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How Hiring Managers Screen Resumes

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I recently published a long resume writing guide and received an interesting e-mail response from a hiring manager at a large multi-national company. He sent me a few notes about how he screens resumes to find job applicants for his short list of interview candidates. I then followed up with an e-mail interview which follows the explanation of his resume screening process.

If you are searching for a job, then I think you will find this information in this article and interview very enlightening. It gives you some inside information as to what hiring managers are really looking for when they screen resumes, and some mistakes to avoid. The author of this information requested to remain anonymous, as he does not want to appear to be acting as a spokesperson for his company. That said, I can tell you he works for a major company and has been on the hiring side of the table for over two decades.

Take it away:

What Hiring Managers Look For When Screening Resumes

resume screening tips

How hiring managers screen resumes

I am one of those guys who is reading between 50 to 150 resumes for a job opening. This is the number I see after the automated filters and the additional screening by the HR department before the resumes get to me. My goal is to find four or five very good interview candidates.

Round One. I do a first pass through the resumes giving each about thirty to sixty seconds to make it to the next round. The first pass focuses on the eliminating the mass marketed resume and obvious skills to job mismatches.

  1.  If the resume is an obvious mass marketing device then it doesn’t make it to the second round. I have spent one to two hours creating a posting based upon the specific tasks that need to be performed and the skills I desire the applicant to possess. Even if the applicant meets most of the job posting requirements the mass marketed resume has told me they don’t pay attention to detail and my assumption is that trait will carry over to their actual job performance.
  2. If the applicant’s skills are an obvious mismatch for the posted job opening then it doesn’t make it to the second round.

Round Two. About 40 to 50 percent of the resumes survive the first round. The second round examines how well the applicant matches the job posting. During this round I eliminate additional resumes and begin ranking the applicants suitability.

  1. Find more mismatches and these are eliminated.
  2. The rest are divided into approximately the same size groups of high, medium and low rated resumes. This is where attention to detail comes into play. Has the applicant addressed everything in the job posting or have they fixated on one or two items. I have hired the less experienced (or no experience) applicant when they showed that they have considered the whole job posting versus a couple of aspects of it.

Round Three. The third round begins with a thorough review of all the second round highest rated resumes. I then rate these on a one to five scale based upon the applicant’s overall suitability to the job posting. I will forward the best resumes to another person to review and make sure that they agree with my assessment that this is a good group of interview candidates. Normally, I don’t have to go to the second round medium rated resumes to find enough interview candidates. At this point the interviews can be arranged.

Interview with a Hiring Manager:

how to screen a resume

Will your resume be on top?

Q: How long, on average, does it take you to whittle down a list of resumes into a short list of interview candidates?

A: If there are 100 resumes it takes me approximately 3 hours to get down to 5 interview candidates.

Q: Do you ever toss out resumes without reading them because they are formatted poorly?

A: Not so much due to formatting because our corporate system forces all resumes into a similar format.  However, I delete without reading in depth due to the following:

  • The first being the logic is just hard to follow.  This usually happens when the resume writer does not stick to chronological or task based resume but mixes the two.
  • The second is when I have to decipher what the resume writer is trying to convey.  Especially resumes that have a lot of acronyms without spelling them out.  Even though I am interviewing Quality Assurance personnel for NASA programs not all NASA centers or NASA programs use the same acronyms.
  • The third is when I have to hunt through very long paragraphs to determine if the resume writer meets the requisition requirements.

Q: Based on your responses, it appears as though you recommend creating a completely unique resume for each job application.

A: I recommend keeping a master resume and tailoring it for each job requisition.  Normally this means adding or beefing up items stressed in the requisition.

Q: Does your system allow for applicants to submit separate resumes for different jobs, or can they only upload one resume? Does this factor into your decision making process?

A: Our system allows for the applicant to do both:  either submit unique resumes for each requisition or to submit the same resume for multiple requisitions.  I normally don’t know if the applicant has used the resume for other job postings in our company.  However, if the resume does not resonate with the requisition as previously noted then it doesn’t get through my screening process.

Q: Do you ever screen applicants with Google or another search engine once you narrow down your short list of resumes? If so, what kind of information would either kick a candidate off your list, or move them up a notch or two?

A: I have never used a search engine to narrow my list.

Q: Do you ever use LinkedIn to check up on applicants? If so, how do LinkedIn profiles and recommendations change your opinion of job applicants?

A: No.

Q: Does any non-work related information on a resume influence your decision to call in a candidate for an interview? Things such activities outside the workplace, education, military experience, hobbies, etc.?

A: No.

Q: Are there any other tips you can give job applicants to 1) avoid having their resume tossed almost immediately, or 2) help them make the cut to the interview round?

A: The scenario I have been addressing is when I have posted a requisition advertising an actual job opening with a listing of the skill and tasks required for the successful candidate to perform.  Therefore, the resume writer has been handed an outline to write their resume.  Make sure you read the requisition completely and address all items.  To my thinking, if the applicant hasn’t taken the time to thoroughly read and respond to the items listed then that person will not pay attention to details if hired.  Note: I do toss resumes when they just parrot back the requisition phrases or buzz words without giving concrete examples of their work.

Recap – How to Make it onto the Short List

Writing a winning resume takes work. It starts with crafting a resume specifically for the job you are applying for, then using the keywords and descriptions to help your resume make it through the automated filters. Then you need to make it through Round One, which is the HR review. Most HR reps aren’t familiar with the specific tasks in the job requirements, so they are looking for the basics. If you pass the basic ‘eye” test, you can make it to the hiring manager’s desk. Even then, you may face long odds, as this hiring manager stated that receiving 50-150 resumes per job posting is the norm, even after automated filters and additional HR screening.

At this point, you need to have your ducks in a row, because a hiring manager can’t spend more than a few moments per resume in the first few rounds of screening. Format, spelling, grammar, and attention to detail are essential.

Keep these other items in mind when writing your resume:

  • Respect the hiring manager’s time. They often spend several hours creating the job requisition, then several more screening applicants.
  • You don’t have a lot of time to make an initial impression. You usually have less than a minute to make an impression, and sometimes only a few seconds.
  • Create a master resume, the tailor it for the specific job for which you are applying.
  • Pay attention to detail! This goes for spelling and formatting, as well as meeting the job requirements.
  • Always define acronyms; don’t take it for granted the hiring manager knows what you are referring to.

There are a lot of excellent takeaways from this article and interview, and if you are job searching, then it would be a good idea to read this through this several times, or to print this (we have a print function after the article).

Final note: Each industry and hiring manager is different, but most of these tips are applicable across industries. Always use your knowledge of your industry as your guide.

Photo credits: iStockPhoto, quinn.anya


Published or updated March 28, 2012.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Krantcents

I agree that resumes must be taylored to the specific job. It has become very competitive out there and there is no reason to interview candidates that do not fit.

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