Resume screening may seem like a boring backend process that you have no control over. But you actually have major control — if not in the screening itself, in how successfully your resume makes it through the resume gauntlet!
Although you know that your resume plays a key role in getting you that all-important interview, there’s a part of the picture most people don’t know anything about. It’s the dreaded resume screener. And I was one of them as part of my hiring responsibilities.
So let’s start by taking you behind the secret curtain to help you understand a bit more about those mysterious interview / hiring process steps. And what you can do to maximize your chances.
So who exactly is doing all that resume screening?
Resume screeners come in all sizes and shapes. You can’t order them from Amazon. You can’t spot them in a crowd. But they’re out there. Ready to either pass you through to the next level. Or alternatively give you — or more precisely your resume — the boot.
Unfortunately, there’s no handy-dandy picture guide to help you identify resume screeners ahead of time and prepare accordingly. So here’s a short primer on who some of them are (based on my experience). Or at least who some of them MIGHT be. And why they might do whatever it is that they wind up doing to you:
- Recruiters (deciding if the employer even gets to see your resume)
- Employment agencies (ditto)
- HR – experienced
- HR – new
- HR – tired
- HR – angry
- HR – just got dumped by boyfriend
- HR – happy (a rare breed, except of course the nice ones I know)
- Manager – new to screening
- Manager – experienced screener and good at it
- Manager – experienced screener and really bad at
- Just anyone in the department who gets picked
- Professional consultant screeners
- Professional consultants asked to be screeners
- Owner of company
- Administrative help who sort of has heard about screening and wants to be extra careful
- Administrative help who just got a new job and could care less
- Person who used to do the job and will still be there in a new role
- Person who used to do the job and can’t wait to get out
OK. You get the idea. Useful thought: pretty much anybody can screen your resume. On top of that, who knows what kind of mood they’re in that day or how much they know about screening in general.
But wait — there’s also automated resume screening!
And they use key word and key phrase screening. You may know that your resume on occasion (more and more often in fact) has to go through an electronic key word or key phrase screening process or automated resume screening.
Nothing all that new there. But have you ever thought who tells the computer which key words / key phrases to check for?
It doesn’t just happen. Someone has to actually select and enter the screening criteria into the screening software. And not always does that person really think through or fully understand what they’re filtering out or including by the words they choose.
Automated screening is an art, But not all the people who choose the criteria are truly skilled at doing this. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying many of them are NOT! (See list above to refresh your memory.) I know that’s not fair, but at least now and then, your resume will have to make it through less than ideal resume screening hurdles.
So how can you outsmart each and every resume screener?
For the most part you can’t. You have no idea who or what will be handling your resume first. Or how well anyone has thought-through that initial part of the screening process.
And after that, for as long as the hiring process lasts, your resume could get passed around — winding up in the hands of anyone in the company or elsewhere. Each person ready to offer his or her own opinion of your qualifications.
Does anyone survive this obstacle course?
Of course they do. And in most cases it’s not quite that bad. But since you never know what your resume will be facing, it pays to give it your absolute best shot at all times. As much as is humanly possible, you need to make your resume and cover letter idiot-proof!
Important resume steps to consider
Take the time to think about who you are and what you want. Make your resume reflect your brand. Make your resume sing with your most valuable talents and skills. Target it and your skills to the specific job.
What makes you special? This is not the time to be shy. But you don’t want to brag either. Make your resume reflect a person who is competent but likeable. And whatever it takes … make it the best you can!
Why a well-crafted resume matters so much
In many cases, you have only a few seconds for your screener to select your resume from the big pile and decide if they want to put you in their small “Yes” pile. Some resumes don’t even get to be read all the way through before being vanquished to the “No” pile. That’s why good enough is simply not good enough.
Critical to your chances of getting selected … make sure your resume and cover letter speak directly to the employer’s needs and not yours. And the place to start is the job ad itself. Also your clue for key words and key phrases — just in case. And of course, use your cover letter to support you in all of that!
Your job is to make it easy for the screener to quickly see why you belong in the “yes” pile. No matter how much they know about resume screening. No matter what kind of day they’re having.
Hope that helps. Good luck!
More resume & cover letter tips:
[Post updated 2020]
About the author… Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To The Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker.