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How to Screen Online Resumes

Have you ever posted a job opening online and received a huge number of resumes in response? On the one hand, the more resumes you receive, the more likely you're going to find a talented employee who will strengthen your team. But narrowing a pile of applications also takes a lot of time and energy. Here are some tips on how best to do that.

by F. John Reh
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You are going to hire a new employee, but first you have to get through a pile of online resumes. How can you screen those online resumes to find the best candidates? How will you find the time to screen all the online resumes? Start at the beginning, delegate, and trust your instincts.

Start at the Beginning

You know what you need in the new employee, what technical skills, what soft skills, what attributes. Beyond that, you know what you want or would like in the employee as well. Use that as the basis for the position description. Use the position description as the basis for posting the position online.

You may need to do many of these steps yourself in a small company. In a larger company, you may have an HR person to assist you or even a specialized recruiter in the Human Resources (HR) Department. A larger company may have specific procedures and forms you have to use. Follow whatever the process is at your company, but remember that it is your responsibility to find the right employee. Others can assist you, but in the end it is on you.

Think of the position description as if it were an RFP. List what you need in the position and what you want in the perfect employee to fill it. Remember you will never find the perfect employee. If there are other qualifications that would make someone a particularly good candidate for the position, you can add those to the position description as a bonus, like "faster than a speeding bullet - a plus". And don't add anything to the requirements that isn't really needed - don't say, for example, "ability to multi-task required" when the individual will be doing the same job every day.

Establish guidelines ahead of time for reviewing the online resumes. Are you going to allow formatted resumes sent as attachments? Will you require applicants to input their resumes into your online resume tool? Will you accept unformatted as resumes in the body of an email?

What about cover letters? I generally won't review an application that does not include a cover letter. It tells me that the individual is capable of communicating in writing, that they are the kind of person who likes to put a finish on things, and it usually means they have taken the time to personalize their application to my company rather than just sending out email blasts of resumes.

Post the Salary

Companies often require that applicants include their salary requirements with their online resume, but then refuse to disclose what the salary is for the position. The argument is that the company doesn't want to pay "too much" for the candidate. Don't fall into this trap. There is a salary or starting salary for every position. It is set either by company standards or by you, the hiring manager, because you know what the position is worth. By including the salary in the position description, you don't have to waste time reviewing resumes from individuals who don't want to do the work for that salary. And any manager who thinks he or she can save money for the company by shaving a few thousand dollars off a starting salary is being "penny wise and pound foolish". If Candidate A wants $65,000, but you can get Candidate B for only $60,000, is that $5,000 savings worth it? Is Candidate B cheaper because she is less experienced? Will you have to spend more time training him or fixing her mistakes? The extra $5,000 in salary will probably pay for itself many times over if it lets you hire the right candidate.


After you have done the preparatory work above, you post the opening online and the resumes start to come in. You don't have time to review them all so you delegate. Remember you can delegate some of the work, but you are still responsible for a successful outcome. So take advantage of your HR Department if you have one. Give them the guidelines you established on which resumes you'll accept. Let them know how you want the guidelines applied. If one requirement for the job is a bachelor's degree, make sure they know it's ok if the candidate lists their Master's degree and doesn't specifically mention a Bachelor's degree. If you require a cover letter, make sure they only forward resumes that have cover letters. If you really need someone with six years of experience counting sheep, make sure they cull out the resumes of the people who have only counted sheep for five years.

When you get the resumes from HR that meet your guidelines and requirements, review them - quickly. It put them into three classes: A's are the ones to follow up on, B's I hold onto in case I need to reduce my standards a little, C's I reject.

Delegate again by having HR call the A's and ask them a list of questions you have prepared that can amplify on their experience and qualifications. Have HR return the screening sheets and give you their comments and recommendations.

Then you need to review this additional information and have HR schedule interviews with the top candidates.

You also can have members of your team, and managers in departments you work with, interview the top candidates and give you their feedback.

Having done the prep work, and delegated everything you can, you have saved a lot of time. But now it's all up to you. You need to talk with the best candidates and make your selection. Be sure to read Interview Questions To Ask.

Trust Your Instincts

In the end, after you have reviewed the resumes, listened to feedback from HR, your team, and your peers, you have to make a decision. You have to pick the candidate who has the greatest likelihood of being successful in the position. You can develop a rating system if you want, but in the end it comes down to instinct. You have to "trust your gut" and make the decision. Hiring a new employee is not an easy job, but it's one of the most important tasks you have as a manager.