Resume Screening: Deciphering Education and Certifications

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Part two of an HR: Focus on Hiring series of articles.

Two resumes are identical except one candidate graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the local state university and a 3.0 GPA, the other graduated from Never Heard of It University with a Master’s degree and a 3.9 GPA. Consider two more identical resumes, one with a few recognitions by the local chapter for their industry, the other with 20 acknowledgements in various compilations of Who’s Who for their field. In both scenarios, how to you go about deciding which experience, education, training or certifications are superior?

If you’ve been recruiting for a while, the first red flag will be anything from an institution you’ve never heard of. There is usually a reason you’ve never heard of it (barring perhaps the occasion that a candidate is from out of state and you aren’t familiar with area schools). The second red flag is going to be anything from an institution you see way too often. Accolades that are handed over to anyone with a checkbook are pretty much void. I don’t care that you were listed among the Who’s Who of Finance Managers with less than 10 years of experience that own a pet and are located within the southwestern portion of Arizona (please note that this is not an actual group recognized by Who’s Who). Certain certifications and training can be irrelevant additions to fatten a resume. It’s your job to figure out the worthy from the not-so-worthy.

Part of this deciphering process comes down to the nature of your industry and the position in question. If you are selling [insert random product here] to [insert random consumer here], a course at Sales Trainers R’ Us, might not be the worst credential to have. However, if you are selling a niche product to a specific target group, that training may be useless. You need to pay attention to the type of training as well as the institution as they relate to the job description you are trying to find a match for. Should it matter to me if you majored in Basket Weaving at Harvard? Just because it’s Harvard, doesn’t make it relevant.

The next step is to determine, for lack of simpler terms, what is legit and what is bogus. Not having heard of an establishment doesn’t make it unworthy. To find a good fit, you may need to do your homework. Utilize Google. Search for the organization’s website (another red flag if there is no mailing address listed on the website). For high level positions you may want to send certificate, transcript, or diploma copies to a company specializing in accrediting these types of documents. I’ve used Morningside Evaluations in the past, though mostly for accrediting diplomas for immigration purposes. They are a great resource either way.

Many affiliations and memberships can also be inflated. What difference does it make if you sit on the board for A Greener Phoenix if the only members are you and one other person (if that’s the case, hopefully you are at least Board President) and no contributions or differences have been made as a result of this endeavor? Again, I’m talking to you soon-to-be-college-graduate: if you only joined the ASU Water Analysis Association because every other Tuesday of the month you get a free pizza lunch during meetings or if you and your friends started a fishing club with the claim to fame being that one time you took a trip to Canada, do every recruiter who looks at your resume a favor and leave it off your final version.

As for training, there are more companies out there offering “training” than you can shake your fist at. Many organizations send their employees in droves to these classes and seminars in the hopes of improving upon their human capital. Companies like Dale Carnegie, American Management Association, SkillPath and Fred Pryor all offer various development courses. Some of them are worth the time, cost and education (Microsoft Office software training classes for example) and others are waste of time courses filled with common sense information along with an expensive price tag. Look for online reviews and assessments to find out what others thought of the course or seminar. Look at the outline for the classes listed on the resume and see if the topics listed include information helpful to the position the candidate is applying for. Find A Seminar lists seminars in the United States and links to the companies providing them. For college education, US News provides a helpful site, ranking institutions across the nation in various categories.

A high-detail, in-depth look at anything listed under the Accomplishments section of a resume will help you sort the good stuff from the fluff. With the unlimited options provided online, fake degrees, meaningless credentials, or out and out resume fraud are all very real sand traps in the resume screening process. Put in the effort, dig your way out, and hopefully hire a legitimately experienced individual.

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