Resume screening

Screening resumes is the process of sorting resumes to disqualify candidates using successively more detailed examinations of the resumes. The objective is to locate the most qualified candidates for an open job.[1] While some of this can be done with the aid of automation and computers, there are still skills and techniques that help quickly eliminate unqualified candidates.


One of the first meaningful decision points of a recruitment effort is the evaluation of skills, knowledge and abilities for a given job candidate. The most common form of this evaluation is the screening of resumes.


The objective of screening resumes is to eliminate candidates which do not meet the job requirements. Today the act of screening a resume may generally be divided into three steps, the first pass or scanning for keywords, the second pass which includes reading the resume to evaluate the candidate against the job requirements and the final pass, a full review of the resume including a subjective qualitative review of the candidate's job history. Each step requires a more detailed review of the resume.

Applicant Tracking Systems and Keyword Screening

Today's online recruiting environment has led to the rise of applicant tracking systems (ATS), which companies use to collect, sort through, and manage high volumes of applications.

Jobscan's 2019 Fortune 500 ATS research study revealed that 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems.[2] Examples of commonly used applicant tracking systems include Workday, Taleo, SAP / SuccessFactors, Brassring, iCIMS, and ADP.

When using applicant tracking systems to screen resumes, recruiters can filter by keywords relevant to the job description, which allow them to narrow down a large pool of candidates to a more manageable set of resumes that will be read in more detail.[3]

The keywords selected are derived from the required skills and responsibilities listed in the job description. To minimize the number of desirable candidates dropped in this first step, recruiters can use synonyms and closely related terms in addition to the keywords selected.[4]

Job applicants can determine whether a company uses an applicant tracking system via the online application's browser link, which often includes the name of the ATS, and take additional steps to optimize their documents for ATS if deemed necessary.[5]


Once a resume has been initially screened for keywords, it needs a more careful review. This second pass is designed to verify some of the second order criteria of the job description are met. For instance, level of education, years of experience required by the position, salary range and current location. Other functions of this evaluation include a closer look at job functions performed by the candidate and comparing them to the job description.

This phase often requires a more in depth understanding of the job description and requirements. For instance to determine relevant years of experience, the reviewer must add the number of years at the relevant jobs to come up with the years' experience. It can often be a judgment call on which parts of a job history are relevant to a job search. This means the person performing this step must have a suitable depth of understanding about the job description and requirements for the position.

Qualitative review

Resumes that reach this step of the process are from candidates that meet many of the requirements of the job description.[6] This final pass is to examine the more subtle subjective qualities of the candidate. The objective is remove candidates with red flags that could mean potential job fraud and to separate the top candidates from the remaining resumes.

Resume red flags

There are a number of red flags when looking at resumes that should, at the very least, be noted and questioned as part of any phone screen with the candidate. Gaps in employment and job hopping are often considered to be red flags, although a study conducted by company Evolv concluded that job hoppers and the long-term unemployed perform no worse than non-job hoppers and the currently employed.[7] Other possible red flags include multiple moves to different states, using years instead of months/years for employment history and noting a college and degree program without indicating graduation. Others still are more subtle, like a significant drop in responsibility or a completely new career direction. While there are many valid reasons for some of these red flags, it should generate follow up questions if all other qualities of the resume are suitable for moving to further contact with the candidate.

Other factors

Other factors is a broad term that is somewhat subjective when it comes to reviewing resumes. Here are a couple of examples that may help give one candidate an edge over another in the review process.

  • Does the candidate have a history of advancement including more responsibility and challenge in each subsequent position?
  • Does the candidate have experience working at a company of similar size and resource?
  • Does the candidate have the correct industry experience?
  • If this person applied directly for the position, would it be a significant drop in responsibility or challenge?
  • Is the person over qualified? Are they willing to accept a much lower salary?

These other factors are best used to further evaluate candidates already deemed to meet the basic qualification. They serve to initially prioritize the next phase of the recruitment process, which is to make initial contact with the candidate.

See also


  1. Recruiting Essentials on How to Review a Resume
  2. "Over 98% of Fortune 500 Companies Use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)". 20 June 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  3. "Oracle - Searching for Candidates". Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  4. Resume Screening with Keywords
  5. "ATS Keyword Optimization Tips That Work [Research Based]". 3 December 2019. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  6. Steps in a resume review
  7. "Job Hoppers & The Unemployed Make Great Workers". Staffing Talk. 6 March 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
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