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A common cause of ineffective interviews and technical screens is something that many interviewers don’t think about: failing to strategically combine job descriptions and resumes.

This failure can lead to hiring candidates who don’t have the necessary skills or experience to perform given jobs, and turning away—or turning off—candidates who do have sufficient qualifications.

In this post, we’ll show you a three-step process for using job descriptions and resumes to conduct effective and candidate-pleasing interviews. First, however, let’s take a look at what can go wrong if you make the mistake of interviewing from just job descriptions or just resumes.

Problems with Interviewing From Just Job Descriptions

  1. It’s bad for both the candidate experience and your employer brand. Since you’re not referencing candidates’ unique skills and experiences, interviews come across as impersonal. Candidates may wonder if you’ve even read their resumes, question whether you’re company, is actually serious about them, and have doubts about whether they want to come work for your company.
  1. You can get an incomplete picture of candidates’ job-relevant qualifications. Sometimes candidates have experience that doesn’t match the experience sought in the job description, but is applicable to the position. A candidate’s resume, for example, might show that he or she has experience with various databases, but not with the particular database in the job description. That experience, however, would make the jump to learning the new database much easier.

Problems with Interviewing From Just Resumes

  1. You could mislead candidates. If you ignore the job description and just focus questions on candidates’ resumes, you’ll make many believe those skills are what they would use at your company, whether that’s true or not. This can also inflate their idea of how likely they are to get the job.
  1. You might not find out whether candidates’ have all of the skills they need to have to succeed. This is because you’re not determining if they have the qualifications present in the job description.
  1. You’ll struggle to round out an entire team’s skillset. If you don’t use the job description, you may really like candidates and their skills, but they might not complement or augment where you have weaknesses in your existing team. You want to make sure their skills help fill in those gaps.

Using Job Descriptions and Resumes Together: a How-To
Here are the steps that we recommend for getting the most value from job descriptions and resumes in your interviews.

  1. Begin by reviewing the job description

Identify core roles and responsibilities, and create a separate category for each (around five is a good number). Then for each category, identify the individual skills and experience that are necessary to perform well.

Here’s an example to show how this looks like. Imagine you are looking to hire a Java Engineer. You identify data structures/algorithms, Java language features/frameworks, design patterns, toolset and enterprise Java as a few of the categories.  You would then break down each topic individually and delve into how candidate accomplishments (from resume) in these core competencies and what is required for the job (from JD).

  1. Align questions to identify candidates’ qualification in the tactics that are critical for achieving the role’s core objectives.

For each tactic, you want to determine if candidates have relevant knowledge, skills and accomplishments. Create questions that address them as fully as possible, but don’t go overboard—keeping interviews to an hour or less is an important best practice.

Approach your questions by category. Plan to start with a warm-up question—using our example, something general about candidate’s relevant experience as a Java Engineer.

Then begin the conversation by discussing data structures/algorithms.  These questions are designed to determine candidates’ qualifications in the associated job functions (tactics). The discussion will give you a better sense of the candidate’s skill level and allow you to determine the direction of the interview. If your assessment of the initial discussion was positive, you can plan on moving on to more advanced skill assessment.

Close the questions for each category by asking candidates if there are any relevant skills or experiences they want to mention.

  1. Before meeting with individual candidates, review their resumes, and use them to personalize your questions to them.

At least an hour before a scheduled interview, examine the candidate’s resume for the job-relevant skills, experiences, and accomplishments they claim. Adjust your questions to reference these claims, inviting the candidate to discuss them. Also consider highlighting digitally or physically the most recent or complex experience related to each tactic, skill or tool.

Let’s say a candidate’s resume stated that he or she was responsible for managing IBM’s website. Your question might be, “What is the most complex website that you’ve been in charge of?” If the candidate responds with “HP’s site,” you could say, “I saw that, but I’m also interested in this IBM I see on your resume.” That way not only could you get two behavioral examples—one the candidate wants to talk about and one you find interesting—but you also show that you’ve taken the time to review the candidate’s resume and are taking the hiring decision seriously.

More Advice for Interviewers

It might help you to think of job descriptions and resumes as helping you create customized strategic plans for interviews. When you’re writing a strategic plan, you determine the objectives are and your tactics for accomplishing them. Your job description is a strategic plan for filling a job role with a successful new hire, and to do so you outline the objectives for the position, and the tactics and the tools necessary to carry those out successfully. Resumes, in turn, allows you to customize your interviews to best determine if individual candidates have the necessary qualification in those tactics and tools, while also delivering the candidates strong candidate experiences—which is also critical for achieving your strategic plan.

Also, we recommend recording interviews on video if possible, allowing for review. During your review, focus on where each candidate excels and falls short. Use this in creating a summary of how well or poorly each candidate’s qualifications align with the job description.

Lastly, remember that an interview—including a technical interview—is just one factor of many in the hiring process. So if you’re not making the hire/no-hire decision, refrain from stating whether a person should or shouldn’t be hired. Instead limit yourself to discussing the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and how they align with the role.