Resume Review - Getting Through the Stack Fast

I'll never forget the moment I saw 9,000 as the number of applicants to one position I was working on. I was an internal consultant to a Fortune 500 company and the shock I got from registering the number 9,000 was dumbfounding. How the heck was I supposed to feel that 9,000 people had a fair shot at the position? And how could I possibly feel confident that I had presented only the absolute best qualified candidates? I sat back and tried to breathe through this sudden crisis of the mind and came to a few simple yet powerful conclusions.

Acknowledging the reality that I am not a supreme being was a huge first step. Honestly, one person can only review so many resumes for any given position. And given that internal recruiters are managing upwards of 15-20 requirements at a time makes it quite simple to accept that we will not see each and every resume with our own eyes. So how to separate the qualified from the unqualified; the appropriate from the inappropriate and the bestest of the them all from all of the other great ones?

A great preparation tool is to ask the hiring manager for the resume of the person who left the position or of another person who is currently working in a similar role. Then ask the manager what it was about that resume that was appealing. You will be amazed by what you learn in this process because you never know what is actually going on in other peoples' minds as they attempt to communicate what it is they're looking for in a resume versus an actual candidate. I have sat across from hiring managers telling myself to shut my mouth before flies get in as they handed me descriptions for technical project managers without listing one technology, or as they review a resume of a successful current team member who has none of the requirements being requested in the current job description. Connecting the dots between a paper representation of a person and actual experience working with a qualified individual are two radically different things.

So you've got your hiring manager's input based on current and relevant information and you've got your arms around the job description well enough to articulate the requirements and nice-to-haves to potential candidates. Now what? Out of the hundreds or thousands who have applied, the tens of thousands in your database and the millions on the job boards, where do you begin? Absolutely begin with the folks who have applied to the position, as these are the most relevant to your current search. Learn how to do Boolean searches (; Boolean searches will work in 95% of all applicant/candidate tracking systems and should be used in every search to narrow the results down to a manageable size. For instance, if you're looking for someone with 5 or more years of experience, be sure to include years in your search: financial analyst AND (2003 OR 2002 OR 2001) AND (zip code OR zip code OR zip code) NOT (janitor OR "vice president" OR architect) AND "balance sheet"  this search will yield resumes of financial analysts who likely have over 5 years of experience, live within a commutable distance, are not over qualified or from a different industry and have experience with balance sheets. Feel free to copy this search and use it – replacing the key words and criteria with your own, of course! Just be sure to leave the parenthesis, quotes and operators (NOT, OR, AND); it will help tremendously. People will often tell an application system that they live locally even when their resume says otherwise, which is why you should include the zip codes at a minimum.

The results are down to 300, hooray! Now what? How do we narrow it down even further? Once you have your basic list, start sub-searching based on other key words from your "nice to haves" list. This should break it down to less than half. If not, that's okay too. Start calling! Once you've identified three folks who are qualified, you are free to move on without a glance back. You've done an excellent job of getting through the masses to the point of identifying a few who are solid potentials. Submit, wait for feedback and do not search again until you've received it.

Once you become familiar with Boolean searches the process will be so fast you'll wonder how you ever searched without those handy operators. Still having trouble identifying who to call? Just start calling and really learn from the conversations. Patterns will soon emerge so that you can identify certain companies by name and know that their employees make for excellent candidates in your organization or vice versa. Or you'll start to notice that candidates who have experience with certain tools are often better suited to your hiring manager's environment, etc.

For recruiting managers, it is extremely beneficial to have resume review meetings where your recruiters from all of the different areas get together and openly review resumes. Everyone's experience and perspective is valuable and everyone benefits from learning others' triggers to either disqualify candidates or rush to call them immediately based on previous employers, experience with certain tools, industry experience that isn't necessarily obvious, etc. You will all learn something from each meeting and will absolutely become a stronger team that cuts to the chase much faster.

*For more information on Boolean searches, type "Boolean search" (with or without the quotes) into any search engine.

So, how about it? Have you used the techniques described above? I'd love to hear about your experience(s). Are you still feeling challenged? Let me know and I'll try to help you through it.
Do you have your own tips/tricks for getting through the stack fast? Tell us all about them!

Views: 205

Comment by Colleen Aylward on October 23, 2009 at 11:48am
Very well written. Perhaps you've given panicked recruiters an opportunity to take a deep breath today and plunge back in. I'm particularly interested in some feedback from you about using a tool like InterviewStudio at this point in the process where you mention: "The results are down to 300, hooray! Now what? How do we narrow it down even further? Once you have your basic list, start sub-searching based on other key words from your "nice to haves" list. This should break it down to less than half. If not, that's okay too. Start calling!"

We are finding that this is the point in the process where the Total Candidate Profiles become really efficient to scan through... either by a quick look at assessment results scores or a 10 second listen to a video clip, etc. Would like your feedback when you have the time. You can see samples at interviewstudio dot com slash DisplayArchive dot do.
Comment by Lesa Caskey on October 23, 2009 at 12:59pm
Thanks for the comment. My entire training program is built on the foundation of process alone, and I guarantee companies that they will improve their ROI 30-50% using their existing systems and tools. The reason for this is two-fold: 1. My recruiting process enables my team to recruit effectively with an internet connection and a phone. 2. With the current economy, organizations are looking to accomplish more with fewer resources. I am unfortunately not the best person to ask about systems because my clients are successfully leveraging their current systems to get great results.
That being said, I know there are many recruiters who appreciate and use video interviews and assessments (both technical and personal). For them, InterviewStudio may well be a valued addition to their repertoire.
Comment by Glenn Gutmacher on October 24, 2009 at 5:09pm
The concept is good, but 3 zipcodes is not going to get you close to everyone within a short commuting distance, so it's too arbitrary who you're knocking out. I agree 9,000 resumes is unreasonable, and companies getting that kind of volume really need an automated pre-screening and ranking tool integrated with their ATS. But since it appears you lack that, it'd be much better to eliminate irrelevant resumes by including more of the must-have's in your search criteria. Use a tool like to find synonyms to your job titles (budget analyst or accounting analyst might be just as relevant as financial analyst). And definitely add synonyms to any skill keywords in your boolean strings: the way your company/client describes something isn't necessarily how people from other companies do! You can learn much more about effective online search methods from (search for keyword: guruguide ).
Comment by Lesa Caskey on October 26, 2009 at 11:07am
Thanks for the comment, Glenn. I did neglect to mention must-haves in the search criteria, but that is of course where one should always start. And the zip codes are only limiting if you want to cast a wider net. It is only an example I posted, not the one and only search formula!
Depending on the job title, pre-screening may or may not be an effective tool. In IT for instance, it is most definitely a deterrent for qualified candidates so I would never use one except for entry-level type positions.
In my opinion, the best overall approach is that which addresses the processes for each organization based on the types of positions they fill, the caliber of their recruiting team and their available resources (budget, personnel, etc.). No one search string will fit for all searches, just as no one software solution will work for all organizations, so the process from the users' side must be rock solid independent of everything else.


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