Screening resumes

If you’re lucky, you’ll receive lots of eligible resumes, but everyone dreads the drudgery of screening resumes. Hopefully, your self-screening tactics have whittled the number of resumes down to dozens, rather than over a hundred, but still, that’s dozens of resumes to read and evaluate. Here are a few tips to make the process a little less painful.

When you’re screening resumes, don’t try to jump straight to a Yes or No on the first pass. You’ll find yourself reading, and re-reading resumes and either throwing out too many or including too many to interview. It’s really hard to tell if someone’s a fit based on the resume. At this stage, you’re just trying to stack-rank them so that you can prioritize your interviews. Instead of a Yes/No, grade them from AA to D:

  • AA: Wow. Looks like exactly the person you were looking for. E.g., has exactly the right amount of relevant industry experience (you’ll probably only have a few of these)
  • A: Relevant experience, at the right level of responsibility; no red flags
  • B: Some experience, but maybe a little more junior than you were looking for or not quite the scope of experience
  • C: Has some of the right experience, but there are some red flags, like jumping from job to job, resume typos
  • D:  Not enough experience, the wrong kind of experience, or a poorly written resume

If you don’t have a resume-tracking tool or hiring portal, an easy way to manage the process and keep them organized is to put all the resumes in a folder, and rename the file leading with your ranking. For example, “B_JohnDoeResume”. You can add a suffix to keep track of where they are in the process, e.g. “B_JohnDoeResume_screened”.

Trust your gut. Don’t overthink it, or you’ll be at it for days. Only go back and do a second pass if you find yourself putting everyone in the B category, or if you end up with more than a few AAs and As.
Hopefully you have 2-3 AAs, and something like 5-7 As. Set up a screening interview with these candidates first. If you eliminate too many in the screening process, you can always move on to the more promising B candidates, but chances are your final candidate is somewhere in this initial list.

The screening interview

You can save yourself a considerable amount of time by screening candidates by phone before conducting face-to-face interviews. There’s nothing worse than spending an hour or more in an in-person interview only to find out they can’t move to your location, don’t really have the experience they are touting, or aren’t interested in working on your product.  Phone interviews should be no more than 20 minutes, and should mostly be focused on verifying the facts on the resume – current position, current responsibilities, basic contact information, location preferences, willingness to relocate, and salary expectations. Take a few minutes to ask them about their current role and responsibilities. There’s no need to go too deep here, rather, try to get a sense of whether they are embellishing on their resume, or if they do really have the level of responsibility they are stating in the resume.

The screening interview also gives you the opportunity to gauge their communication skills, both in the process of setting up the phone call, and the call itself. How quickly did they respond to your email requesting a phone call? Was their response succinct and well written?

Incorporate one question that helps you determine if they have the single most important technical skill for the role. For example, if you’re hiring software developers, it might be a question to determine if they really understand OO programming. If you’re hiring automotive technicians, it might be a question about how they’d diagnose a tricky non-start condition on a specific make/model.

Next week we’re going to dive into the interview – how to prepare questions, how to really dig if you’re not getting the right level of detail from a candidate, and dos & don’ts for the interview itself.