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Resume Screening: A How-To Guide For Recruiters

Resume screening is still the most time-consuming part of recruiting: screening resumes is estimated to take up to 23 hours for just one hire.

When a job opening receives 250 resumes on average and 75% to 88% of them are unqualified, it’s no wonder the majority of talent acquisition leaders still find the hardest part of recruitment is screening the right candidates from a large applicant pool.

52% of recruiters say the hardest part of recruiting is resume screening

Compounding the problem, a recent survey of talent acquisition leaders found that 56% will increase their hiring volume next year, but 66% of recruiting teams will either stay the same size or shrink.

In 2019, “doing more with less” will depend on a recruiter’s ability to figure out how and where to effectively automate their workflow.

Advances in recruitment technology have added automation to candidate sourcing with recruitment marketing and to candidate interviewing with video interviews. However, technological innovations to address the biggest pain point in recruiting—screening resumes—has been frustratingly absent until recently.

The time spent on screening resumes often takes up the largest portion of time-to-fill. With today’s competitive candidate-driven talent market, top talent only stays on the market for 10 days on average.

To help you solve the biggest bottleneck in recruiting, we created this how-to guide on resume screening and how technology is changing how recruiters screen candidates.

What You Need To Know About AI-Powered HR Screening Tools

The definition of an HR screening tool is changing these days.

hr screening tools

Back in 2000, SHRM listed the #1 screening tool as employment verification. In 2015, the top HR screening tool was the ATS.

In the last 2 to 3 years? A lot has changed.

Enter AI

Some have argued AI is the new electricity:

“About 100 years ago, electricity transformed every major industry. AI has advanced to the point where it has the power to transform every major sector in coming years.”

-Andrew Ng, founder of the Google Brain Deep Learning Project 

Looking at the financial history of AI, there was $5B in funding in 658 companies in 2016.

AI is changing most industries, and recruiting is no different. AI is the next big wave in screening tools as well.

How is AI changing screening?

Screening can be a tedious, logistical process.

Human recruiters have better things to do with their time, but screening and weeding out unqualified candidates is still an essential function. A necessary evil, if you will.

The conventional ATS — the same program that was the dominant force in screening tools for over a decade — wasn’t necessarily good at helping to automate out the task work.

You still had to find the candidates (sourcing), weed out the wrong ones (screening), advance the remaining, and work with the hiring manager on the best choice.

The sourcing and screening portions took up a significant amount of time, and the technology wasn’t necessarily improving that.

This is where AI comes in.

AI for screening uses machine learning, meaning that the more repetitions the AI program gets, the better it becomes at doing that particular thing.

This has immediate implications for sourcing and screening: as the program learns what type of candidates thrive at your company, it can go source and screen those types of candidates consistently from job banks and boards.

AI systems can work within a variety of HR screening tools and assessments, learn which ones predict success the best, and focus on those with future candidates.

It can also be taught to be fully legally compliant by avoiding bias related to candidates’ demographics (e.g., race, gender, age).

What does all this mean?

Less time on spent on sourcing and screening for recruiters and more time for candidate relationship-building, developing culture, engagement strategies, and more value-add HR activities.

Adoption of AI as a screening tool

Sometimes, we all fall prey to this idea that a list of technological features is the be-all and end-all that you need.

A list of features is very important, without question. It gives you a roadmap as to how you can use any type of recruiting software, be it a screening tool or a full-body ATS.

But what you need to consider even more is adoption.

How will your current recruiting staff using it? Will they even use it or will they view it as “something else to manage?”

Rate of adoption is consistently ranked as a top tech problem in organizations year-over-year.

Consider the AI space.

Most AI HR screening tools are going to be fairly intuitive to use, because a product team makes sure customers would find it palatable.

But if the recruiting team doesn’t understand how everything is happening, that might decrease adoption rates. That’s a problem.

Why is lowered adoption a problem in recruiting?

It can create a situation where certain members of the recruiting team are using one set of processes and methods and others are using different ones.

This creates a really disjointed candidate experience, which can hurt your brand in the market.

As long as you have human beings in recruiting roles, there is a chance of people retreating to silos or processes they understand and the candidate experience suffers.

AI-powered HR screening tools won’t completely remove that possibility, but they will free up time, learn as they go, reduce biases, and screen some of the better fit candidates once they learn more about what types of people have been successful.

The bottom line

The overall goal should be “get the best candidates in the door” and do so in a way that the recruiters aren’t screening and sourcing all the time. That’s the proper intersection, right?

Technology is what will take us there but we need to have empathy for how our recruiting team wants to work with technology and how our candidates want to experience the process too.

What To Look For In A Resume When Screening Candidates

When a job posting for a high-volume role receives more than 250 applicants, it’s essential to know what to look for in a resume to find qualified candidates.

LinkedIn’s data tells us 69% of talent acquisition leaders report their hiring volume has increased, but only 26% say the size of their recruiting teams increased.

Having an organized system for resume screening will save you time and make your life a lot easier. Here are 4 things to look for in a resume to find qualified candidates.


1. Work experience

The qualifications for a job should be based on which skills, traits, and behaviors are necessary to be successful in the role.

Generally, the first thing most people do when they look at a resume is look at a candidate’s previous work experience.

A candidate’s work experience can be evaluated as an exact match to the current position (e.g., previous retail experience for a retail associate job) or a related match (e.g., previous experience in a customer-facing role).

Some things to look for in a resume for work experience are accomplishments and signs of career progression such as increasing responsibility.

For candidates without any previous work experience, you may want to look for related volunteer experience.

2. Education

Many jobs don’t necessarily require a minimum level of education but as college and university degrees become more and more common these days, education has increased in importance as a qualification.

For candidates without a lot of previous experience, you may pay more attention to their education.

Professional certifications fall under the education category and depending on how essential you feel they are, you can look for a candidate’s certifications on their resume.

3. Skills, knowledge, and competencies

As a recruiter or hiring manager, you’re often faced with the choice of whether the skills or knowledge required to do the job successfully can be “bought” or trained on the job.

Evidence of a candidate’s skills, knowledge, and competencies are crucial things to look for in a resume but they can be harder to assess.

The assumption we tend to make is that based on a candidate’s work experience or education, he or she is likely to have gained some of the skills, knowledge, and competencies related to the role.

Generally, the shortcut we use here is to look for relevant keywords on their resume for a desired skill or knowledge of a certain procedure.

Once you feel confident that a candidate is likely to possess at least some of these skills required, you can always further assess their abilities during the interview stage.

4. Personality and values

Although most job postings list desired personality traits and values such as being friendly or a preference for teamwork, assessing a candidate’s personality and values from their resume can be hard to do.

Personality and values tends to be related to how well a candidate will fit into a company’s culture, their work team, and the job itself.

We can make some guesses about a candidate’s personality from their resume if they include their personal interests.

Generally, we tend to use other sources of information to assess personality and values such as their public social media profiles or their behavior during an interview.

The takeaways for what to look for in a resume

Here’s a list of what to look for in a resume when screening candidates are:

1. Work experience
2. Education
3. Skills, knowledge, and competencies
4. Personality and values

While work experience and education are relatively straightforward, skills, knowledge, personality, and values can be harder to assess from a resume.

With recent innovations in resume screening technology, it might make more sense for you to invest in a resume screening tool that automatically identifies qualified candidates for you to interview.

This way, you can spend more of your time engaging with them to assess how good of a fit they are for the company, team, and the job itself.