Accessability Links

How to read a CV

It might seem like an obvious thing, you receive a list of CVs from your agency, you set about skimming them using your regular method, you shortlist the ones you like the most, based on the criteria for the role and previous experience.

Then you proceed by inviting them for a telephone screening or a first stage interview. So far so good, but how do you make sure you haven’t missed out on someone potentially great?  -Someone who hadn’t made the most of their CV and not managed to translate their competencies, expertise and general greatness to a paper document.

‘Well, but isn’t that your job as consultants? To make sure we get the right people in front of us?

Yes, of course you’re right, and we do a good job of it in most cases, but we’re under a lot of pressure and sometimes the people we put forward haven’t managed to improve their CVs enough for them to stand out, even though the individual warrants it.  Even though in an ideal world we’d all have the time to work on the candidate’s CVs, advised them and then be able to present an impeccable resume that would very accurately reflect the individual’s competencies, the reality is that you don’t have time to wait for this to be done, the candidate often doesn’t have time to do it and the consultant too.

So what do you need to keep in mind when you read CVs?

Have a plan

The first step in resume reading is to identify a focus. The focus needs to be a subset of the list of critical requirements. Have a look at the job profile and start creating two lists. The first one should be of the absolute essential requirements to be able to do the job, the second one of the desirable traits / skills that the candidate should display.

Once you have the skills you can choose to divide them up further into technical skills and transferable skills.  This step isn’t strictly necessary but may help some people.

Technical skills– these are normally fairly easy to identify as they should normally be listed

Transferable skills – what you need to be looking for here are signs of ‘initiative’, ‘drive’, ‘work ethic’, ‘leadership skills’, whether they are a ‘team player’, ‘communication skills’, ‘managing or driving change’, ‘problem solving skills’ and the ability to ‘learn’ (approach to self development).


Read in the correct chronological order

There are two schools of thought here, and we would advocate subscribing to both in order to not miss out on crucial information. By and large people tend to read CVs on their screens, meaning that the exact same design principles that apply to web design also apply here.  I’ll explain.

When designing a website, and particularly looking at what’s referred to as the information architecture, it is crucial that you respect the fold.  The fold is the lower edge of your screen and anything above the fold is what you can see when the page has loaded, anything below the fold you will need to scroll to see. According to research done by Jacob Nielsen, only about 23% of users tend to scroll, meaning that a whopping 77% of users won’t.

If you take these principles and apply them to the reading of CVs, it’s a fair assumption that what’s on the top ¾ of the first page is what counts.  If you add the fact that usually only six seconds are spent reviewing each CV* before making a judgment, the case becomes even more compelling.

Many life science professionals are aware of this, and in the cases they aren’t, recruitment consultants will often point this out to them. This means that there is a fair chance that a lot of the information that you will need in order to make a decision whether to keep a profile or discard it will be found here.

However, not all life science professionals are experts in self promotion, or even very good at it. This means that you may well miss crucial information that’s been tucked away on page two or three, potentially missing out on a great employee.

Since most resumes are written in reverse chronological order, beginning with the most recent experience and go backwards, we advocate that you read the CV in reverse order.  This enables you to follow the career path of the candidate in chronological order, giving you a much better understanding of the career direction, drivers and ambition levels of the candidate. 

This is the only way you can pick up trends and patterns.

You should look for trends of increasing responsibility and accomplishment. There should be a clear path of progression and every step should make sense. Reading the CV in this way increases the probability of choosing the best and most suited people for the role.

Look for similar accomplishments

You want to hire someone who will deliver results and accomplishments to satisfy your business needs. Look for instances on the resume of the person delivering the same or similar results. If you need someone to deliver a clinical study, leading a team, then look for evidence of this.  The more examples of results similar to what you need for the role, the better the candidate.

Also, it’s generally considered that a CV should contain evidence to back up or quantify any claims to success in their previous roles. Often resumes are discarded based on a lack of this type of evidence, when in fact the person could be more than suitable for the job.

Mind your mindset

The goal is to hire a person, but too often people start reading a resume with the goal of eliminating the person. This is a frame of mind switch that is necessary. Pick up every resume with goal of finding a way to throw them in.

It’s all too common that the people that get selected for interview are the people who are the best at selling themselves on paper, not necessarily the best people for the job.  By keeping this in mind, having a clear plan before you screen and reading the CV in chronological order who knows what gold nuggets you will uncover.

* If you haven’t so already, read the Ladders’ report on CV screening released in 2012.