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Resume Screening: Tips for Recruiters to Tackle an Impossible Task

Resume Screening: Tips for Recruiters to Tackle an Impossible Task

Resume screening is an essential but often thankless task – particularly when you’re dealing with hundreds of applications for a single position.

Most recruiters use a mix of screening techniques. But it’s often the resume that guides decision-making and determines the fate of a candidate more than anything else.

Why you need to get resume screening right

Resume screening is a labor-intensive and monotonous task, but the stakes are high. 

Somewhere in the massive pile of resumes waiting on your desk (or in your inbox), is your perfect new hire. But there will also be a lot of applicants who are simply not capable of performing in the role.

It’s not always easy to tell which is which or to do it quickly and fairly. But good resume screening can make the difference between a fantastic new hire… or a disaster.

Resume screening has been part of recruitment for so long that the ways of doing it are often overlooked. But reviewing your approach can make a big difference to the quality of candidates you hire.

Dos and don’ts of resume screening

Resume screening can be time-consuming and stressful, but you can lighten the load by following our list of dos and don’ts of resume screening.

Do: Expect (mostly) error-free resumes

Applicants applying for a new job should be trying to put their best foot forward. They should be careful to showcase their attention to detail, and their ability to produce high-quality work and follow instructions. 

If their resume is littered with spelling errors or doesn’t follow any specific formatting instructions you provided, this is a red flag. 

Having said that, it’s worth remembering that even the best make mistakes! Do you really want to rule out your ideal candidate just because they misspelled one word?

✱ Attention to detail is great, just don’t get too caught up in the minutiae. Particularly when flawless written communication is not essential to the role.

Don’t: Be swayed by style

Some candidates put together beautiful resumes with a thoughtful layout, unusual font, and other features to make them visually appealing.

If the role involes presenting data visually or another form of graphic design, it makes sense to consider resume style during resume screening. If not, try to disregard it.

While some recruiters see a visually appealing resume as a sign of extra effort, this can discriminate against disadvantaged groups.

A well-styled CV is often associated with having a stronger support network or training – for instance, going to a better school or college, which has the time and resources to teach young people best practices for resumes and job applications. 

Plus, some people pay for premium resume templates, which may look nicer than a DIY resume, but do not have any bearing on a candidate’s suitability for a role.

Keep your application process as fair as possible to talent from disadvantaged backgrounds by focusing on content rather than style.

Do: Have a “must have” list

Before creating a job advert, you should aim to have a list of essential qualities and skills that a new hire will need to fulfill the demands of the role.

This list should be your primary reference document when screening resumes – whatever you do, don’t jump into resumes with just a vague idea of what you’re looking for!

Divide your list into “must-haves” and “nice-to-haves.” For quick and easy screening, it can be helpful to put these into a checklist. This can make it easier to quickly compare candidates and justify your decisions if necessary.

✱ Make sure that your list of desirable qualities and skills is directly based on the role’s needs. Your list also shouldn’t be overly prescriptive as to how candidates showcase those skills.

One candidate may have been a personal assistant to a high-powered executive, while another may have been a stay-at-home parent for 4 children. Despite different experiences, both can provide evidence of great organizational skills.

Do: Focus on recent achievements

When you’re screening resumes, you are trying to get a sense of a candidate’s capabilities. But you don’t have to pay attention to their whole life history.

Use your time effectively by focusing on their recent accomplishments.

This will be different for candidates at different stages in their careers. Early talent will primarily showcase their academic achievements, such as their GPA.

More experienced candidates should show you how their most recent work history relates to the role you are trying to fill.

Don’t: Narrow down potential candidates based on experience alone

Experience may be important, but it shouldn’t be the only thing you consider. When looking for a new team member, it’s often better to hire for potential rather than experience.

Consider why you would like a new hire to have experience. If you are hoping that they bring industry contacts with them or need them to hit the ground running, you might need an experienced staff member. Similarly, you may be looking for someone to mentor other employees or incoming early talent.

If you don’t need industry experience, try to focus on the skills, mindset, and personal qualities that talent will need. 

Learn more about the benefits of offering “no experience” jobs here

Do: Fact check resumes

Unfortunately, not all candidates are completely honest in their resumes. It is possibly more surprising that many don’t expect to get caught, even when accurate data is available online.

You don’t need to fact-check the resumes of candidates you are not planning to progress. 

But for those you want to take to the next stage of your recruitment pipeline, you may choose to check the most important information online.

LinkedIn can be especially helpful for confirming dates of employment and job titles.

Minor differences in job titles or dates are typical and may result from online information not being updated frequently. Egregious differences can be a sign of dishonesty and should be a cause for concern.

For the information you can’t check online, but are unsure about, note down your concerns or questions and raise them at the phone screening stage.

Don’t: Choose a preferred candidate too early

We’ve all seen it happen. A great resume comes in during the first few days of a job being listed, and you’re waiting eagerly for the closing date so you can get them in for an interview.

This might seem like a fantastic opportunity, but it can also blind you to other excellent applicants. It can also quickly bring a degree of bias into your hiring process.

This can be a particular problem for minority candidates, who often lose out on jobs simply because their resume might not seem “white enough.”

✱ Where possible, wait until the applications are closed before carrying out your resume screening.

If that’s not feasible, try to batch the resumes, so you carry out your screening once a week, for example.

Remember that resume screening isn’t about finding “the one.” At this stage of the pipeline, you are trying to remove unsuitable candidates.

Focus on deciding whether a candidate should go through to the next step, and leave your excitement about particular candidates until later in the process.

Do: Balance how long you spend on each resume

Your time is valuable, so try not to agonize over every decision. On the other hand, you want to give each applicant a fair chance.

Find a balance between the two extremes by planning to give a set amount of time to each resume – only deviate from that if you spot clear red flags that immediately rule a candidate out.

Staying consistent can help you get into a groove and keep your process fair. 

You could also consider using a “maybe” pile for resumes that will require a little more consideration.

You may find that having a colleague look at this pile can be an efficient way of getting through the pile. And bringing another set of eyes into your process can help you avoid bias.

Do: Use the right technology

Finding the right applicant tracking system (ATS) or candidate screening software can make your resume screening faster and more consistent. Using a simplistic or outdated ATS can have the opposite effect.

A great ATS can use keywords to help you find the qualities you are looking for, but it is also nuanced enough to find those qualities in the absence of specific words.

An ATS that uses AI and machine learning will be better equipped to screen resumes than one based on linguistic analysis.

👉 Headstart uses semantic analysis technology to identify skills hidden in candidate applications. So you can uncover hidden talent even when it’s not obvious. Learn more

Don’t: Make resume screening your only option

Resume screening is important and insightful, but it shouldn’t be the only tool in your recruitment toolbox.

Create a well-rounded screening process with skills assessments, interviews, and more to ensure you can find the best talent as easily as possible.

The Essential Candidate Screening Checklist

A quick reference guide to ensure your screening process is fast, fair, and effective.

At Headstart, we’re dedicated to helping recruiters achieve the impossible — a fast and fair screening process. Get a demo today to see just how easy it can be.

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