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How to screen resumes and decide who to call for a job interview


You’ve posted your job opening, and you’re starting to see a trickle of applications. Hooray! Then the trickle becomes a stream. And the stream becomes a flood. The next thing you know, you’re buried in more than 100 resumes. And you’re supposed to sort through all of these and narrow them down to two or three how?

Take a deep breath. Screening job applicants isn’t too difficult, there’s just a lot of volume. The trick is to stop looking for the needle in the haystack until you’ve removed most of the hay.

Who cares?

No, this isn’t a facetious question, this is your first round of screening. Of those who submitted resumes, how many of them actually seem to care about the position and seem to have put effort into applying?

The Hiring Manager's Guide to Effective Interviews

Did they follow directions? If you asked for a resume and cover letter, you can discard those with no cover letter attached. If you requested a link to a portfolio of past work, don’t bother with those who didn’t include one.

Is the resume obviously meant for another job? If they state that their goal is to get a job in the cricket farming industry and you’re a robot rescue and adoption agency, the odds are good that they wouldn’t stay long at your company anyway.

Did they misspell your company name? Did they misspell their own name? One typo on a resume doesn’t need to be a dealbreaker unless you’re hiring for a position in which written communication or attention to detail is critical. But major miskates misstakes mistakes indicate someone who hasn’t read through their application as carefully as they would have if they really cared about the job in question.

Focus on your must-haves.

Once you’ve dealt with the “I wasn’t paying attention” resumes, it’s time to zero in on your absolute minimum requirements. This might be a bit less than advertised. If you’re looking for someone with five years of experience in journalism but you’re okay looking at someone with two years of experience in journalism plus an extensive background in commercial photography, just start by screening for two years in journalism. It’s much, much easier to do another round of reducing your “maybe” pile than it is to go back through your discards and add them back in.

What you do with those borderline cases is up to you. If you have a ton of people who meet or exceed your minimum requirements, you probably won’t need to call on them. If they look particularly intriguing in some unexpected way (perhaps they’re newer to journalism but have a useful skill like a particular second language and also a really impressive portfolio), you can set them aside for special consideration. This is also a good practice if you think they might be a great fit for another role.

If you still have too many resumes, you can move on to some of your nice-to-haves. But stick to those that were listed in the job posting. After all, if you didn’t mention that it would be nice to have social media experience, there’s an excellent chance social media skills didn’t make the cut when they were updating their application materials.

Skills testing.

This isn’t mandatory, but if you have a large number of apparently-qualified applicants for a position that requires a very particular skill set, a quick test of that ability can be helpful in narrowing down those applications further. These should be basic demonstrations of ability, and shouldn’t take more than half an hour of someone’s time. Examples could include:

  • Using information provided, create a spreadsheet that uses conditional formatting to make the data easy for a layperson to understand.
  • Using this published news story about our company, draft an internal memo about it.
  • Create a brief PowerPoint presentation about our volunteer program based on the information on this web page.

Again, this isn’t to pick the person who makes the Best Spreadsheet Ever, but to confirm that their idea of “proficient in Excel” doesn’t really mean “I made a grocery list in Excel once and it didn’t seem that hard.”

Remember that you should not use any work done by applicants. If their PowerPoint turns out to be so glorious that you want to use it in your work with community partners, you should pay the applicant for the work they did.

Phone screens.

Still trying to work your way down from ten to two? A 15 minute phone call can help you check in with the applicant and make sure they’re still looking for work, whether they are okay with the salary range you have in mind for the role, and if you’ve effectively communicated what the position is all about.

If it turns out that they are unable to start as soon as you need them, don’t have experience in a key area, or aren’t willing to relocate, this saves all of you the trouble of going through with a full interview.

Then there’s the interview itself.

Congrats, you’ve figured out who you plan to interview! Now you just need to nail the interview process itself. If you’re looking for help with interviewing, you’ve come to the right place. Download The Hiring Manager's Guide to Effective Interviews to get started.

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