Monday, October 5, 2009

Help!!!...I'm drowning in resumes.

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.


  1. As a Job searcher I'm looking for the best way to format my resume. It seems like I am in an uphill battle. I may submit 5 to 6 applications a day. I do not receive any calls. Most of the job requirement are I want everything guy, but in reality they only need someone that is willing to work hard and can learn it on the job. I have seen requirements for QA engineers that an experience programmer will not qualify for and only pays half the salary. I am a Software Tester and am good at that. I can learn any tool that they what, but do not have the 5 years at using it, because software testing is not just doing automation. It is doing testing of the software. How can I put that on my resume and have it not be put in the trash?

  2. I think that there could be a couple of things at work here. First, companies that have jobs posted are just bombarded with resumes right they may not even be getting to yours. That said, they may also have more qualified (years of experience) people applying to the same position - especially software testers and QA folks right now. Secondly, maybe your resume doesn't focus on the "right" things. Do you customize your resume for every application/description you see? I'd love to actually see your resume and see if I can pick something out....I'm no resume writing professional, but I do see plenty of resumes (especially IT/tech), so I have some insight. Feel free to email me at