Resume screening is the process of looking over a resume to search for information that corresponds to the requirements of a job opening. Resume screening as a function is being enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI) programming that can scan the resume document for keywords, and parse the results to create a searchable applicant profile. Knowing what to look for and what red flags to watch out for is essential when screening resumes.
Resume Screening: A Critical Step in the Hiring Process
The process of hiring can be broken down into basic steps that start with identifying the needs of the role, and end with hiring a candidate whose qualifications match. Some of these steps can be simplified by using a resume screening tool.
Resume screening allows a hiring manager (or software database) to match applicants’ resumes to open jobs. While research has shown that a recruiter will only take an average of six seconds to quickly scan a resume, the full resume screening process is a bit more complex.
For example, the recruiter has to find the resume online or via email, open it, review it, evaluate the applicant’s qualifications, and then make follow up notes to remember why they chose one candidate’s resume over another. In our experience, that takes about 10 minutes per candidate (which resume screening software can help expedite).
In addition, one job posting may get hundreds of applicants, each with resumes attached. Glassdoor conducted a survey to find out how many of those applications with resumes resulted in candidates being interviewed and hired.
1. Resume Reviewing Process: Volumes and Percentages
We have found this to be true, and industry professionals have agreed that, on average, an online job posting generally receives 250 to 300 resumes. Only a small percentage of those candidates can get called for an interview. Since most employers interview fewer than 10 candidates for a position, only 2% to 3% of applicants will receive an interview on average. So, you will have to do some work to locate the perfect candidate for you.
One way to look for more serious candidates is to ask for cover letters along with resumes in your recruitment advertisement. Those who provide cover letters, as instructed, will receive first looks, while those who do not will be reviewed afterward. Note that we are not suggesting that you disqualify applicants if they do not provide a cover letter, even if you have asked them to provide one. Those who follow instructions though should be rewarded and oftentimes make for great employees. You can learn about putting requirements in job postings in our article how to write and post a job ad.
2. What Companies Look for When Reviewing Resumes
If you are new to the resume reviewing scene, it’s helpful to know what others are looking for when they are reviewing resumes. There are some common attributes that most HR professionals consider when qualifying candidates.
So we have utilized some HR reporting from Zety to guide you in this arena. Here’s what professionals recruiters report will get a resume rejected much of the time:
- Impersonal Applications (No Hiring Manager’s Name) – 84%
- No Thank You Note After Interview – 57%
- Resumes Aren’t Customized and Tailored – 54%
- No Cover Letter – 45%
- No Follow Up With Employer After Interview – 37%
- Job Experience – 67%
- Cultural Fit – 60%
- Cover Letters – 26%
- Prestige of College – 21%
- GPA – 19%
Source: Zety and Jobvite.
Utilizing Social Media in the Resume Review Process
Within this article alone, there are many places to mention the use of social media during the resume reviewing process. We admit, using Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and so on, is just too irresistible. We all want to know the real person behind the carefully curated resume and social media will oftentimes provide that sneak peek.
It stands to reason that employers would use social mediums to “check out” candidates. A SHRM survey on using social media for talent acquisition, recruitment and screening, reported that 84% of organizations are using social media for recruiting, that 43% are using it to screen applicants, and that 66% are taking steps to leverage mobile recruiting to target smartphone users.
Since employers use social media for broadcasting their opportunities, it would stand to reason that they would also utilize social media for deeper investigation. Zety reports that the top social media platforms recruiters use to check candidates include:
- LinkedIn – 87%
- Facebook – 43%
- Twitter – 22%
- Blog – 11%
- Instagram – 8%
- YouTube – 6%
- Snapchat – 3%
When using social media to review a candidate, you want to be sure that you do not disqualify candidates based on what you see on social media platforms. Employers are responsible for explaining the reasoning for disqualifying a candidate if ever asked, by the candidate or the EEOC, and the reasoning you provide had better be represented in one way or the other on the resume, application, or CV. Something missing, or not enough of a certain experience, and so on, should be gleaned from the resume and not the applicant’s Facebook account that has posts from last weekend’s party.
3. Know ‘Red Flags’ When You See Them
Candidates are very creative. In some cases, resumes may contain subtle warning signs of potential problems that you may want to follow up on with the candidate. Some of these red flags may outweigh a candidate’s otherwise perfect fit or abilities and experience for the job. Some examples of red flags to be on the lookout when reviewing resumes are listed below.
Unexplained Gaps in Employment
Be very careful here. As you’re reviewing an applicant’s work history, look out for long breaks between jobs. While there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation, such as military service, starting a family, graduate studies, or taking care of a loved one, any serious candidate should be prepared and willing to explain these gaps in an interview and may even hint toward reasoning within the resume.
Brief Tenure From Job to Job
Job-hopping is more common these days with younger generation employees and is really a sign of the times. But too many employers in a short period could signal a lack of commitment or behavioral concerns. Be sure to look out for candidates who only list year-dates with no “to and from” months.
A Sloppy Resume
Nowadays there is no reason to present a sloppy, unprofessional, or error-laden resume. There are examples online of great resumes and if a candidate does not take the time to present themselves to you in a professional manner, pass on them immediately.
Personal Data or Lacking Professional Details
Resumes are not the document to share about hobbies, trips, and family members. Candidates who stick to the business at hand, share professional experience, skills and qualification should be considered over candidates who use their resume like a social media page.
Length of Resume
Few of us need to have three-page resumes. We know candidates want to sell you on how great they are, but most resumes should be one page, two at the most (if you have 15 or more years of experience, partially at the senior leadership level).
4. Resume Screening: Manual Review vs Applicant Tracking Software (or ATS)
There are two schools of thought within the resume and applicant tracking process: manually reviewing resumes and using applicant tracking software (ATS), which helps organize, track, and sort data for you. We want to break these two options down for you. Neither is bad, in fact both options have their strengths and drawbacks.
Manual Resume Reviewing
Can catch uniquely used language in resumes
Overlooks fewer good candidates by error
Resume viewing fatigue
Can review with other positions in mind and can share with other supervisors
May review the same resume multiple times if not initially recognized (applicants reapply often)
"Maybe column" of resumes can be more easily shared with other supervisors for review
Biases often enter in at times due to a number of factors
Can inquire for follow up information before qualifying or disqualifying candidate
Same amount of time and effort is often expelled for candidates who are not qualified as the ones who are
ATS Resume Screening
Faster, more efficient review process overall
Could easily miss great candidates with poor resumes
Security from claims (removes "known" bias)
May perpetuate "unknown" biases
Enrolling a candidate using the recruiting tool will automatically ensure that your organization will meet diversity goals and consequently makes you complain
Keywords are not always reliable
Tracks the talent markers and types of experience, overall, you are seeking
Cannot, often, differentiate between similar titles and uniquely worded experience types
Keeps candidate information organized
Pricing discounts may be offered up front, with additonal costs down the road
May speed up the recruitment, resume reviewing and interview process for candidate and employer
Far and away the most common way of reviewing resumes is to review them one at a time. This is the age-old trusted way of assessing whether or not candidates should move on to the interviewing process, due to their experience and skill sets. Although ATS systems can certainly help you sort through resumes faster it can overlook qualified candidates who may not have the right “keywords” in their resume to display their experience and certain skill sets.
Manual screening of resumes can catch small yet important details on resumes, applications and CVs, where an ATS platform may graze over. Candidates do not always utilize job-related keywords you are expecting them to use. For example, in the areas of education, minimum experience and many skill sets, applicants may use different wording or may have similar experience in adjacent vocational fields that only an actual person may be able to notice. Here are some areas to focus on that commonly look different and not always intuitive on a resume or application:
- The minimum required education.
- The minimum required years of experience.
- The minimum required skills.
- Some titles, like “supervisor” and “manager” can be misleading and need documentation and support within the resume to determine if it is a manager of teams or of a function, and so on.
Although more effort and slower by way of process, reviewing resumes manually is the more careful, diligent way to move through your pile of resumes. (Just be certain to not receive resumes beyond your saturation point; when you are tired and your mind needs a break, step away from your resumes and applications and return to them later.)
Applicant Tracking Software (ATS)
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) manage the recruitment process end-to-end starting with recruiting functions that keep track of open jobs, job descriptions, and jobs that have been posted. It then follows applicants through the interview process to hire, storing resumes and related documents such as interview notes and assessments.
Here are some of the basic functions of a typical ATS:
- Posts jobs online to your own website, social media, or a job board
- Includes job-specific information such as company, salary, job description, location, and contact information
- Stores critical job-related documents like job descriptions and interview evaluation forms
- Stores applicant data and attachments like references or their portfolio
- Helps you quickly identify and sort qualified versus unqualified candidates
- Allows you to link qualified applicants to open positions
- Makes it easy for you to communicate with applicants at all stages in the process
- Offers mobile and cloud-based options for you and your applicants to use
- Has software integrations to social media and job boards
- Provides reporting capabilities
Resume Screening for Relevant Keywords
Better or for worse, most resume screeners are set up to look for keywords. As a hiring manager, those keywords should be based on the job description or job post. For example, if the job description describes work that requires a person to have SEO, marketing, and html skills, you’ll want to set up the resume scanner to look for “SEO,” “marketing,” and “html” as keywords.
While the ATS resume screening function will scan for keywords, not all resumes have the exact keyword phrases you’re looking for. For example, an experienced financial analyst applicant who uses Google sheets, but doesn’t think to mention expertise in Excel on their resume, thinking they’re so similar. If your resume screening software looks for and doesn’t find the keyword “Excel,” it may incorrectly sort the candidate into a “not qualified” list.
One ATS platform we know well is Freshteam which is a robust ATS that customers enjoy using. In addition to automated resume reviewing capabilities, Fresh Team, and many ATS platforms like it, manage your hiring, onboarding, time-off, employee data, and HR workflows all in one place. For more in-depth details on Fresh Team you can read our full review.
Further, ATS tools simply move through data faster than any human could. When scanning a resume, a hiring manager will typically look for the following:
- A name, address, and contact information of the applicant
- A document ordered logically with few if any typos
- Skills that match the open position or job description
- Experience that matches the open position’s requirements
- Education that matches the open position’s job level
An ATS resume screening tool can perform all these functions. In addition, it can cut and paste, or parse the data, so that it fits into the ATS data format and is mapped into the corresponding fields so you can draw reports from the data.
What an ATS Costs
The cost of an ATS will vary depending on the number of employees you have, the number of jobs you post, and the features you select. For example, Freshteam is free if you have 50 or fewer employees. Paid plans cost between $50 and $200 per month with features like application forms, resume parsing, and reporting. There are a wide variety of providers, features, and pricing plans on the market today.
There are many ATS providers in the market today and many offer similar features and tools, with varying pricing. Deciding whether or not to make the investment should depend on how often you recruit for positions in your business and if you have an HR team (of one or many) to help manage recruitment tasks with or for you.
5. Resume (and Application) Screening and the Law
Reviewing resumes is a key part of the candidate screening process. Knowing what information you can and cannot use to qualify, or disqualify, a candidate is essential before reviewing resumes. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) reports that the “guiding principle behind any question asked of an applicant (whether in an interview or on the employer’s application form) should be the following: Can the employer demonstrate a job-related necessity for asking the question?” This is indeed the most important question to have asked and answered internally before resumes and interviews.
This questions is important since it is the primary perspective The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) uses to determine whether any discrimination has occurred. Therefore, employers should ask applicants only job-related questions (which do not include what sort of animals do you like best, hoping for a “cat-person” type answer, or do you have children?). We are addressing this issue here since resumes are not the only tool companies use to assess applicants. Job applications are used frequently and the questions you place on your application can have consequences if you disqualify a candidate for reasons that are not job related or, more practically, legal.
Before asking the question, the interviewer should determine whether this information is necessary to judge the applicant’s qualifications, level of skills and overall competence for the position.
More on Application Questions
As we have noted, employment applications are a little different from resumes. Employers get to ask questions of candidates right out of the gates with applications, where with resumes, it is solely about the candidate’s professional history. We want to stress the importance of selecting questions carefully when creating an application.
Questions that we discourage you using on your application due to best practice or legal concerns:
- Social Security Number
- Salary history
- Criminal, felony or misdemeanor history (or any Arrests and Criminal Convictions)
- Smoking history
- Recreational drug use (even if it’s a questions like, “Do you use illegal drugs?”)
- Age and Date of Birth
- Gender, Race, Religion and National Origin
- Physical Traits and Disabilities
- Education dates, dates of graduation
- About family, marital status or children
- Credit History or history of garnishments
- Citizenship Questions
- Military discharge information
- Previous sick days used in employment
- Workers’ compensation related information
- Injuries in the workplace related information
- Maiden name, i.e., “Miss,” “Mrs.” and “Ms.”
- Whether the candidate has their own vehicle (all you need to know is that they have a reliable form of transportation to the workplace)
- Plans for retirement
We know this is a lot to track, but this is a fairly comprehensive no-no list of questions to stay away from. We have found that if you earnestly focus on the job at hand, finding the best qualified candidate for your role, you will be fine. Innocent errors are made all the time though, so use this Ultimate Guide as a quick reference when needed.
Your Equal Employment Opportunity Notice
Finally, applicants, now more than ever, look for Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) statements, which most employers place at the end of recruitment ads and many employment applications. This is a tagline that shows that you, as an employer, do not discriminate against candidates when reviewing candidates for employment opportunities.
Many read something like Tesla’s which says,
“Tesla is an equal opportunity employer. All aspects of employment including the decision to hire, promote, discipline, or discharge, will be based on merit, competence, performance, and business needs. We do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, marital status, age, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability, medical condition, pregnancy, genetic information, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, veteran status, or any other status protected under federal, state, or local law.”
EEOC statements can look differently as well. Google’s reads,
“At Google, we don’t just accept differences, we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products, and our community. Google is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer.”
With Google, there is no listing of what they do not do, only what they do focus on. This approach is fine too.
The Bottom Line
Resume screening is a critical step in the recruiting process to ensure that you hire the best, most qualified candidate from the many that apply to your job. Developing and maintaining a resuming screening process will ensure that you track the most critical attributes consistently each time, review resumes fairly and compare and contrast the skill sets and experience before making a selection. It is important that everyone on your interviewing and resume-reviewing team understand the process and what attributes are most important for each position.