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Screening resumes: A how-to guide for hiring managers

Don't let resume screening become a headache. Here are some tips to help hiring managers along the way.

In a tight job market, companies need to maximize their strategies and tools for finding the best tech talent. Technology itself is part of the solution.

Managers and executives must also weigh the value of hiring internal candidates, who may be a more proven fit, versus external candidates with excellent references and qualifications.

Depending on the position, some companies may put a high value on teamwork and collaborative skills, while others place more emphasis on a candidate's proven skills and accomplishments. Company A may have a process where finalists for a job opening meet with various team members who give hiring managers their evaluation. Company B might cut out the team member interview completely, and the hiring manager offers the job to the candidate they see as best qualified for the position.

But whatever the company culture and job openings, it all starts with each candidate's calling card -- the resume.

What to look for when screening resumes

First impressions mean a lot. If job seekers don't hit the right points on their resumes, hiring managers may throw those documents in the trash. Here are things to look for in resumes:

  • Skills and accomplishments. For tech jobs in particular, managers need to make sure resumes detail skills that are a match for the position. Perhaps the job opening is for a software engineer. Something to look for might be if the candidate for this position has seen projects through from start to finish successfully.
  • Work experience. Many companies want to see some experience in the field they're hiring for. If the job opening is for a technical support engineer, the hiring managers will want to see how many years candidates have worked in the field and whether they progressed in their roles. If a candidate doesn't have any related work experience, hiring managers may want to look for related volunteer experience.
  • Education. Candidates may not always have previous work experience, so it's important to pay attention to their education level. In addition to advanced degrees from a college or university, a growing number of tech skills are being taught online with certificates given to those who show a proficiency in specific areas.

Read more here to see if a degree or certification is the better career path.

Shortlisting candidates

Hiring managers might winnow the list down to 15 viable candidates after screening a high volume of resumes and doing background checks. But they still need to shortlist candidates to five or six for final interviews.

Hiring managers can benefit by prioritizing candidates who show they match up well with the position being offered.

"Don't send the same resume to every job you apply for," said Paul Freiberger, principal at Shimmering Careers. "Study the job description and highlight where your skills match what they're looking for."

Freiberger also suggested job seekers also align their description of accomplishments with the needs of the company. Hiring managers can use this filter to further shortlist candidates.

Resume screening technologies

The paper resume has evolved. Many resumes are sent electronically and reviewed on a screen.  Recruiters and those making the hiring decisions now often proactively seek candidates by searching sites such as LinkedIn, enabling businesses to streamline the hiring process.

Here are some other technologies that hiring managers use to help in the resume screening process:

  • Greenhouse. HR departments and others use third-party software and services such as Greenhouse to screen resumes and help companies develop scorecards to better identify the best candidates.
  • Modern Hire. The Modern Hire platform lets companies use a series of clicks to quickly set up a way to let hundreds -- or even thousands -- of candidates go through a brief text interview of customized screening questions. Candidates automatically advance to the next level of engagement if their answers meet the set of predetermined qualifications.
  • Trailhead. CRM giant Salesforce has developed Trailhead, a free online skills certification platform that lets job seekers create a digital profile for potential employers to see what skills they bring to the table.

As work and responsibilities continue to evolve, traditional resumes based on work history often fail to capture the core competencies needed to succeed in a job, said Kris Lande, senior vice president of Trailblazer Ecosystem at Salesforce. The profile was designed to offer a complete view of an individual's validated skills, certifications, accomplishments and community connections.

Resume trends

The basic purpose of the resume hasn't changed in decades. It's the calling card, the description of job readiness that lets potential employers see if someone is worth interviewing. But when presented with a surplus of similarly qualified candidates with years of experience, hiring managers need to think outside the box to narrow their choices.

One trend is for hiring managers to broaden their search criteria in a way that values potential over skills. Forty-three percent of candidates today are self-taught in one or more of their role's job requirements, according to Gartner research. Resumes that reflect the ability to adapt and learn new skills -- even if they don't tick every box of desired skills -- may make for a more attractive quality of hire.

Another trend is for candidates to put links to videos in their resumes -- or even create straight-up video resumes. This is particularly effective for managers hiring for customer-facing roles, such as sales and marketing -- really anything where presentation skills are key.

Resume red flags

Ideally, hiring managers want to give every qualified candidate consideration. But they may not have the time or resources to analyze and follow up on every seemingly qualified candidate. There may also be some resume details that give hiring managers pause -- even if the candidate appears qualified.

  • Gaps in work history. There may be a good reason someone didn't have a job in a given year or two -- medical issues, for example -- but if it's not explained, that may lead a busy hiring manager to dismiss the candidate from consideration.
  • Too many jobs. Someone who worked at five companies in seven years may have gained many skills, but the hiring manager must decide if that also shows a lack of commitment.
  • Poorly written. This isn't just about grammar. It can be the way the resume is organized and its points of emphasis -- such as too much about what the candidate wants from the position versus why they should be hired. Candidates should be able to explain why the work they do matters. Resumes should also detail challenges that the applicant overcame in previous positions and how they accomplished their end goals.
  • No customization. While the resume ticks all the skills required boxes, it may not be tailored to the specific position or company hiring. A resume should indicate why a job candidate is a good fit for the team and what they can bring to the table.

Job sites can help screen resumes

Companies have long hired recruiters to help identify the best job candidates. Recruiters and hiring managers now often use jobs sites such as Indeed, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder and Monster to screen for the best candidates.

All these sites use AI-based resume screening technologies to present their customers with qualified candidates.

"If your resume is run through the ATS [applicant tracking system] and the software determines you are not a good match and you are rejected, you might never know why, which is unfortunate," Freiberger said.

It helps for hiring managers to be specific about what skills they need when working with a job site so the filtering is effective. But there is a risk of missing out on worthy candidates if the list of required skills is too long.

Job sites such as Indeed use an automated resume screening process to present hiring managers and recruiters with a list of qualified candidates based on their criteria, let them select the ones they're interested in and automatically decline the rest.

ZipRecruiter AI analyzes millions of data points to find the best matches for enterprise customers and invites them to apply. Many of the big job sites, including ZipRecruiter, integrate with a company's own ATS to smooth the hiring process.

Learn some additional ways that AI can improve the talent acquisition process.

Every company is different

Many organizations want the same thing -- highly qualified team players who are enthusiastic about the company's mission. But that doesn't mean there's only one way to screen job candidates.

For example, there's onboarding software company PlusPlus, which uses a method called topgrading to evaluate resumes and candidates.

"We look at what someone's done chronologically going backwards to see what skills they used and what challenges they overcame," said PlusPlus CEO Marko Gargenta.

PlusPlus also uses a scorecard to help identify certain desired qualities. For example, is someone applying for an account executive position at the right stage in their career? Have they handled the size of deals and companies that PlusPlus is focused on?

Gargenta also looks at LinkedIn and other online profiles to evaluate candidates. For example, he expects someone in sales or marketing to have a lot of connections, and he looks to see if software engineering candidates are on GitHub and contributing to the community.

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