The Hiring Process: Resume Screening

So, you’re trying to find good employees. Let’s say you’ve posted your job offering on a major site, gone to a job fair and you’ve done the proper advertising for the position. The applications and resumes have come through. A lot of them. How do you go about sorting through job candidates? The hiring process can seem overwhelming when you have a fat stack of applications on your desk or an inbox full of cover letters and attachments. Below are some dos and don’ts for resume screening so that you can hire a new employee.

Resume Screening: Do

Digital or Not? Make a Decision

If you’ve been to a job fair or other in-person networking event, you may have some paper resumes in addition to some digital. If not, they may all be digital. Some people find it easier to clear out their inbox to zero and print out all the resumes. That way, they have a physical stack to go through. Others know that this isn’t the most environmentally friendly option. They’d rather steer clear of a cluttered workspace and keep everything in digital files.

resume screening on the computer

Whatever works for you! Just chose one format and stick with it. You’re bound to lose track of one or the other when you have some resumes that are digital and some that are not.

Designate a Time

Have a set amount of time that you’re willing to commit to resume screening each day. Sorting through resumes can be overwhelming. Especially if you’ve received many responses from a post on one of the major job sites. So don’t assume that you can do it all in one go. Instead, schedule an hour of your time to go through resumes. Or thirty minutes, depending on how busy you are. Creating routines and locking off an hour is a great time management technique. Completing the designated time will allow you to feel like you’ve accomplished the desired amount without the daunting task of making it through the whole pile. (Or file. Depending on the method above that you’ve chosen.)

designate a time for resume screening

Decide on an amount of time that works for you and think of it as a daily task rather than looking at each resume as it comes in. It’s a far better use of your time.

Create a List of Job Qualifications

Good news! You may have already done this step when creating the job posting. So, look over the posting and create a simplified version of that list to refer to. The list you’d make at this point should be all inclusive. Consider certain traits that will go well with your small business’ current group of employees if there is a lot of team-oriented tasks involved in the position.

Is it a Minimum Requirement or a Preferred One?

After you have a thorough list of all of the qualities and experience of the ideal candidate, determine what is most important. Figure out which of the items on the previous list are necessities and which are just shooting for the stars. Rate these qualities from “absolutely must-have” to “wouldn’t it be nice if…”

Narrow Down with Essential Criteria

The initial sorting should be the quickest part of the process. Choose three top criteria and focus in on those at this time. For example, you may want to look at job stability, tech competence, communication skills if you’re looking for a good receptionist. These are criteria that we would look for initially as we look through resumes for our answering service. We know that these personality traits are those of a great receptionist so it speeds up the initial process. We can get down to the nitty-gritty later on in the hiring process.

Know Your Deal Breakers

Just as there are essential criteria to look for when resume screening, there is the opposite as well. There are some traits that a candidate shouldn’t have. You know the work environment of your small business better than anyone else. So you also know who won’t be a good fit. These deal breakers can be taken in consideration when resume screening. Those who you see as having those traits or experience can be automatically disqualified from the hiring process.

know your deal breakers when resume screening

For example, our answering service has a few deal breakers. One of our requirements for applying for a position with us is to complete a video application. The applicants who do not complete this task are automatically disqualified. They either lack the appropriate equipment to get the job done, they’ve glossed over the specifications of the application process, or they’ve refused to do this portion. Regardless of their reasoning, it’s a no-go for us.

Other automatic disqualifying criteria for our small business is if an applicant has slow internet or is unable to work Sundays. Companies depend on answering services like ours to be available all hours of the day and night. This includes during holidays and natural disasters, even. It’s necessary for our employees to have availability to work and the right tools to do so effectively.

…and know what is just a pet peeve

There’s some things we don’t like to see that we can’t qualify as deal breakers. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to. Some people think that resumes are just supposed to be lists of things that other people want to hear. This isn’t the case.

You know what we don’t like to see when we’re resume screening? Meaningless clichés like “highly motivated,” “seasoned” or “results-driven.” Using catch-phrase style adjectives to describe yourself doesn’t help you stand out from the pack. In fact, it does just the opposite. We prefer for job candidates to give us examples to show their competency.

Despite our mild annoyance, those can’t be automatic ‘no’s. And we aren’t the only ones who find certain resume phrases grating. What pet peeves do you have when resume screening? Let us know in the comments below.

Look for Gaps

Take note if the applicant has a lot of gaps in their work history. One large gap can be easily explained for a number of reasons. They could have been caring for family members or taking a sabbatical. You’ll want to save that question for the interview. But it’s a red flag if the applicant has many gaps in their work history. Pay attention to those start and end dates and the period of time in between.

notice gaps when resume screening

Notice Duration of Each Job

If there is a lot of short term employment, it may speak volumes about the applicant. Good workers generally don’t hop from job to job every three to six months. Short term employment often means that a job candidate is not reliable or could have some issues working with others.

Sort into Categories

Go with your gut on these. Have a stack or a file (depending if you’re doing this task digitally or with physical resumes) for those who look good on paper. They are who you’ll consider for interviews first.

A second stack should be reserved for those who seem like they’d be good job candidates. These applicants you aren’t so sure of. It’s good to have this stack on hand after the initial interviews with those from the first stack. People can misrepresent themselves on paper easily.

screening resumes into files

The third file or stack is for those who aren’t what you’re looking for. There might be gleaming negative aspects of their work history, they may have one of the deal breakers that you determined after the earlier steps. Regardless, these are a definite NO.

Resume Screening: Don’t

Don’t Let Stress Build

There are many cases in which small business owners begin to look for good employees. Some are exciting. For example, the company is growing, you’ve taken on a new, big client, or you’re finally hiring a manager so that you can better focus on your work-life balance. Other reasons are more stressful. For example, you’ve recently lost a key player on your management team, you’re overwhelmed with responsibilities, you fired a toxic employee or decided to stop working with family.

screening resumes

Regardless of the circumstances, don’t let the process of sorting through resumes get you down. Learn to manage work related stress and get some sleep!

Don’t Automatically Disregard Extracurricular Activities

Some recruiters say that applicants shouldn’t put their extracurricular activities on their resume at all. Others agree that certain extracurricular activities demonstrate transferable skills. If the applicant included this section on their resume or you’re looking at their LinkedIn profile, give it a once-over and consider how what they do in their free time reflects them as a person. Are they leaders in the community? Does their hobby writing short stories reflect that they have a higher competency in written communication? Does their athletic prowess represent their determination?

Don’t Choose Too Soon

Some small business owners fall in love with a job candidate right away during the resume screening process. The person has the exact experience you’ve been looking for and seems capable of performing all the desired tasks! What more could you hope for?

screening resumes

And then things don’t work out. Maybe the personal already accepted another position before you got around to interviewing. Maybe the interview isn’t as great as you were expecting.

To have your heart set on a specific employee may not be a recipe for disaster. But it could very likely be recipe for disappointment.

Don’t Assume The Job Was Already Selected

Keep in mind that the person who is applying for the job you’re offering is likely applying to several other jobs as well. You might not be their first choice and they are still interviewing you as much as you are interviewing them. So don’t assume that you’ve met your match just because you’ve found seemingly the right candidate.

Don’t Stop too Soon

Looking for a job candidate doesn’t end when you start doing interviews. It stops when you’ve hired a quality employee. So don’t stop looking just because you have some job candidates that you find interesting. Continue to accept resumes until you’ve sealed the deal. Complete the background check. The new hire has had their first day. You don’t want to have to start from square one all over again just because you thought that you had hired someone.

Don’t Narrow Down Based Solely on Experience

A great employee is trainable. He or she isn’t always going to be the one that has the most experience in all of the tasks that the job calls for. So focus less on an applicant having experience in the exact position that you’re hiring for and more focus on that person having experience in positions with transferable skills. A good example is if you’re looking to hire a receptionist and an applicant only has experience as a hostess at a restaurant. A restaurant hostess is likely to be familiar with receptionist phone etiquette and have many of the same skills.

screening resumes

Transferable skills and work ethic are the two most important factors to determine if an applicant is a good fit. After all, managing lazy employees is a whole different ballgame.

Don’t Hurry

Carefully review each job candidate’s resume that makes it into the first and second piles you created. Screening resumes can be difficult, but hiring the wrong person is a costly affair. Training employees is hard enough without training a candidate that isn’t a good fit.

Apply this to your small business

Resume screening can become a daunting task if you let all of the applications pile up. Commit to accomplish a bit at a time everyday as the resumes come in. Don’t try to do it all in one sitting. And when you do sit down for the resume screening process, keep these tips in mind.

Now, try this…

Below is an easy list to to refer to the above Dos of resume screening.


  • Choose digital or paper
  • Designate a time
  • Create a list of qualifications
  • Determine which of these qualifications are most important
  • Narrow down to essential criteria
  • Determine your deal breakers
  • Look for gaps in work history
  • Notice the duration of each job
  • Sort into categories