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Resume review guide

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.

Watch out for unconscious bias!

Remember that we all have unconscious bias, and that hiring is especially susceptible to bias. However, when we recognize and accept bias we can be on the lookout and it’ll be less likely to unconsciously guide our decisions.

Learn how.

Research shows that the effect of unconscious bias can be profound. For example, in one study, “applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.”

This bias prevents us from achieving the results we want, which is to select the best possible candidates regardless of background.

Humans are not only biased, but we almost never realize that we’re being biased. However, when we realize and accept bias, and recognize it, we can be on the lookout for bias and it’ll be less likely to unconsciously guide our decisions.

In that spirit, here are a few ways you can look out and correct for bias during the hiring process.

  • Review these guidelines before every interview or round of resume review. Studies show that we’re less biased when we’re conscious of our own thinking, so continually reminding yourself to be aware will help.
  • Remember that we’re especially susceptible to assume that underrepresented minorities — women, people of color, etc. — are less qualified than their white male counterparts. When considering candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, check your thinking about qualification. Ask yourself: am I reading this person’s qualifications the same as if they were white, male, etc?
  • Continually re-check the guides and scoring rubrics to make sure you’re reviewing fairly. After a while, you’ll start to feel like you’ve memorized the guides and rubrics. This is good since it’ll help you be more efficient, but our memories are fickle things. The more you remind yourself of the concrete, established metrics, the less likely you’ll be to make “gut” decisions that could be colored by bias.
  • Watch out for assessments of candidates that may be colored by age, gender, race, etc. For example, we tend to be more likely to use words like “aggressive” or “competitive” when describing men, vs “supportive”, “nurturing” when describing women. Are you surprised that an older person has cutting-edge technical skills? Ask yourself if an assessment might be colored by an applicant’s demography.
  • Don’t check out the candidate on social media, or Google them. A person’s public profile almost certainly won’t have anything relevant to work, and might instead reveal all sorts of irrelevant information (age, gender, political affiliation, race, etc.). If the candidate application/resume links to a personal website, LinkedIn, or GitHub you can check those out — these are more work-focused, and we can assume a candidate has put what they want an employer to see there. If you use Chrome, the Unbias Me extension (written by Fureigh) can help by removing avatars and names on some websites such as LinkedIn.
  • If you come to a conclusion about a candidate very quickly, before you’ve read the whole resume or finished the interview, spend the rest of the session trying to disprove that conclusion. Snap judgments are much more likely to be prone to bias than considered ones. We tend to jump to conclusions and then look for evidence to support our hypothesis. To compensate, if you find you’ve reached a Yes/No conclusion very quickly, spend the rest of the session trying to disprove that hypothesis. Explicitly look for evidence that you’re wrong. If you’ve decided immediately that a candidate is not qualified, spend the rest of your time trying as hard as you can to find evidence that they are qualified.

Use the scoring rubric

Each position comes with a scoring rubric, or formally known as 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.

If you don’t know which scoring rubric to use, ask the TTS Talent team for the position’s crediting plan. For example, here is a past crediting plan that has been used for the Consulting Software Engineer position.

These scoring rubrics vary with position and GS-level, and will be used by GSA OHRM to ensure candidates are qualified before formally extending an offer.

Applying the rubric

As you review a 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 okay for you to infer experience from context. Remember we still have interviews to suss out skill level, so it’s okay to be generous about inferring experience.

How 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. Review job history: titles, dates, companies, and career progression
  2. Review responsibilities, accomplishments, and relevant experience
  3. Review bonus items: education, open source, volunteer work, etc.

More details on what to look for in each section below — but 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. The second item 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 will 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. Remember that viewing a candidate’s social media can subject you to unconscious bias, so consider avoiding it.

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, 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?” Do they 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. Review 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. The TTS Talent team will provide a Google Form for the role that you’ll fill this information into.

Checking a reference

Follow OPM’s guide to reference checking, which is excellent. See specifically the questions for references on page 5.

Some specific notes for our positions:

  • We should expect to get three good references. The Hiring Manager has some discretion here – if a candidate only can supply two references, that may be acceptable, but only in special circumstances.

  • If a reference check turns up red flags, that’s an immediate no-hire. Remember: these are people the candidate gave to us; we should expect to be hearing good things.

  • If a reference check can only confirm dates of employment, that’s not a red flag (there may be legal issues which would prevent a good reference). But the reference “doesn’t count”; return to the candidate for new references.

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