you won’t check into specific start and end dates. Don’t let falsifications on resumes slip through the cracks.

Background and reference checks are always a good idea. When employment is verified, many companies, even if they will only give the job title and dates of employment, may go further to clarify the length of time each job title was held at their corporation. Another strategy is to contact a previous manager/supervisor to try and verify prior compensation. This will provide further insight into the true corporate rank of the candidate for past positions.

Sifting through those not qualified to find that diamond in the rough can be a tedious process. Spending extra man hours to find out what an applicant can actually provide to your company will be well worth the effort. However you decide to work the screening process, ensure you are doing what you can to avoid being fooled by resume exaggerators.

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