You got the job requisition posted and are well on your way to hiring your next great customer service rock star or designer to join your team, but you are now being inundated with resumes. Naturally, you want to bring in the best and brightest to interview, but how do you get to that point?
You’re never going to interview your next great employee if you never call him or her in for an interview in the first place. This means your success in hiring the right person boils down to how well you can prescreen candidates from the piles of resumes that hit your inbox. Here are some tips for prescreening to increase your chances of bringing in candidates that won’t waste anyone’s time:
Step One: Look at the Cover Letter
While some candidates (even hiring managers) consider cover letters mere formalities in the online era, they are as important today as they’ve ever been. Why? A resume is an outline; it can only tell you certain things about a candidate. The cover letter, however, is a story. It’s your first impression of a potential employee--and first impressions count.
A candidate’s story should engage you from the start, and demonstrate not only a real passion for the work they do, but a meaningful desire to join your organization.
Here are a few elements to look for in a strong cover letter:
- Well written. It should go without saying, but a cover letter must be well written, organized, and clear, without grammatical errors or typos. If it is obvious that care has been taken to write the cover letter, this is a great sign that future care will be taken in matters related to your customers and business.
- Passion, passion, passion. A candidate should want to work for your organization, and give you reasons why. Actually using the word passion is a great sign, as long as it seems authentic. Real enthusiasm to join your organization is more important than just stating “I can do great things for you.”
- Clear and concise. There’s an old saying: “If I had more time, I’d write you a shorter letter.” It’s more difficult to write a cover letter that is clear, concise, and to the point. Too much fluff isn’t a good sign; it’s indicative of a lack of discretion and maturity.
- Great teammate. A cultural fit is very important. Understand what you’re looking for from a cultural standpoint and keep an eye out for those qualities. Maybe the candidate mentions a personal interest or hobby that you know meshes well with the interests of other members of the team. This goes a long way in assembling a group that truly enjoys working together and will be loyal to your organization for the long run.
Step Two: Look at the Resume
Examine the resume for important details. Is it professional looking? Does it look like there was thought and time put into it? Does the candidate have relevant experience? What kind of companies have they worked for?
Resumes, for better or worse, vary a great deal. This inconsistency can be viewed as an opportunity; the good stand out among the mediocre. Here are a few things to look for:
- Clear and easy to read: Too often, poor formatting and extraneous details make a resume practically unreadable. An overly dense resume, and one that includes confusing sections and/or typos, reflects on the care and professionalism of the candidate. If a candidate hasn’t taken the time to proofread their resume, what does this say about their work ethic?
- Demonstrates interest in your industry: For example, a customer service agent applying for the role at a tech company should demonstrate a general interest in technology. Although in this case, customer service experience trumps tech experience. A candidate with great customer service experience who worked in retail and only referenced (perhaps in the interview) helping her mom set up an iPad is probably a better fit compared with a candidate who worked in tech for three years but has no customer service experience. In other words, having a general interest in your industry is good, but strong skills for the particular job are more important.
- Includes essential elements: Work history, education, and skills must be included. Less important (but often valuable) elements are a summary or “objective” sentence, hobbies, volunteer experience, or personal interests section. While some argue a hobbies section is the mark of a less professional resume, this isn’t necessarily the case. It all depends on how the information is presented and how well the examples suit the candidate’s overall profile and mesh with your team.
Beyond reviewing the candidate’s resume and cover letter, other research can help you get a better sense of who a candidate is and how well they’ll fit inside your organization. When you come across a candidate of interest, do some basic research on Google, LinkedIn, and Twitter. This is a good time to start asking whether this candidate would make a good cultural fit.
Once you’ve got a short list of potential candidates, you’re ready for phone screening and in-person interviews. The next article will cover interviewing strategies to help you make the most of your time and find rock star employees for your team.
Related: The Perfect Hire Starts With The Perfect Job Posting 
This article is part two in a three-part series focused on hiring the best people for your team.
--Amy Kelman leads Zendesk’s Customer Success team, whose charter is to create a beautifully simple experience for all Zendesk customers. Learn more at www.zendesk.com  or on Twitter at @zendesk .
[Image: Flickr user Antony Theobald ]