“Screening candidates” - Two Methods to choose from

Imagine you are working for a multinational company which receives hundreds or even thousands of job applications for various jobs on a daily basis. How would you differentiate the star achievers from the poor performers right from the beginning? Screening candidates can be a lengthy process, there are two methods that a company can choose from.

Bear in mind that it is of paramount importance that you include the absolute MUSTs in your initial job description and person specification, otherwise you will have to deal with many unsuitable candidates. So why wasting time with that? The purpose of screening is to eliminate unsuitable candidates who don’t match the requirements. There are two methods that you can apply:

Method 1: Screening manually by reading through each single CV, this is what small sized companies usually do if they have a manageable amount of CVs.

Method 2: Relying on a Resume Screening Software. This is how lots of mid-sized or big companies are approaching this time consuming task due to the fact that they often face high volumes of applications.

Let’s have a look at method 1:

If you are screening manually then the first thing that you look at as a Recruiter is the candidate’s CV. These are some things that I used to look at when screening candidates and that made me forward their application to the next stage of the recruitment process:

-Does the CV have the right length (possibly not longer than 2 pages)?

-Is it well designed and clearly structured?

-Is it free of any spelling or grammar mistakes?

-Does it mention certain keywords (as mentioned in the original job ad)?

-Does it include only relevant information?

-Does the candidate make clear that he has the relevant skills and experiences (as outlined in the job ad?)

-Did the candidate mention any impressive achievements?

-Did the applicant increase the responsibilities in each job role?

-Does the candidate demonstrate similar experiences at companies of similar size and industry? (this might not be of relevance to every job position)

There are also some “red flags” which I used to look at a bit more critically. For example: employment gaps, frequent job hopping, mentioning years instead of months in the career history, mentioning degree programs without any indication of graduation, multiple moves to other countries, considerable drop in the list of responsibilities and sudden change of a career direction. If a candidate generally seemed to be a good fit on paper I used to give the person a phone call to ask follow-up questions. Candidates got the chance to clarify certain aspects in their career in more detail. Often the reasons were valid to be put forward to the next stage in the hiring process.

I also never underestimated the power of a good cover letter which can also reveal a lot about a candidate, if written effectively. I focused on the following points:

-Does it sound like a standard letter or has it been customized forthe position and the company?

-How convincing and motivated does the candidate sound?

-Does the applicant mention a valid reason for changing job?

-Can I notice any urgency in changing job?

Those candidates who write tailor-made CVs and cover letters know that their chances of getting to the next stage of the hiring process are high. The problem is that many companies nowadays start with a screening process which is first computer-managed and at a later stage only human-managed.

Now let’s see how you can screen candidates by focusing on method 2. According to Human Resources Leader already ten years ago 90 % of the Top 500 US employers were making use of Resume Scanning Software. Making use of Applicant Tracking Systems, so called ATS, has on the one hand the advantage that it offers companies a time-saving and cost-efficient solution and is considered as less biased and doesn’t allow any form of favoritism. On the other hand these software programs are not flawless and have the disadvantage that highly qualified talent might be disqualified from the beginning. Reasons for that could be for example:

- they include logos, images, graphs and other visual signs

- they mention their job title differently than what the company would call them (e.g. you mention your experience as a “Secretary” but the computer is programmed in such a way that it recognizes only the word “Office Manager” for the same job)

- they list their different jobs, years of experiences, locations of companies and other details in a different order

All these points could be a reason why candidates might get disregarded due to the fact that a resume screening software (not the human being!) screens through CVs and doesn’t recognize certain formats, words etc. If the computer is confused about certain details on a CV, no matter how good the candidate is, the job applicant will not get a chance to pass this initial screening stage.

Some resume screening software programs are quite advanced and sophisticated. They:

-are focusing on certain keywords (that the company considers as paramount)

-might give higher scores to candidates who graduated from elite schools

-are able to figure out how dated a candidate’s skills are (the more often the keywords are mentioned “the more recent and substantial” the candidate’s skills will be perceived by the computer!)

-might also disregard those candidates who live outside a certain area (because employers might not want to pay additional charges for relocation)

-might be programmed in a way that allows them also to spot a candidate’s social media sites.

Times have changed and more and more activities in our daily life will be replaced by computers. It requires from both parties a certain willingness to learn and adapt to new situations. The recruiter needs to learn how to use various types of Application Tracking Software in order to make the best use of it and jobseekers need to find the perfect balance in writing a CV which is acceptable for a computer as well as a human Recruiter. Not an easy task and maybe one day this will be the only strategy that companies will apply. 

Karin Schroeck-Singh
Karin Schroeck-Singh is a passionate Public Speaker, eBook Author, and a freelancing Online Content Producer. She has an MBA from the University of Leicester (UK) and gained 18 years of international work experience in Italy, the UK and India.