Screening Resumes: Tips for New Managers

Updated on March 11, 2018
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I have 20 years of management experience and have run my own business for nearly 10 years.

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As a new manager or supervisor who is involved in hiring employees, at some point you may be handed a pile of resumes or job applications to peruse.

Often when a position is open, there is an almost unmanageable number of candidates who apply or who exist in the files in the Human Resources Department. As a busy manager, you certainly aren't able to personally interview all of the candidates; especially if not all of them are actually qualified or suited for the position you're trying to fill.

Certainly, being able to expediently filter out those candidates who aren't really qualified for the job or have other disqualifying attributes would be of tremendous benefit.

Recruiters deal with this all of the time. You can take a few lessons from their playbook to help you whittle down the choices and save yourself a great deal of time. I will discuss a few tactics to help you get started.

Some General Thoughts

First, it's important to realize that doing an initial screening of applications or resumes is only a first step in the hiring process. Your purpose is to narrow down your choices so that you focus the majority of your time on the best candidates. You should conduct phone and in-person interviews only with the candidates that are most likely to be well suited to your open position. This screening is a simple step to organize people into either a "reject" or "schedule for interview" group.

Secondly, it is a good idea to get well organized before you start the screening process. Ideally, you should develop a checklist of the requirements you want to see in any candidate you consider.

If there are other individuals who will participate in the selection process, you will want to gain their input (or at least their approval) into the development of the screening checklist(s). The type of position for which you are hiring will influence how detailed your screening checklist will be, but it may include:

  • specific skills
  • work experience
  • education, licenses, or registrations
  • knowledge
  • personal characteristics
  • competencies
  • accomplishments
  • specific age requirements if the job requires

This checklist should be used consistently and objectively.

You will probably develop a more comprehensive checklist to use during the interview process. It will likely be based on the job description, the essential duties and responsibilities, and perhaps interpersonal and behavioral characteristics identified as critical to the job. In some organizations, a comprehensive job audit is done to assure all the critical functions are identified and reflected in the job descriptions. Having this level of definition makes the screening, interviewing, and selection process much easier and more likely to be successful.

But for now, this preliminary screening checklist will be a bit more basic to allow you to work quickly.

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What Should Your Screening Criteria Be?

Exactly what you screen for during this process is dependent upon the job requirements you have for the open position.

  1. Often the document you are screening can be used to rule people in or out of further consideration just based on presentation. For instance:
    -- Is the resume organized, legible, and error-free as far as spelling and grammar?
    -- Is the cover letter well written, brief, but filled with useful information?
    -- Is the application filled out completely, is it legible, and did the applicant follow instructions?

    In some jobs, these types of things may not be critical. In that situation, simply don't include them in your quick assessment.
  2. The next criteria to consider would be minimum requirements for the job. This can be things such as possession of a license or registration that is required, a minimum education requirement, is legally eligible to work within the country, at least one year of work experience in a specific type of work environment, or some other requirement that would automatically rule someone out if they didn't possess it.

    When viewing a resume or application you should check for these minimum requirements first so that candidates who don't possess these things are eliminated and no additional time is spent reviewing their documents. But for those who pass, you can proceed with a higher level screening.
  3. Additional criteria would be based on qualifications that would be preferred or highly desirable. If an applicant possessed these qualifications they would be a strong candidate worthy of a personal interview.

    Specific skills, competencies, accomplishments, work experiences, and so forth might come into play at this point. Perhaps you need someone with proficiency in a particular treatment, a method of analysis, use of certain equipment, or familiarity with a particular software. Now is the time to look for this. Some of this screening can be done by simply scanning for keywords but sometimes you have to infer based on job titles, descriptions of job duties, or accomplishments.

    If it is important for the job, it is also possible to screen for soft skills or things that are more qualitative. Strong communications skills, leadership ability, problem-solving, creative thinking, or flexibility might be sought after. This generally requires a closer examination, but can certainly help narrow down the number of candidates deemed appropriate for an interview.

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A Few Things to Remember

Resumes, and even applications, can be somewhat deceptive.

  • some job candidates leave out critical information unknowingly
  • some are better at writing cover letters and resumes than they are at the skills needed for the job
  • some who perform extraordinarily on the job are poor at writing resumes and cover letters
  • the space is limited so full descriptions of accomplishments and job responsibilities aren't really possible
  • some individuals will try to inflate their experience, accomplishments, or qualifications
  • sometimes the information provided can be confusing or seemingly inconsistent
  • job titles aren't consistently applied across organizations/companies so by themselves, they may not mean much

For these reasons and more, it is possible to misjudge the suitability of a given candidate. Sometimes it might be worth exploring more via a phone interview before screening a candidate out as long as they passed the cursory screening of the "must have" items. Your sorting of applications or resumes may end up with three categories:

  • reject
  • clarify more via phone interview
  • schedule personal interview

Some common things that might need clarification either during a phone interview or personal interview might include:

  • omitted information
  • gaps in employment (find out the circumstances)
  • reasons for frequent job changes
  • reasons for leaving previous jobs
  • duties and responsibilities under certain job titles if not stated specifically in writing
  • quantitative "proof" of accomplishments if not stated in writing
  • evidence of any of the skills you could only infer they possessed based on your screening of their resume or application

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Next Steps

So you've screened all of the available resumes or applications, now it is time to schedule phone interviews if you have some borderline candidates or ones you feel you need more information on to determine their suitability for interview. Of course, before you call, you should have specific goals/questions to allow you to rule them in or out based on the information they provide.

Once all of your best candidates are identified, you will need to schedule personal interviews. This, of course, needs to be coordinated with any other individuals who are to be included in the selection process.

As mentioned above, personal interviews are best conducted using another checklist that covers the items within the job description that are critical. It may include a rating scale for each item in order to compare job candidates. Technical or clinical skills, work experience, behavioral or interpersonal abilities, and so forth are generally included on the interview checklist. Each interviewer should be involved in the development of the checklist.

By using a checklist both during the initial screening and throughout personal interviews, employers can assure a fair and consistent approach in making their hiring decisions and will likely be able to discover the best candidate match for the job.

© 2018 Christine Mulberry

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