A Three-Point Scale for Ranking Resumes

I’ve had the good fortune, both back when we had an economy and, less often but more recently, now that we don’t, to be responsible for hiring a fair number of people over my career. I’ve had the even better fortune of hiring some fantastic talent along the way, people who took my expectations and then climbed far past them, who learned from me and — more often — taught me, who I have had an enormous amount of fun with and shared some sadnesses, too, and who I have developed lasting friendships with even long after we’ve parted ways. Hiring is everything. It builds great teams, makes good teams stronger, and provides the personality and drive that sets the table for success. A bad hire slows everyone down, ruins morale, and creates a management problem you don’t need or want.

I’m currently responsible for or a part of two different search committees (thankfully) and was reminded how much my hiring has been influenced by a three-point resume-ranking model I developed about a decade ago. At the time, I needed a simple process primarily because we were hiring so many people and looking at so many resumes. Today, we hire far fewer people but have exponentially more candidates to cull through. In either case, a scale is very useful, and I thought I would share mine in case you find it helpful — or have a better idea to share back.

The Three-Point Scale

The applicant scores one point for achieving each of the following criterion:

  1. She has worked somewhere I have wanted to work. This assessment favors candidates who have worked at desirable employers: Google, Apple, IDEO, Starbucks, Fast Company, a university press, a boutique consulting firm, a successful nonprofit, a small design shop. Places that are desirable to work hire great, interesting people and inspire others to want to work there, which means they can be selective. I like to hire those people, too.
  2. She has worked on a project that sounds interesting or yielded a critical result. You may have worked somewhere that I have never thought of wanting to work or somewhere I may have never heard of, particularly if you are an out-of-town applicant, but maybe you have worked on a cool project: an agile transformation, building software for helicopters, a corporate turn-around, a healthcare research effort, an open-source project. People who work on cool projects either are cool or can become so by working on those projects. I think it was Tom Peters who characterized a career as a series of interesting projects. I want to hire people who have started beading such a string.
  3. She has done something that makes me want to have a real conversation with her. Maybe she went to an interesting school, studied astrophysics, taught poetry to prisoners, played on a collegiate team, won a national rock-paper-scissors contest, wrote a thesis comparing music composition to software development, lived somewhere eccentric or remote, wrote an evocative cover letter. Ideally this point is awarded outside of the first two (just because you’ve worked at Apple doesn’t mean I want to have a conversation with you, though it is likely) and could be considered an extra credit point. At the end of the day, or over lunch, or at the coffee pot, you need to actually be interested in having a conversation with your colleagues, and those with interesting experiences typically have something intriguing to say.

I try not to give half or quarter points and use a simple “0 or 1” assessment for each standard, though I am not a complete stickler and might give a half-point for someone who worked somewhere mildly interesting or on a semi-cool project, especially if we have a large number of resumes to get through and distinguishing among them requires greater precision.

I only use this scale as an initial screening to determine who we want to phone interview. We’re trying to find the five or six folks we want to schedule for a phone call and after that conversation we hope to get down to two or three for in-person interviews. I haven’t kept track of how many perfect threes I’ve actually hired, but I know I’ve rarely hired someone who didn’t score at least a two. Maybe never. And I’ve certainly been disappointed in the interview process by people who were fantastic on paper; not everyone who worked at Apple, ported a major app from C++ to Java in a month singlehandedly, or spends weekends trying to communicate with whales is actually someone who interviews well or will fit the culture of the team. But you need a process, because “[p]rocess is more important than outcome.”

When the outcome drives the process we will only ever go to where we’ve already been. If process drives outcome we may not know where we’re going, but we will know we want to be there.


5 thoughts on “A Three-Point Scale for Ranking Resumes

  1. Good thing you didn’t actually hire me…because I was 0 for 3. I think I met your criteria after the fact though…except that whole working someplace cool. But, I guess it was cool why we were there, right?

  2. Now you have me taking inventory of what I would have scored since our paths crossed so often.

    One of my own favourite criteria includes the ability for the person to have fun in the environment and not take themselves too seriously. After all, sometimes just showing the F up isn’t enough to sustain the people you tend to interact with all day if you don’t have a sense of humour.

    I’ve learned a wonderful interview checkpoint that may resonate with you and the gang as well since once upon a time our company was the #1 place inundated with applicants (and we still have quite a bit) that I have used to trim out the riffraff. Can I trust you? Do I respect you? Do I like you? My good friend and mentor Christopher Barry who is wiser and more worldly than I taught me these criteria, and they’ve proven to be the barometer for many good hires, and in some cases proof that I should have payed attention to those answers post hire.

    The King is dead. Long live the King. 🙂

  3. Hi Roger, I must tell you how much I enjoy your blog (Fail Fast). As a Michigander and my love for our mitten-shaped penisula, I enjoyed your reviews of the coffees of Traverse City! The blog that really capture my attention was the Three-Point Scale for ranking resumes. I love your 3 criterion. Most companies want an employee who will FIT in their culture. Your 3 questions can quickly determine fit. The questions also uncover skill sets, passion, drive and commitment of the individual. I asked myself how I would answer and events came to mind that I hadn’t thought of in a long time!

    Question #1 – You have probably never wanted to work with first generation Sun or Apollo workstations, but the times were exciting as technology moved into the powerful world of distributed workstations! Auto-trol Technology was based in Denver but I worked in Troy – inside marketing. Another exciting time was when Siebel CRM was making a huge splash. AF Kelly was a boutique consulting firm in Cincinnati and we quickly became the go-to firm. Fun businesses to grow.

    Question #2 – A PeopleSoft upgrade project doesn’t sound interesting in and of itself, however, when it is an upgrade of HCM at General Motors, it becomes a bit more intriguing! 350,000 employees at GM at the time, globally. Whew…is about all I can say. Interesting days in the CIO office for certain!

    Question #3 – Here is where the soul-searching for me really kicked in – in a good way. I began playing the bassoon at age 10 in Elementary school and began study with the Contra Bassoonist of the DSO at age 12. I tried out for both the Pontiac and Rochester Symphony Orchestras and was selected for both! First female Drum Major in my High School Marching Band (Pontiac Northern -marched 110 members), National Champion in Figure Skating (roller), husband was drafted out of Alma College by the Detroit Tigers which took us to Venezula for Winter ball. Moved 13 times in 2 years for baseball in the minors. From the symphony to sports to my current efforts with Pontiac HIgh School band program, I think we could have an enjoyable conversation. I’d love the opportunity to meet with you – even if for 30 minutes over a cup of your favorite Joe from TC.



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