This article is part of a larger series on Hiring.
Resume screening is the process of reviewing candidates’ resumes or curriculum vitae (CV) in search of information that corresponds to the requirements of a job opening. Resume screening tools, such as applicant tracking software (ATS), are 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, including red flags, is essential when screening resumes.
Manual Review vs Resume Screening Tools
There are two ways to screen resumes—manually reviewing resumes or using a resume screening tool such as an ATS, which helps to organize, track, and sort the data for you.
Manual Resume Reviewing
The most common way of reviewing resumes is to manually review each one to assess if a candidate has the experience and skill set to move on to the interviewing process. Although ATS systems can certainly help you sort through resumes faster, they can overlook qualified candidates who may not have the right keywords in their resumes to highlight their experience and skills. Manual screening of resumes can catch small yet important details on resumes, applications, and CVs.
For example, in the areas of education, minimum experience, and skills, applicants may use different wording or may have similar experience in adjacent vocational fields that only an actual person can notice. Here are some areas to focus on that commonly look different and are not always intuitive on a resume:
- Minimum required education
- Minimum required years of experience
- Minimum required skills
- Previous titles; some, like manager, can be misleading and need context within the resume to discern actual meaning
Steps to Manually Review Resumes
Reviewing resumes manually is the more careful, diligent way to move through your pile of resumes.
- Step 1: Collect resumes. Your resumes may come in by way of email or through a job board.
- Step 2: Do a quick scan of each resume to look for certain keywords that align with your open position. For example, if you are hiring an accounting manager, you can scan each resume for previous positions that include accounting functions.
- Step 3: Separate your quick scanned resumes into three piles:
- No: Does not meet criteria for the position
- Maybe: Meets some criteria for the position, but not all
- Yes: Meets all criteria for the position
- Step 4: Thoroughly review the resumes in each pile. Double-check the resumes in the “no” pile to be sure they don’t have any qualifications for the position. Then read through each job description in the “maybe” pile for education, past job history, and skills. Those that match your qualifications should then be placed in the “yes” pile. Those that do not can be placed in the “no” pile.
- Step 5: Perform a deep dive into each resume in the “yes” pile. Narrow it down to your top three to five candidates.
- Step 6: Move your top three to five candidates to the next stage of hiring. From there you can begin the applicant screening process.
Resume Screening Tools
Resume screening tools organize all received resumes so they can be prioritized. Most use AI to scan an applicant’s experience, skills, and qualifications to automatically sort them. Additionally, they 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, storing resumes and related documents such as interview notes and assessments.
Here are some of the basic functions of a typical resume screening tool:
- 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
Steps to Review Resumes Using a Screening Tool
Using ATS software to scan your resumes takes out the initial step of running a quick scan of the resume. You should still carefully review the selected resumes before moving on to the hiring stage.
- Step 1: The ATS will compare resumes to the job description.
- Step 2: The ATS will screen the resumes for specified keywords. As a hiring manager, you will enter those keywords into the system based on the job description or job post.
- Step 3: The ATS will sort resumes based on the selected keywords into no, maybe, and yes piles.
- Step 4: The hiring manager reviews the resumes that have been sorted.
- Step 5: Narrow down to three to five top candidates and then move on to the hiring stage.
Many ATS platforms, like FreshTeam, manage your hiring, onboarding, time off, employee data, and HR workflows all in one place. For more in-depth details read our FreshTeam review.
Pros & Cons of Resume Screening: Manual vs Screening Tools
Both manual resume screening and resume screening tools have advantages and disadvantages. Looking through resumes individually for top candidates can be extremely time-consuming, especially when you can have hundreds of resumes to sort through. An ATS can sort through resumes in seconds. However, plans cost anywhere from a basic free ATS system to over $200 per month with features like application forms, resume parsing, and reporting. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
|Better chance to catch uniquely used language in resumes||Time-consuming|
|Reduces the error of overlooking good candidates||May review the same resume multiple times if not initially recognized (applicants reapply often)|
|Can review with other positions in mind and share with other supervisors||The same amount of time and effort is often expelled for candidates who are not qualified as the ones who are|
|Can request follow-up information before qualifying or disqualifying a candidate||Biases can be formed based on the information provided|
|Faster, more efficient review process overall||Keyword searches are specific and could result in missing qualified candidates|
|Removes any bias toward the resume content||Relies only on AI and not a human eye to sort candidates|
|Keeps candidate information organized||Pricing may get too costly for some small businesses|
|Tracks and sorts resumes based on the keyword identifiers supplied by the employer||Cannot often differentiate between similar titles and uniquely worded experience types|
Common Red Flags When Screening Resumes
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 look out for when reviewing resumes are:
- Unexplained Gaps in Employment: As you’re reviewing an applicant’s work history, look for long breaks between jobs. While there could be a reasonable explanation, such as military service, starting a family, 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 in the resume.
- Brief Tenure from Job to Job: Job-hopping is a common red flag to be aware of. Too many employers in a short period could signal a lack of commitment or behavioral concerns.
- Sloppy Resume: There is no good 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, you should consider passing on them.
- 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 qualifications should be considered over candidates who use their resume as a social media page.
- Length of Resume: We know candidates want to sell you on how great they are, but most resumes should be kept to one page, two at the most if there are 15 or more years of experience at the senior leadership level.
- No Cover Letter: One way to look for more serious candidates is to ask for cover letters along with resumes in your job postings. Those who provide cover letters, as instructed, should receive first looks, while those who do not should be reviewed afterward. It is not suggested that you disqualify applicants if they do not provide a cover letter. However, those who follow instructions should be rewarded and oftentimes make for great employees.
Know 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. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, businesses cannot discriminate based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, or religion. You can face discrimination charges if you or your ATS removes any applicants based on a protected class.
Additionally, it is advised that you keep all job descriptions, resumes, and any documents pertaining to the hiring process for at least a year. To avoid an accumulation of paperwork, it is a good idea to store the resumes electronically. An ATS will store them for you. If you are manually receiving and reviewing resumes, consider scanning and keeping them in a secure online location.
Resume screening is a critical step in the recruiting process to ensure that you hire the best, most qualified candidate. Developing and maintaining a resume 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 prior to making a selection. Using an ATS to screen candidates’ resumes will save you time and effort.