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6 tips to make wading through resumes easier for you

Posted December 28, 2017

By Katie Loehrke, PHR, editor, J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Identifying the right talent to add to the company’s workforce is one of Human Resources’ most important responsibilities. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as simple as it sounds. Each job is unique (you may even have variations for a single job title), and each hiring manager has specific preferences, as do individual team members.

Like most companies, your organization is probably also constantly evolving in the kinds of skills it needs, so individual positions are likely evolving as well. And here you sit, with a foot-high stack of resumes (or more likely, an electronic folder full of files), which may or may not accurately represent each applicant’s actual skills.

Once the files are amassed, there’s really no way around eyeballing each individual document, trying to discern who might best fit the position you’re looking to fill. But if you want to avoid the foot-high stack of resumes, here are six options to help you narrow the field down to the very best candidates with as little legwork as possible.

1) Look inside first. Directing your search toward internal applicants dramatically limits the talent pool. It also makes it easier to determine how well applicants’ experience (at least their most recent experience) translates to the prospective job. As an added bonus, recruiting internally is one of the best ways to retain the talent you already have.

2) Pinpoint what you’re looking for. Combing through resumes without knowing what makes an ideal candidate is a recipe for disaster, yet it’s not uncommon for HR pros and managers to aimlessly browse. Start by identifying at least two or three necessary skills, types of experience, or demonstrated competencies, and hold yourself accountable for using that data to select candidates.

Hiring managers and the prospective employee’s peers are excellent sources to tap when you’re considering what knowledge, skills, and experience are most critical.

3) Change the application process. Examining resumes when they’re all in different formats and contain different data points makes it difficult to compare applicants. Consider requiring standard applications for certain jobs to help you streamline comparisons.

4) Add a layer of screening. In today’s recruiting environment, a surplus of resumes doesn’t necessarily equate to a surplus of perfectly skilled applicants. In fact, according to a 2016 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study, about half of organizations report that their struggles with recruiting hinge, at least in part, on a lack of necessary work experience.

Even having applicants complete a short survey – possibly identifying competencies or years of experience – can help you screen out certain less-qualified individuals so you don’t have to pore over their resumes.

5) Discourage “apply-to-all” candidates. You may be able to thin out less committed applicants by requesting that applicants provide more than a resume and cover letter, which they may already have prepared. Asking prospective employees to supply another type of document (e.g., sample work product, or a brief response to a question you’ve posed) will discourage individuals from applying who aren’t truly invested.

6) Reconsider posting outlets. A job opening posted on Craigslist will yield a markedly different applicant pool than a more focused search. Discourage a flood of marginally qualified applicants by identifying niche job sites where your most desirable applicants are likely to be found.

More is not always more

Some HR professionals fear that if they don’t see ALL the applicants, they could miss out on one of the best. But if you’re careful in how you limit your applicant pool, you’ll remove only the least qualified candidates. Then, you’ll be able to dedicate your full attention to the more qualified applicants that remain.

Your alternative may be to get started drafting yet another job posting for a new recruiter to help you keep from drowning in a never-ending sea of applications.

About the author:

Katie Loehrke

Katie Loehrke is a certified Professional in Human Resources and an editor with J. J. Keller & Associates, a nationally recognized compliance resource firm. The company offers a diverse line of products and services to address the broad range of responsibilities held by HR and corporate professionals. Loehrke specializes in employment law topics such as discrimination, privacy and social media, and affirmative action. She is the editor of J. J. Keller’s Employment Law Today newsletter and its Essentials of Employment Law manual. For more information, visit and