As a startup founder, we recommend spending at least 40% of your time recruiting in the very early stages. During this process, you’ll see a lot of resumes. Some good, some bad, some very bad, and some just downright confusing. This guide will help clarify what a good resume looks like and how to evaluate both technical and non-technical resumes. Whether you are looking at resumes, CVs (curriculum vitae) or LinkedIn profiles, the rules are generally the same.
Recruiting processes move quickly and some candidates don’t have a full resume. CVs are more common with candidates who have PhDs and these profiles tend to be anywhere from 5-8 pages long. LinkedIn profiles don’t tell the whole story so it’s important to know what to look for in a candidate profile.
This guide is intended to help founders know what to look for and how to streamline the screening process. Like all Homebrew guides, this is a living document and we welcome your feedback.
Preparing to screen resumes
The most important thing you must have before you start evaluating any resume is a clear idea of what you are looking for. The way to make sure you know what you’re looking for is to write a job description or specification. Without a job description, you can’t be consistent in your screening and evaluation and you might be looking for the wrong things entirely. For more detailed information about how to write a job description, please refer to Homebrew’s guide on the
The other prerequisite for screening resumes effectively is to have a clear sense of your company’s mission and values. If you don’t know who you are and who you want to be, you can’t know who might fit within the organization and align with your goals. The simplest way of addressing this is by drafting a values statement. A values statement is distinct from culture.
Values are written words, and your culture is how you actually live those written words.
Before you screen resumes make sure you are aware of any biases you may have. Unconscious bias training is something your company should think about and implement in the early stages. For more information on unconscious bias, please see
. Homebrew is happy to provide referrals if you’d like to train your employees on how to avoid unconscious bias.
Cover letters -- only if necessary.
Only require a cover letter if you are planning on using it as a candidate qualifier. Best to require a cover letter only for roles requiring writing (marketing, editorial, etc).
Titles can be confusing -- read the resume.
Job titles mean different things at different companies. A “Manager” doesn’t necessarily define the role as a person with direct reports. She may have been an individual contributor who managed large projects. Make sure you read the bullet points regarding what someone actually did.
Industry/functional knowledge -- do your homework.
If you are a founder from a non-technical industry trying to hire for a technical role, make sure you understand the function. Talk to experts, your advisors and your board. Get introductions to “best in class” in the industry and understand what makes these people great. Talk to recruiters in different functions and understand the best ways to evaluate candidates. Make a list of specific questions and answers you should look for. Here is a helpful industry resource for non technical founders who are hiring engineers:
People who know how to hustle, as opposed to people who are passive, tend to do better in startups. Things move fast and people need to be flexible and comfortable in ambiguous environments, and not wait to be told what to do. Someone who went to a lesser known school and landed their first job in a well known and highly competitive company probably demonstrates hustle. He or she is likely competing against candidates from top tier schools with alumni connections but stood out relative to these candidates. A candidate who “supports multiple high powered CEOs or founders with busy travel schedules” is someone you can ask for examples of hustle when you interview them in person.
Grit can refer to both passion and perseverance. An applicant who went to a community college and transferred to a competitive college shows “grit.” He or she had to work hard to make the move and adapt to a new environment. Someone who founded a company and ran it while in school shows grit. He had to work harder than the average college student who just focused on academics. The same goes for someone who had a double major. This person demonstrates work ethic, ability to prioritize, tenacity, and time management skills. Another example is someone who had a time-consuming and successful passion project during school, which is not easy with distractions and additional stress.
Early stage companies need people who are driven by the opportunity to build vs. maintain. Startups tend to attract people who like the challenge of fixing something and growing things rather than coming into an environment to maintain what is already there. Someone who has worked in a company that grew from a small startup to a large company understands scale and a growth mentality.
Resume Red Flags
Gaps between jobs without explanation
People often take much needed time off in between jobs.This is only a red flag if there is no context. Traveling, being the primary caregiver or just taking time off should not be used against a candidate if they provide some context. As an employer, be prepared to ask questions about that time.
Here are some ways you can ask about the resume gap.
What did you learn from the time you had in between jobs?
What would you do differently if you could have time off again?
What advice would you give to someone who was about to have several months off from work?
These are open ended questions that will convey information about the candidate in terms of interests, values and character.
Numerous short stints at different companies…a.k.a. “the job hopper”
If you are hire someone who you want to stick around, grow into a management role, or be able to attract talent, you need someone with a track record of commitment. The ability to stay at a company and grow in a role shows loyalty, commitment and in some cases, patience. The important thing is to understand why the candidate has left each respective job and not make an assumption about a lack of commitment.
Education - date(s) missing
If there is no date listed by a degree on a resume and you have listed a certain degree as a requirement for the role, you have every right to ask if the candidate completed his or her degree. Unlike race, religion, sex and age, education is not a protected class. Many roles require a bachelors or masters degree. If an applicant has an unfinished degree, it can be misleading to have a degree with no date. Some people don’t put a date next to their degree for fear they will be ruled out based on age. Ruling someone out of a job due to age is illegal as a result of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects anyone 40 and over.
Me, Me, Me
Startups need team players. They tend to look for people who are collaborative and open to doing things outside of their defined job scope. This often requires working with other teams. Having a win is not about the individual but rather “the whole team or company.” Individuals who don’t embrace this will have a hard time finding satisfaction in a team oriented environment. Seeing a resume where someone over exaggerates, taking full credit on a project, may be cause for further exploration. Look out for “Single-handedly responsible for launching X.”
Listing interests or hobbies on a resume is fine. It can serve as a way to connect or even as an icebreaker in the beginning of an interview. The ultimate goal is to find out if there is alignment with the candidate’s values and the company’s values and culture. What if there isn’t alignment but the person is still a strong fit based on their skillset? The important thing here is to ask questions around interests and see where the conversation goes. Some examples include:
Tell me something you have taught yourself.
Regardless of school or occupation, what has made you the person you are today?
If you weren’t working, what would you be doing?
If it becomes clear that the candidate’s values are misaligned with the company’s values and culture, this is probably a red flag.
What about screening technical resumes beyond technical skills?
The same general rules apply for screening. However, technical jobs require a technical skill set. In the tech world, this translates into programming languages. Categories may include:
Product Management (some companies require a Computer Science degree)
What are the general types of technical skills one looks for in a technical candidate?
Big Data Analysis
What are some examples of these roles in early stage companies?
Front End Engineer
Back End Engineer
Full Stack Engineer
Head of Engineering
What programming languages do I look for?
Strong technical resumes should show quantifiable accomplishments. They can list specific, numerical outcomes that resulted directly from their work. Example: “Shipped app 1 month ahead of schedule” or “Increased page views by X%”.
Use data points (open source contributions and Github) to see how recent candidates make commits/revisions.
What is the quality of the work?
What was the level of ownership and contribution?
Did they build from scratch?
Did they solve a complex problem?
Is the applicant’s interest in tech isolated to her professional life or does this candidate look like they have a real passion for what they do? For example, someone who loves to code and mentor may demonstrate this on her resume by listing teaching at a coding academy as a side job or mentoring students as an internship. Other things to look for include awards, patents, side projects and publications. Passion in personality won’t be seen until an in person interview but a resume is a great way to tell if someone’s interest in technology goes beyond the formal workplace.
Clarity vs Chaos
LinkedIn profiles are preferable to resumes when it comes to technical resumes. They are more concise and give the screener what they need to see in an organized one page view. In a good LinkedIn profile, the candidate’s superpower should come across. The same goes with technical expertise. These traits should come across clearly on a profile. Thoughtfulness around formatting is a good reflection of how the candidate approaches their work.
is another way to learn more about a technical candidate, using it as a social networking tool. All users have a profile on Github so you can view their work history including project contributions.
IC/Individual contributor resume vs. Manager
Hiring an IC/Individual Contributor requires a different skill set than a manager, director, or “head of” candidate. Someone who is managing a team requires experience in hiring, firing, retention, coaching, and organizational management. Some of these things will come across on a resume and some things won’t so you will need to probe further in conversation.
We get a lot of referral candidates. Should we prioritize those resumes?
Internal referrals from employees or investor/board referrals should be prioritized in the sense that they should be screened in a timely manner (48 hour turnaround for acknowledgement of receipt) and screened within 5-7 days if they meet the minimum requirements. Why are referral candidate referrals so important? Great employees tend to know other great employees. If they were convinced to come join your company, chances are they will be excited to tell their former peers and friends about their new opportunity. All referrals need to be treated with kid gloves because you want the referrals to keep coming. Regardless of whether there is a fit or not, handle referrals with care.
You can tell a lot from someone’s resume or LinkedIn profile. However, the resume is only one part of the story. Use it to rule out someone who doesn’t meet the minimum requirements or who comes across as careless based on the resume presentation. Getting to know a candidate in real time and digging into their references is the best way to really evaluate personality and skill set. We hope this guide helps you with the initial screening process.
Founders will be flooded with resumes after any type of announcement (funding, rebranding, new executive hire). It feels great to know so many people are excited about your company and the idea of working with you and your team. Knowing how to evaluate a resume will help make the interview process less daunting in terms of candidate flow. Managing and screening inbound resumes can be overwhelming and this guide will help streamline the process.
Huge thank yous to Matt Johnson, Alix Peabody and Jodi Jefferson for their thoughtful input on this document.