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Resume Screening: A Detailed Guide

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Talia Knowles is an avid reader, writer, and coffee enthusiast, with over five years of experience in writing and editing.

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Resume Screening: A Detailed Guide

Resume Screening: A Detailed Guide

When recruiters post a job, they often receive a large influx of applications. Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough time in the day to thoroughly read each application, so developing screening skills can help you sort resumes quickly and accurately by scanning them for keywords and other indicators. 

Resume screening is the process of rapidly assessing resumes, focusing on keywords and standout attributes. It simplifies the hiring process by allowing recruiters to review many resumes quickly without sacrificing discernment and hiring strategy. 

Whether conducted manually or with the help of software, employing effective screening techniques enables recruiting teams to identify highly qualified candidates.

This guide will walk you through the importance of the screening process and offer tips on developing your own strategy to ensure the best hires for your organization. 

Understanding the Resume Screening Process

The role of screening in recruitment serves several essential purposes. 

During the hiring process, organizations often receive numerous resumes and applications. 

The screening process filters these applications to identify candidates who meet the basic requirements for the position, helping efficiently manage the recruitment process and saving valuable time and resources.

Screening also allows recruiters to evaluate candidates’ qualifications, skills, and experience in a short amount of time. 

When they know what they’re looking for, recruiters can quickly identify individuals with the necessary background and qualifications for the role. This helps shortlist candidates who are most likely to succeed in the position.

The screening stage is also useful in identifying candidates who align with the organization’s culture and values

By considering factors such as their previous experiences, achievements, and skills, recruiters can get a feel for an applicant’s cultural fit, improving the likelihood of selecting candidates who have the potential to thrive within the organization and contribute positively to the team.

Beyond scanning resumes, the screening stage often involves asking applicants a few preliminary questions that can help mitigate risks associated with hiring, such as confirming their legal right to work in the country. 

Screening questions help ensure compliance with legal requirements, such as equal employment opportunity laws and industry-specific regulations.

Effective screening ensures that only the most suitable candidates progress to the subsequent stages of the recruitment process, optimizing the use of resources and increasing the chances of finding the right fit for the position. 

By thoroughly reviewing resumes and conducting background checks, employers can identify any discrepancies or potential issues early rather than investing more time into the hiring process. 

Whatever system you use, an effective screening process can quickly identify qualified candidates, assess suitability, mitigate hiring risks, and ensure compliance with legal and organizational requirements. 

Preparing for Resume Screening

Before you can swiftly sort through resumes, you have to know precisely what you’re looking for. There are a few preliminary steps you can take to ensure optimal screening results. 

1. Define Job Requirements

Even if you’ve written a job description, it’s possible that you haven’t fully considered exactly what is necessary for a candidate to thrive in the role. 

Begin by formulating the job requirements and qualifications for the position. Then, consult with hiring managers or other experienced team members to gain insight into the essential skills and experience that have allowed previous employees to be successful. 

Asking for employee feedback can help you develop a more comprehensive understanding of what it takes to thrive in a particular role.

2. Develop Screening Criteria

Based on the job requirements, create a set of screening criteria that will be used to evaluate resumes. These criteria can include specific qualifications, years of experience, relevant skills, education, certifications, or other factors crucial for the position.

It’s important not to make these criteria too restrictive, as that might cause you to miss out on someone with slightly different qualifications who could still be a great asset to the organization. Still, establishing guidelines can bring uniformity and fairness to the screening process.  

3. Create an Evaluation System

Once you’ve decided on the criteria you’re looking for, establish a scoring system or rating scale to objectively assess resumes against the screening criteria. This can be a numerical scale or a set of categories (e.g., “excellent,” “good,” “fair,” “poor”). Your system could even be as simple as a thumbs up or thumbs down! 

Developing an evaluation system can help compare and prioritize candidates based on their qualifications, as sorting through various lists of qualifications can be tedious and confusing. 

4. Familiarize Yourself With Anti-Discrimination Laws

Any instance of screening long lists of candidates runs the risk of becoming biased. Combatting this requires consistent intentionality on both a personal and systemic level. 

Ensure you know applicable anti-discrimination laws to avoid biased decision-making during resume screening and understand which factors are relevant and legally permissible during the screening process.

5. Determine the Screening Process

There are two primary ways to conduct the screening process. You can either utilize an automated system, known as an applicant tracking system (ATS), or complete the process manually. 

Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant tracking systems, or ATS, are often used with recruiting and hiring software. ATS software can make every aspect of recruiting easier for your HR department, from sourcing applications to keeping track of their progress through the steps of recruitment. 

If using an ATS, ensure it is appropriately configured to screen resumes based on the defined criteria. Then, the program can filter resumes based on your predetermined criteria, saving you the time of perusing each resume in search of the desired qualifications. 

This software makes it easy to keep resumes on hand in case a new position opens up that is perfect for a previous candidate. You can also use these programs to facilitate conversations with potential candidates over social media. 

Beyond its time-saving capabilities, ATS software can help ensure legal compliance throughout the hiring process and keep track of recruiting metrics that will help you analyze and improve your hiring process overall. 

For organizations looking to improve their diversity hiring, ATS software can also collect data and generate reports on applicant demographics, as well as which candidates are most likely to make it to the final rounds of hiring. If there’s a bias concern, ATS software can help identify it. 

Manual Resume Screening

Though manual screening can take longer and is prone to human error, it also has several benefits. Automated screening processes rely on recognizing keywords, which can sometimes cause them to miss out on excellent candidates who may not have used that specific language. 

An ATS also cannot take soft skills or cultural fit into consideration. For example, if someone spent a year traveling, their employment gap might hurt them in an automated resume review. However, a human recruiter might see that experience as an asset in the right circumstances. 

Manual resume screening also opens up the option of a collaborative screening process, which is a system where multiple team members participate in hiring to ensure the best-fitting candidate is selected. 

If multiple individuals are involved in the resume screening process, provide training to ensure consistency and uniformity in evaluating resumes, including the screening criteria, scoring system, and any legal considerations to ensure compliance and avoid biases.

It may be helpful to create standardized evaluation forms or templates to record assessment outcomes for each resume. These forms can include sections for scoring criteria, comments, and overall impressions. 

6. Establish Timeframes

Set realistic timelines for the resume screening process to ensure it aligns with the overall recruitment schedule. For example, determine how many resumes can be reviewed per day or week, considering the volume of applications. 

Particularly when using an automated screening process, it can be tempting to cut corners. Setting realistic expectations can prevent instances of hasty decision-making that may not provide the best results for the company. 

7. Communicate Expectations

To provide a level playing field, clearly communicate the screening criteria and expectations to applicants in the job posting or application instructions. This helps applicants understand what is required and ensures they submit relevant and tailored resumes. 

It also provides an opportunity for candidates to demonstrate their attention to detail by catering their resumes to match the job description. It’s reasonable to expect a polished resume, as typos or formatting errors can indicate carelessness.

8. Prioritize Candidates

Determine how candidates will be prioritized for further evaluation or interview based on their scores or qualifications. To keep things fair, establish a threshold or cutoff point for moving candidates to the next stage. 

That way, you’ll have tiered levels of qualified candidates that you can easily draw upon for future opportunities. 

Be sure to maintain clear and well-documented records of screening decisions, including the rationale behind shortlisting or rejecting candidates. This documentation helps maintain transparency, facilitates communication with stakeholders, and ensures compliance with legal requirements.

While it may not be possible to provide individualized feedback to every applicant, consider offering constructive feedback to candidates who reach the later stages of the recruitment process. This helps candidates understand their strengths and areas for improvement. 

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Equal employment opportunity laws prohibit discriminating against candidates for their age, disabilities, gender, genetics, national origin, pregnancy status, race, religion, or sexual orientation in any stage or aspect of the hiring process. 

Equal employment laws are a form of federal legislation, but it’s important to pay attention to state laws as well. Many states have additional standards in place that limit background checks, credit checks, or asking certain kinds of invasive questions. 

It’s also essential to take steps to protect candidate privacy and maintain data security. 

Even if it’s not intentional, unconscious bias can significantly affect the equity of your hiring process. One way to combat this is to implement blind resume screening, in which the names and other details of candidates are not visible while their resume is screened for qualifications and experience. 

Beyond this, promoting diversity and inclusion are essential to maintaining a fair hiring process and a healthy company culture.


Resume screening is an essential part of the hiring process that, when done well, can save time and yield great hiring results. 

Because it is essentially the action of filtering resumes, it is critical to ensure that the criteria you use to filter are best suited to connect your organization with top talent. 

Resume Screening FAQs

Why is resume screening important?

Resume screening is important because it helps employers identify qualified candidates who possess the necessary skills, qualifications, and experience for a specific job opening. It saves time and resources by narrowing down the applicant pool for further evaluation.

What criteria should I use for resume screening?

The criteria for resume screening depend on the job requirements and qualifications. Common criteria include relevant work experience, education, skills, certifications, achievements, and alignment with the job description.

Should I use an applicant tracking system (ATS) for resume screening?

Using an ATS can streamline the resume screening process, especially for large volumes of applications. ATS software can automatically scan and filter resumes based on predefined criteria, saving time and effort. However, it’s essential to ensure the ATS is properly configured to avoid missing out on qualified candidates.

How can I avoid bias during resume screening?

To avoid bias, it’s crucial to establish standardized screening criteria and evaluate candidates solely based on their qualifications and relevant experience. Consider implementing blind resume screening, where personal identifying information is removed from resumes during the initial screening phase.

What are some red flags to look for during resume screening?

Red flags during resume screening may include significant employment gaps, frequent job changes, lack of relevant experience or qualifications, inconsistencies in dates or information provided, and poorly formatted or error-ridden resumes.

How can I assess soft skills during resume screening?

Soft skills can be assessed by carefully reviewing the candidate’s resume for keywords, phrases, or achievements that indicate strong communication, teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, or interpersonal skills. Additionally, looking for relevant extracurricular activities or volunteer experiences can provide insight into a candidate’s soft skills.

Should I communicate with candidates during the resume screening process?

While it’s not always necessary to communicate with candidates during the initial resume screening phase, it is considered good practice to inform candidates about the status of their application, especially if they have been shortlisted for further consideration.

What legal considerations should I be aware of during resume screening?

Employers must comply with equal employment opportunity laws and ensure that their screening process does not discriminate against protected groups. It’s important to avoid asking inappropriate or discriminatory questions and to handle candidate data and privacy in accordance with applicable laws.

How do I document screening decisions?

Documenting screening decisions helps maintain transparency and consistency throughout the hiring process. It’s advisable to keep records of the criteria used, evaluation outcomes, and any notes or comments made during the screening process.