Resume review guide

This is a guide for staff conducting resume review (or, in formal speak "crediting").

Your main goal as a resume reviewer is to be quick and fair. You should aim to spend 5-10 minutes per candidate, and this guide will help you figure out how to do that.

Each position will come with a scoring rubric (the formal term for this is a "crediting plan"). This is how we get fairness from the process: this guide gives the specific experience and qualifications required for the job, and lets you review resumes against a consistent set of requirements.

Before you begin a review session, remind yourself to watch out for unconscious bias. Humans are not only biased, but we're almost never realize that we're being biased. However, when we recognize and accept bias we can be on the lookout and it'll be less likely to unconsciously guide our decisions.

Crediting plans

Each position comes with a crediting plan -- a formal resume review rubric that we use to "score" resumes and separate applications into a set that'll move on to interviews, and a set we'll reject.

See the list of crediting plans for links to all the ones we have for engineering roles, and for convenient single-page checklists you can print out and use while reviewing resumes if you like.

These guides are rather formal, so let's walk through what they look like. The relevant part of the guide for resume review purposes is the "crediting plan". The crediting plan breaks down into several competencies, with each competency having several criteria. As you review the resume, you're looking for evidence of these criteria. At the end, the application gets scored based on how many of each criteria are demonstrated, according to a scoring guide in the crediting plan. Note that there's a different crediting plan for each GS-level.

Here's what an example bit from a crediting plan could look like for a hypothetical Teapot Engineer position:

Teapot Engineering Technical Experience: ability to use a variety of teapot construction technologies to deliver solutions in the hot-water and leaf-steeping domain.

Criteria for Job Readiness * Cites experience building teapots out of a variety of materials, including clay, metal, plastic, etc. * Cites experience in teapot design, including spout geometry, handle design, etc. * Cites experience developing leaf-containment devices out of materials such as metal mesh, cloth, plastic drippers, etc. * [And so on ...]

See the list of crediting plans for our current active crediting plans, which'll have more domain-specific examples.

So, as you review the resume, you'll be looking for evidence of the things cited in the "criteria for job readiness" section: specific programming languages, relational databases, source control, etc. The crediting plan will tell you have to "score" that section.

It's hard to find "hard proof" of any of this on a resume, so don't concern yourself too much with quantifying exactly how much experience someone has, or how well they've done these things. Remember: your role here is that of subject mater expert; it's OK for you to infer experience from context. Remember we still have interviews to suss out skill level, so it's OK to be generous about inferring experience.

How to review a resume

OK, you've got the crediting plan; how do you use it to review a resume?

It may seem daunting to try to work through this guide in under 10 minutes, but if you’re consistent and follow a simple workflow, you can get good consistent results quickly.

When you look at a resume, look at the following things, in this order:

  1. Job history: titles, dates, companies, and career progression
  2. Responsibilities, accomplishments, and relevant experience
  3. “Bonus items”: education, open source, volunteer work, etc.

(More details on what to look for in each section below.)

This order’s deliberate: the first couple items are quick, and will help "orient" you to the candidate's overall experience, and help focus where you look for the rest. #2 is the hardest, and will reveal the most detail. The last is least important, and you can skip it if you've already got a clearly qualified applicant. But for those on the edge, these parts can add a bit of extra experience that pushes someone over.

Remember that you’re reviewing a candidate’s entire submission package, which’ll include a resume and some Q&A, and possibly a cover letter and other links (e.g. to LinkedIn, a Github profile, etc). Make sure to scan the whole package for info that’s there, but maybe not on the cover letter. (But see correcting for unconscious bias for an important note about avoiding social media).

You’ll want to have the crediting plan open in front of you as you proceed. You may want to print out the single-page checklist for the relevant position and grade level, and use it to mark off experience as you go.

1. Review job history

First, review the candidate’s job history. You’re looking here at job titles, dates of employment, where they’ve worked, and their overall career progression. This is quick: expect to spend about one minute here.

There isn’t a lot here that can qualify a candidate: it’s really hard to tell whether a Senior Teapot Engineer at Company A is more qualified than a Lead Teapot Technician at Company B, or even if those two jobs have anything in common! However, looking at these items can quickly reveal where to look for the experience in the next steps.

You're also looking for a couple of "red flags":

  • Do the job titles and companies “make sense” show experience in the areas required by the job description / scoring guide? For example, if a candidate’s applying for a security role, but their resume doesn’t show any titles with “security” in them, or is filled with companies that aren’t in the technology sector at all, that’s a red flag.

  • Are the dates of employment relatively long and consistent? In tech it’s much more common to job-hop than in other fields, but a candidate who’s worked six jobs in two years might be a problem. Similarly, gaps in employment aren’t unusual: long gaps could be during a recession, or when the tech bubble burst, or parenting, etc. But a pattern of repeated long gaps between every job over a long time indicates a weaker candidate.

These won't necessarily feed into the formal score the person receives at this step, the score is entirely determined by the crediting plan. However if you spot stuff like this it's good to make a note of it to pass on to the phone screen and/or interviews for clarification.

2. Review responsibilities, accomplishments, and relevant experience

Next, look at each role, and what the candidate has written about that role. This is the time consuming part, but as you get more familiar with each crediting plan it'll get quicker.

For each role, you're looking to see:

  • What were the candidate's responsibilities in that role?
  • What were their accomplishments relative to those responsibilities?
  • Are these applicable to the crediting plan you've got in front of you? One by one, take the criteria from the job scoring guides, and compare against the experience the candidate has cites. As you find relevant experience, mark it off.

3. Bonus items

If you've got a candidate who's already clearly qualified (e.g. has shown 4+ criteria in each competency already), you can skip this step. But if not, you can look at a candidate's cited volunteer work, open source contributions, and the like -- there may be additional relevant experience there.

Scoring the candidate

Once you've reviewed the resume and found all the relevant experience, you'll need to submit a formal review and score. There will be a Google Form for the role that you'll fill this information into, and you'll score according to the scoring guide (see crediting plans, above, for details