Losing the Resume Battle

These days, the proliferation of resumes has reached overwhelming levels?? and the finger pointing at the perceived causes of the problem is everywhere. This wasn’t the case just a few of years ago, when resume flow was down to a trickle for most positions. Now ask recruiters, and most say they don’t have enough time to review all the inbound resumes they receive?? let alone notify candidates if they are unqualified. But one of the major causes of resume overload is the candidates themselves. Most candidates no longer read job descriptions. Job ads have become a lot like horoscopes: every applicant thinks the job description describes them perfectly. Even if there isn’t a fit at all, many job seekers proscribe to the philosophy, “If I’m not right for this position, maybe there’s something else within the company that I’m good for.” Armed with an Internet connection, a list of job boards, and a Word document of their resume, a job seeker can crank out about a 100 job applications in less than four hours. This is especially true in the current market, where mass layoffs and bankruptcies only add to candidate desperation and leave them with plenty of time on their hands to increase resume submittals. Still, I think blame also rests with the corporate HR departments. Poorly written, overused, and outdated internal job descriptions keep candidates guessing. What the heck are they looking for? Corporate America has a tendency to write confusing job descriptions and use cryptic company acronyms that make it difficult for the job seeker to decipher who or what a company is seeking. Often the companies themselves don’t even know what they want: when HR checks back with an employee after her first month on the job, she’s likely to say the position is very different from the job description. The Numbers Just how many unqualified applicants will submit their resume to your job postings? How much time do recruiters spend sifting through unqualified resumes that don’t fit the jobs their sourcing for? My company conducted an independent study to answer these very questions. We tested some job advertisements on a variety of websites, and used a specific set of criteria to screen and rank the resumes we received in response. These were real open positions within recognizable companies, and represented a cross section of different job functions (sales, technical, finance, etc.). The resumes we received in response were divided into three categories:

  • Top tier. Met or exceeded 80% of job requirements.
  • Middle tier. Met or exceeded 51%-79% of job requirements.
  • Bottom tier. Below 50% of job requirements.

Here’s what we learned. First of all, approximately 70% of resumes submitted to a job advertisement fell into the bottom tier. That means 7 out 10 resumes that we sifted through were unqualified. A lot of unproductive time was spent screening and qualifying the wrong candidates. The following job is an excellent illustration of our overall findings. We posted a project manager position on the major job boards and various other free sites. The job ad ran for three weeks for this particular job. Below are the actual number of applicants and the time spent screening and ranking candidates:

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# of applicants % of total # of hours to screen
Top Tier Applicants 43 6% 1.1 hours
Middle Tier Applicants 74 11% 1.8 hours
Bottom Tier Applicants 537 82% 13.4 hours
Total Applicants 654 100% 16.3 hours

As you can see, about 8 out of 10 candidates were not at all qualified for the job. Our screener spent over two days sifting through the pile. And that’s just for one job opening. On average, our screener spent only about one and a half minutes per resume. What does this mean? Ultimately, the task of processing resumes robs the recruiter of time that’s better spent doing in-depth assessments, negotiating offers, and closing the right candidates: the very core and fun of the recruiter’s job. We asked recruiters in our study how much time they spend in their day reading resumes, and there was a wide range of responses: between 25% to 80% of recruiters’ time was spent reading resumes, with a median of 45%. That’s a lot of wasted time. How To Win the Resume Battle Now, the real question: what can you do about it? There are several ways to handle and process the deluge of resumes hitting your desktop and minimize the time you spend processing resumes. As you can see, there is an excellent opportunity here to increase your productivity and save time and money. The highly administrative but ultimately necessary task of processing resumes can be improved dramatically by implementing some or all of the following ideas:

  1. Optimize your email program to push candidates to job folders. Setting up forwarding rules in Microsoft Outlook or other email programs to push inbound resumes into appropriate folders can be an effective approach. If you have multiple positions, ask job applicants to use a coded subject line when they send in their resume. That way, the email can be identified and placed into job specific folders?? so at the very least you have the applicants separated by job req. This is actually very easy to do using “rules” in most email programs. Getting to know Microsoft Outlook (or whatever email program you use) can make your life a lot easier?? it has an enormous amount of functionality that most recruiters don’t know about or don’t take the time to learn.
  2. Use auto-response emails with pre-qualifying questions. Using the auto-response feature in your email program to reply back to interested applicants with a standard set of questions can help eliminate some of the most blatantly unqualified. It can also free up some resume screening time and allow you to spend more time qualifying those applicants who answer correctly and who are most interested in your company and position. Like resumes with coded subject lines, candidate replies can be forwarded to a separate sub-folder for job. The questions don’t have to be complicated?? you can even ask questions whose answers can be found in the job description. This is an effective way to do a basic screen that quickly identifies interested candidates and eliminates those who are unwilling or unable to understand the position you are recruiting for.
  3. Drive candidates to apply online at your website. This is a good approach for companies that are serious about their career websites. By having all of the applicants enter their own information into your database, you can standardize the review process and perform better searches for qualified candidates. Of course, you still need an ATS or other database to store all the resumes. Be careful, though: sometimes the “apply online” process is clumsy, and candidates (especially the passive ones) can easily get confused and discouraged, and ultimately might leave your site.
  4. Use an outsourced resume service provider. Many outsourced solutions are becoming available, in which search firms, recruitment advertising agencies, and temp firms are providing back-office solutions to plow through all the resumes and deliver them back to their client in an organized and ranked fashion. It may sound expensive, but if the amount of time you spend processing resumes is anything like what we experienced in our study, the benefits might very well outweigh the costs. And if you’re currently trying to keep costs down by skimping on the time you spend reviewing resumes, you may very well be missing qualified candidates.
  5. Make use of next-generation search technologies. Fortunately, there are technologies and services coming out that can assist you in zeroing in on the right candidates. Many of these new approaches to searching and screening involve artificial intelligence and natural language processing techniques. In an automated fashion, these technologies can place candidates in a ranked order, allowing you to put the most viable candidates on a short list and keep the unqualified people out of the mix. These technologies have many benefits over a human pre-screen. The software never tires or get bored?? and it can process large numbers of resumes very quickly.

Most of these search technologies do little more than scan word phrases and key concepts from the applicant’s resume, compare these against the job description, and then rank the resume based on fit. But this next generation really does represent a quantum leap past the “keyword search,” and it’s often much easier to use than Boolean search techniques. Most recruiters nowadays are comfortable with keyword searches, but we also complain incessantly about them?? and for good reason. A search string like “manager and java and MBA” can result in a relatively large number of results that frequently cannot be filtered down to a manageable level. Conclusion Technology can’t replace the fundamentals of recruiting, like building candidate relationships or understanding the hiring needs of your organization. But it can help automate much of the grunt work and allow you to spend your time on more effective tasks, like getting on the phone and talking to people. Ultimately you can’t stop unqualified candidates?? but at least you can learn how to place them, very nicely, at the bottom of the stack.

Jason Krumwiede (jkrum@peoplebonus.com) co-founded PeopleBonus, a Chicago-based recruitment-enabling services firm that combines the best of people, process, and technology. Jason has nine years experience in corporate recruiting, HR consulting, and management. He received his undergraduate degree in finance marketing at the University of Colorado.


2 Comments on “Losing the Resume Battle

  1. Jason,

    I enjoyed reading your article today and I couldn’t agree more with your conclusions.

    My vision is that we move away from our reliance on the resume and more towards a model that uses a series of automated hurdles to determine if candidates meet the min quals needed to warrant further investigation. This type of system will offer the most immediate answer to the very real problems you have written about.

    One thing I would add to the content of your article is that much of what you recommend can be accomplished by a good high level screening tool such as those that accompany many ATS systems or those that are available via independent vendors.

    I think these tools offer the path of least resistance when it comes to cutting through the resume avalanche. This is because it is a heck of a lot easier to purchase a filtering device then it is to change job seeker behavior or internal corporate inefficiencies. An added bonus of using such filters is that they may actually force job seekers to think a bit about how realistic their chances are for getting a job for which they do not even meet the min quals is and may help them decide not to apply after all.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your data.

    Charles Handler

    Charles A. Handler Ph.D., PHR
    President: Rocket-Hire
    935 Piety st
    New Orleans, LA
    (504) 948-4355
    (415) 336-8415C

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