The Best Applicant Ever Was Hiding In Plain Sight

Jena Brown used to recruit and hire technical professionals of all levels. So she’s read thousands of resumes, viewed countless job applications and witnessed the good, bad and ugly when it comes to the application process.

Need to Hire?  Post Jobs for Free

“I think IT recruiters everywhere can attest to the fact that most resumes look pretty much the same, there’s hardly anything intriguing about them at first glance,” says Brown,  a Minnesota-based independent recruiting operations and brand strategist. “And so it went for several years with me eyeballing applications and resumes while looking for a glimmer of something I could dig into that went deeper than the resume itself. Those little gems took a lot of work to find, uncover and pull out.”

But then Brown saw it. Right before her eyes – the technical recruiter’s Adonis of resumes.

“When I uncovered this passive candidates resume and realized the potential within it, I could hardly wait to get on the phone to see how much treasure it was really hiding,” says Brown.

It didn’t come easy for her though. When cold calling the candidate for an exploratory conversation he immediately challenged Brown to see how much she knew about his skill set and overall caliber of candidacy.

“After proving myself to this high level architect/evangelist/only-5-in-the-nation specialist he let me play ball with him and showed me the treasure I hadn’t ever imagined to uncover,” says Brown. “It was during that conversation that I learned he was only 1 of 5 specialists in the nation in a particular technology our company desperately needed. He hadn’t even mentioned the name of it or his certification on the resume I originally found. So what was it about his resume that led Brown to believe there were great treasures to uncover despite what most would deem as a job hopper. This is what stood out and was so impressive.”

1. The style in which he described his experience:

“Learned how to take my hobby knowledge and my passion, and transform myself into a budding developer who understood how to hold his own as part of a professional product development team.”

2. His applicable affiliations, publications, and speaking engagements

3. The speed of his career progression-size and scope of projects and caliber of companies he worked for.

4. His accomplishments in each role in seemingly short periods of time

“I knew I had a genius on my hands and it would be difficult to hook him, but I wanted to know more about his experience and capabilities beyond the resume,” says Brown.

It took time – they did their dance – the one where Brown impressed him with information on how her opportunities will add value to his career instead of stifle him.  And how the pay, while not even close to what he was making, is worth it for the project opportunities her company could provide that very few other companies could. Then it was his turn to step in and prove he wasn’t tapped out for excellence already in his young career and that he would be adding value well beyond what he would be brought in at – given the proper amount of pay and vacation, of course.

In the end he was hired to do great things with Brown’s company, which he did within the boundaries established by the organization.

“The treasures I uncovered through his resume and subsequent conversations ended up being the very things that made him leave just short of 2 years after joining,” says Brown. “He needed adventure, challenges and growth, he needed loose boundaries in order to be the innovator and leader he was meant to be. And while our corporate environment claimed to be a culture of innovation and freethinking, the truth is it stifled this genius and he became bored and under-utilized.”

The moral of this story? Look beyond the words and seek out the voice behind them instead, says Brown. While her Adonis resume was a scant representation of his actual skills, technical abilities, she knew through the cadence and personality of his writing there was more to uncover.

Why didn’t he make his expertise, certification, and major technology skill sets known to the world through his LinkedIn profile?

Because he didn’t want recruiters calling him!

As a side note, years after leaving the company, Brown and this Adonis of the industry are still in contact and Brown is one of his beta readers for a book series he’s writing.

The moral of the story? Even what appears to be another boring resume or job application may be much more than that. It may be the best candidate you ever get. In this case, he was only one of five with the credential’s Brown’s company needed. As a recruiter and HR professional, look for that unique angle that can make the candidate stand out. Sure, it is the candidate’s job to prove that to you in the resume and application – you shouldn’t have to search, right? But in the busy world recruiters and HR professionals live – not to mention the technological world where applicant tracking systems read resumes before a human, don’t make the mistake of passing a potential great candidate because you are weary of reading resumes and applications.

“A well-crafted resume and job application is often predictive of a stellar candidate so it is wise to review these documents carefully,” says James Kwapick, Minneapolis-based District President for Robert Half International (, the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm, and a recognized leader in professional staffing and consulting services.

All too often unfortunately, the resume and job application review is far too rushed or done in a cursory manner, says Kwapick.

The result can be a lot of wasted time for the employer and the candidates. What should HR professionals pay attention to when reviewing applications and resumes? The best resumes and job applications are crisp, clear and succinct. Resumes and job applications paint a picture.

“Employers like to hire winners and a pattern of success or ‘winning’ is detectable with a careful review of these documents,” says Kwapick. “It is important to take note of candidates who have the same or similar industry and job type to the company’s open position.”

These applicants should be invited in for interviews more frequently than candidates with less a relevant work history, says Kwapick. A solid work history with career accession and a pattern or record of significant, quantifiable contribution typically correlates with a successful person. Also, resumes and applications that convey a consistent and ongoing commitment to education and professional development often foretell candidates dedicated to continuous improvement.

“Resumes and applications that reflect a willingness to go the extra mile and not be content to punch the time clock are also a trait or behavior pattern one can infer from a resume or application,” says Kwapick.

Don’t overlook what could be a great candidate. It might not be the Adonis of candidates like Brown uncovered, but it could be the talented professional that your company or client needs to find or continue success.

What was your best resume, application or candidate ever? What traits did this person have? Discuss below.

Written by

Matt Krumrie is a career columnist and professional resume writer who has been providing helpful information and resources for job seekers and employers for 15+ years. Learn more about Krumrie via, connect with him on LinkedIn ( and follow him on Twitter via @MattKrumrie.

More Articles by Matt Krumrie