Help!...I’m drowning in Resumes.

Trevor Smith, 10/01/09

With the current economic situation having such a heavy influence in today’s job market and candidate pool, employers and even recruiters are seeing more job seekers in the available talent pool. Who among us hasn’t posted a new opening on a job board or other vehicle only to get to work the next morning with an inbox full of hundreds (literally) of resumes? If your experience has been the same as mine, many of those resumes just aren’t qualified and seem to be a waste of your valuable time in reviewing.

Time is money…and definitely precious. With that in mind, one of the best quotes I’ve come across was from an interview on with Small Business Specialist, Katie Ford. “The time that you invest in searching for the perfect candidate is much better time spent than having to manage through a bad hire.”

So what is the best way to maximize efficiency in sorting through resumes? Here are some solid ideas that have helped myself and some of my clients sort out the best of the bunch:

1. Write Focused Job Descriptions. One of the best ways to minimize the big bag of under-qualified resumes in your inbox is to write a very focused job description. The more generalized the description and list of required skills used, the more generalized the candidate pool you will be drawing from will be. Try to avoid hard-to-quantify phrases like: “team player”, “hard worker”, “superior communication skills”, etc. I’ve found it best to focus descriptions on specific skills and a “here’s what a typical day looks like” type of mentality. Most candidates will disqualify themselves if they don’t match most of the requirements listed.
2. Resume Appearance. As a recruiter I’ve seen all kinds of resumes. In addition, I know that just about every manager (let alone every company) has a different idea of what a resume “should” look like. I’ve never bought in to the philosophy that there is ONE right template for resume-writing. But, in order to not get filed in the trash can, every resume needs to be neat, clean, and error free! While sorting through resumes…especially electronically…make sure that the appearance is professional and appropriate. If I come across resumes that have spelling mistakes, they automatically register in my mind as (for better or worse) candidates that are either lazy, lackadaisical, or have poor computer skills.
3. Candidate Questionnaire. Sure it adds one more document to look at, but a simple 5-10 question evaluation is invaluable! If candidates don’t take the time to complete it, then they are an automatic throw-away. This gives you a chance to evaluate: how candidates follow directions, express ideas, writing skills, understand the position/skills required, etc. You can usually get a feel for a candidate that really “get’s it” in a short questionnaire. Ask specific questions about handling certain situations, skills usage, etc.
4. Key Word Sorting. Though I’m not a “key word” only guy, it can be very useful. If you request/receive resumes in MS Word, then it is easy to save or move the documents to folders. You can have as many or few as you desire (depending on your level of OCD), but the benefit is your ability in Word to do key word searches. While this isn’t the only criteria to use, it can definitely cut down the amount of resumes you should go through immediately. There is also a great tool that I use called Copernic ( It is a free, downloadable desktop search tool. This is excellent for sorting by key word. Also, many companies have a database that can sort resumes by key word also.
5. Who is Reviewing the Resumes? Do you have an assistant or HR professional reviewing resumes for you? That may help in the short term, but the most effective method is to have someone with some level of expertise in the advertised position a part of the review. They will much more efficiently be able to sort through the necessary skills and experience, and be able to identify which skills are hard to come by vs. easy to acquire. Lean on your team members who are already doing work similar to the project you need help with. If you are nervous about bias, take a minute to blind the resumes (ie..take off names, addresses, and contact information) before sharing the resumes with your team.
6. Categorize. Everyone will have their own unique style, but I prefer a simple A, B, C method. Each resume will fall into either A – matches all requirements and requires immediate attention; B – matches many skills and could be worth a follow-up (after the A’s are completed); C – not a close match, but may be good for something else in the future, or another department. Take notes on each resume and write down questions, concerns, or impressive accomplishments that are worth discussing in a phone interview.

None of these techniques alone are a magic bullet, but a combination of all or some of these techniques will definitely help you maximize your efficiency in sorting through resumes. If you have some other ideas that work for your company, please share! Happy hiring.

Views: 1371

Comment by Asher Saeed on October 6, 2009 at 8:42am
G'day Trevor... while you're not wrong about sorting out the "Resumes" in a professional manner. I believe we need to sort out the "Talent" for the position we wanna hire for, not just a resume.
Comment by Darrin Grella on October 6, 2009 at 12:52pm
Yeah. Good comment Asher. I agree that Talent is the only thing that matters and how do we sort that out.
On the flip side, I agree Trevor that we do get a LOT of inbound junk right now. Your comments are valid in respect to Resume Screening.
Thank God that our jobs are so much more than sifting through countless number or under-qualified professionals for our openings.
Comment by Jeff Stahl on October 6, 2009 at 1:06pm
Good post and I agree that time is money. I do like the questionaire as well. I run a website with online brag book for the medical industry called bragfolio . When a candidate fills out the profile in full the prospective hire is armed with lots of good information to start the assessment process. The challenge appears to be getting the candidates to do more than the minnimum. Have you treated the questionaire as a mandatory item or just a request?

Jeff Stahl
Comment by Karen Swim on October 6, 2009 at 1:29pm
Trevor, excellent points. I have had the pleasure of being assaulted with hundreds of resumes and while my intention was to find talent, you subconsciously look for reasons not to read the resume! When staring at a stack of 200+ there is just no way you are going to read every single one. Knowing this process intimately is one reason why I am so fastidious with my career marketing clients. People say that resumes do not matter but someone has to screen them and it matters to the screeners that candidates diligently present their knowledge, skills and abilities honestly and in a way that prevents them from ending up in the round file.
Comment by Trevor Smith on October 6, 2009 at 1:47pm
Thanks all. Jeff....I just checked out the website. What a great idea. I'll bet your candidates easily differentiate themselves from the competition....thus differentiating you and your services. Awesome!
Comment by Chuck Smith on October 6, 2009 at 5:34pm
Cool post, Jeff. I hate when people call people resumes. Getting the decision making as close to the hiring manager is critical. But what I liked best of all was the "Candidate Questionnaire" idea. In fact, we liked the idea so much we made software that does it for you. I know a shameless plug, but... when you got a nail and I got a hammer, what am I supposed to to do?, play in the sandbox and tell me what you think. Cheers.
Comment by Michelle Stein on October 7, 2009 at 2:04pm
Good post, Trevor. And some great advice. I have a couple useful tips to add to points 4 & 6. Point 4 advocated user-defined folders to file resumes into for easier access and Point 6 recommended a categorization method.

A lot of recruiters are not only using the user defined folders on their desktop, but in email since the bulk of the resumes they receive come as email attachments. Hunt and pecking is the problem with that because email systems don't natively have a way to search attachments.

So here's the tip...

There's a free Outlook add-on that you can get here at RecruitingBlogs that turns resumes from desktop file folders, email attachments (and very soon website URLs) into searchable Outlook Contacts (vCards) that you can then sync with your mobile device. You can categorize them on the fly too (which facilitates your Point #6).
Comment by Tom Janz on October 7, 2009 at 11:06pm
WOW! Science offers a clear and compelling answer to the problem of drowning in resumes. It never ceases to amaze me how 85 years of published research on the accuracy of pre-hire validated assessments (Schmidt and Hunter, 1998, Psychological Bulletin) just gets completely lost on recruiters. Un-proctored online tests and now online behavioral interviews refocus recruiters where thay can add real value-- on guiding qualified top performers towards hiring managers that can appreciate and confirm their role-related achievements and personal characteristics. THIS is why RPOs will soak up the talent acquisition work that returns post recession, unless recruiters lead the charge to replace low-yield busy work (sorting resumes-- that DO suck, as pointed out by the Radical Recruiter, telephone screens, and 8 item non-validated questionnaries) with high-yield talent guidance supported by efficient validated web assessment services. At a cost of $1-3 per screened candidate with outlay cost savings that easily double that and opportunity cost savings that often land in the thousands of dollars per hire, the economics are a no-brainer.

The choice is clear. Go for science and talent best practices or watch the RPOs grow and profit from the sidelines. I wish I could be happier and more positive but 'thems the conditions that prevail.' I (or other providers of online validated assessments) would be pleased to deploy the life rafts to rescue the drowning, but we really can't help with kind words of encouragement around current practices that have the same effect as shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic.


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