Look Beyond Keywords When Reviewing Resumes

Among the many features you’ll find in most applicant tracking systems is the ability to use keywords to rank, organize and search resumes. And the logic is fairly straightforward: as you pinpoint words and phrases that show up in resumes, certain applicants will rise to the top.

Using resume keywords is not new

Even back in the days when paper resumes were scanned exclusively by the human eye, employers were on the lookout for “must-have” skills and experiences that aligned with their job postings. Since the advent of applicant tracking systems, hiring managers and HR leads have been able to share this load with technology in the hopes of finding qualified candidates. Nowadays, job seekers don’t have to look too hard for articles meant to help them beat the system, or that offer tips on getting past the ATS.

The use of keywords to sort resumes is a double-edged sword

While it’s rare for a hiring decision to be based exclusively on a resume, a resume’s ranking will often be part of the thought process. And, as more job seekers employ their own version of a keyword tactic, things can get crowded pretty quickly at the top of your scoring.

Let’s pretend you’re hiring a senior sales associate. You want someone who possesses a number of skills and experiences, which you’ve listed as requirements in your job posting. These include:

  • a minimum of five years of experience in inbound sales;
  • at least three years in your vertical; and
  • a proven track record of forecasting and developing sales initiatives.

In your ATS, you’ve added these specific words and phrases to help you pinpoint resumes that mention these professional experiences and skills.

Now, let’s add a new level to your job opening. In the past year you’ve lost two sales associates because they didn’t fit well with the company culture. Therefore, in an effort to find a closer cultural fit, your job posting mentions things like “flexibility,” “teamwork,” and “remains open to feedback from peers and managers.”

As you begin to review resumes, you notice that 95% of them meet the professional requirements. You also see that the vast majority suggest that they would fit your team, and specifically call out things like flexibility and feedback.

Is it possible to tell the difference between candidates who actually fit the opening, and those who have simply tailored their resumes to score points in your ATS rankings? Knowing that candidates can only share so much in their resumes, how can you narrow your field before pre-screening conversations, follow up emails, and interviews?

Is your resume process a collaboration between your team and your technology? Our recent Spotlight, “Reviewing Resumes,” delves deeper into building a process that is as streamlined and targeted as possible, to help you reduce your time-to-fill. Read it now.

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There will always be instant disqualifiers. In the case of the senior sales associate position, a lack of experience selling in your vertical may be all it takes to knock someone out of the running.

But what about cases where a candidate meets the requirements, but you are still not sure they fit the company culture. Is it possible to determine this from a resume? Here are two steps to help you adjust your gaze and get a clearer view of the candidate.

Two ways to go beyond resume keywords

  1. First, focus out for a broader perspective.

As you continue your resume review, and delve into additional application materials, consider constructing a list of broad questions. For example:

  • How does the candidate define a successful project?
  • Do they mention their role in that success?
  • Does their resume and/or additional material provide clues about their understanding of big picture, team-oriented thinking?
  • Do they reference things like cross-department collaboration, team building, or use other phrases that suggest that they see their place as part of a group, and not as someone who works in a silo?

Having these types of questions in mind will ideally help you add an extra layer of scrutiny to your process.

  1. Secondly, look at the details from a well-defined angle.

Let’s say you want your next sales associate to have followed a specific career path. Consider outlining what that means. For instance:

  • Does it mean that they’ve only worked in your vertical? What if they’ve worked in others over time? Do you see this as a sign of versatility?
  • Do you want them to have worked for only one or two employers? What if they’ve held sales positions for six companies in the last four years? Do you see this as a sign of someone who’s constantly striving, or evidence of chronic job-hopping?

Once defined, you can use your answers as a next-level litmus test that helps you measure how closely a candidate stacks up to the opening. It’s likely that these answers align with your candidate profile, another piece of the resume review process.

Most importantly, when you identify what you’re looking for ahead of time, you can apply your own version of a feel test as part of your review process. Doing so will help you see the story beyond the keywords.

With myStaffingPro’s flexible sorting system, you can sort and search your applicant pool in an almost unlimited fashion. Contact myStaffingPro, and learn more about how our applicant tracking system brings you flexible tools and support designed to enhance your recruiting process.

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