Reading Beyond the Written Resumes

Best practices to adopt when reviewing resumes to ensure that your selection process is fair.

19 Aug 2020 Articles Recruitment Best practices


Research has shown that hiring managers spend only 7 seconds to review an individual's resume1.  What do you look for in a resume and how can you improve your selection process to ensure that candidates with the right fit for the job are shortlisted for interview? 

Here are some good practices your recruiting team* could adopt during the shortlisting process. (*The recruiting team includes HR, the hiring manager, as well as the employment agency if hiring has been outsourced2).

Use a Set of Agreed Objective Criteria. Assess candidates using an agreed minimum and desired requirements to do the job. This should be based on the required functional and generic competencies. 

Uncover Hidden Gems by Re-visiting Resumes that Don’t Meet Your Requirements at First Glance. To fairly consider these candidates:

  • Read between the lines to infer if these candidates have the required competencies and skill sets based on past projects, work experience as well as possible experience and skills they may have acquired during their career break. For instance, those who have been out of the labour force due to caregiving responsibilities, mature workers, etc may have skills you require.
  • Pay attention to what they can offer and how they add value to the organisation. Consider if the candidate has the desired soft skills crucial for organisational success. 

Tip: Don’t ignore candidates who may not fully meet the requirements for the current position; consider them for other vacancies available and keep the resumes of those whom you might consider for future openings. (Note: The retention of personal data of job applicants should comply with the requirements/obligations under the Personal Data Protection Act.)

Clarify when in Doubt. Conduct phone interviews to obtain more information and ask pertinent questions that may arise when reviewing resumes before making any decisions. This gives candidates an opportunity to explain and to be fairly considered for the job. Record the responses and decisions made. 

Tip: Be mindful about how your questions are phrased. Avoid questions that may be perceived as discriminatory.  

Look Beyond Keywords. Organisations may use AI to manage the high volume and repetitive task of resume-screening for better efficiency. Ensure that any filter used does not unintentionally exclude good candidates and complement technology with human interventions to look for real evidence to support the competencies required. 

Tip: Organisations using filter questions to screen candidates before they can access the job application form online need to ensure that only information directly related to the job is requested. Do make sure that these questions are not discriminatory in the first place (e.g. Do you speak Mandarin?). If you must ask a question that may be perceived as discriminatory, explain why and note that this should be job-related.  

Be Accommodating. Don’t eliminate good candidates over trivial reasons such as typos or poor formatting unless there is a job-related reason to do so. Focus on the skills, experience and ability rather than the aesthetics of the resume. 

Beware of Biases and Individual Preferences. Recognising and guarding against them allows organisations to recruit fairly and build the best team for your business. Read How to Combat Unconscious Bias During Recruitment and download the infographic on 6 Types of Unconscious Bias to Avoid When Recruiting for ways to manage them. 

Ensure Diversity when Finalising the List. Discuss and agree on the final shortlist. This is to ensure that candidates are objectively assessed based on supporting facts. Always check that there is diversity in the pool of candidates shortlisted, as a homogeneous list could indicate bias in the shortlisting process. 

Discrimination can occur at various points throughout the employment life cycle, including before shortlisting takes place (e.g. a discriminatory job advertisement). 

Organisations must develop a fair HR recruitment and selection policy to ensure that it recruits the most suitable person for the job. This policy will provide the necessary guiding principles for stakeholders involved in the entire recruitment process.

For more resources on fair recruitment and selection process, visit


1 Ladders, Inc. (2018). Eye-tracking Study.

2 With effect from 1 Oct 2020, MOM will impose new licence conditions on all employment agencies (EAs). EAs must ensure the fair recruitment requirements set out in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices (TGFEP) are strictly adhered to, when recruiting on behalf of their clients and they are required to:

  • Brief their clients on the fair recruitment requirements in the TGFEP;
  • Make reasonable efforts to attract Singaporeans for vacancies that they are trying to fill; and
  • Consider all candidates based on merit.

They will not abet discriminatory hiring by their clients nor accept instructions from clients to carry out discriminatory hiring. EAs that fail to comply with licence conditions may be issued with demerit points, have their licence suspended or revoked, or face prosecution. Visit MOM's website for more information.