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Resume Screening Checklist To Spot Top Candidates

Asavari Sharma

November 08, 2022

Recruiting new employees is always a challenging task, especially when you know that past hires have not always worked out well, and you need to get it right this time.

Figuring out who to shortlist from among a large pool of talented applicants can frequently be challenging, especially given how many other things a recruiter needs to juggle.

To simplify the process, hiring managers often opt for screening the resumes to filter out only the best applicants. That is where a resume screening checklist comes in handy.

What is resume screening checklist exactly?

As the name suggests, it is a predetermined list of qualities or elements that the recruiter expects to see on the resumes of the candidates they shortlist.

The checklist allows everyone on the recruiting team to have complete transparency on which skills and qualities the final hire needs to have.

Essentially, the checklist allows unsuitable candidates to be eliminated at the onset, saving the time of both the recruiting team and the candidates.

It could include various criteria such as minimum qualifications, desired skill sets, years of work experience, proficiency with tools or systems, personality attributes, and familiarity with specific elements of the industry the company works in.

The resume evaluation checklist should be prepared by the hiring manager in collaboration with the manager of the team that the new hire will be working in, along with other relevant parties.

The benefits of using a resume screening checklist

Given the vast number of people applying to every open job — many of whom are outright unqualified for the role — it makes sense that recruiters would want a quick way to filter out whom they will move forward with in the hiring stages.

At the same time, however, being too hasty with the screening could eliminate many candidates with high potential and risk diluting the talent pool.

A thoughtfully crafted resume evaluation addresses both of these requirements and focuses only on the most deserving candidates. Let us take at how:

1. Focus on quality over quantity

Many recruiters might be tempted to shortlist a large number of candidates and hope that one of them works out.

However, a 'spray and pray' approach like this is less likely to zoom in on the truly talented candidates who have great resumes and the competence to last a long time in the company.

Using a resume screening checklist allows the recruiter to have a smaller but stronger talent pool to pick from. It enables clever work.

2. Cost and time savings

Recruiting costs can run up to the thousands, even when the process is at its most efficient. By having a resume screening checklist in place, a company can save a great deal in time and money through suitable quality control.

3. Reduced frustration

Typically, the final decision on whom to hire involves more than one person weighing in. This can easily lead to disagreements and frustration if leaders do not see eye to eye on the qualities that make for an 'ideal' choice. By investing time in creating a list prior to the process, everyone can agree on must-haves and deal-breakers so that the final choice takes less time.

4 steps to building the ideal resume screening checklist

What you put on your resume scoring sheet will depend on what you, the department, and the type of industry you are looking for. To start you off, however, here is a general process you can follow if you are new to this:

1. Put together a list of job qualifications

The first step is determining which skills, traits, accomplishments, and other qualifications the ideal job-holder should have. Here are a few categories that most industries find helpful:

  • Work experience required, particularly when distinguishing between entry-level and more senior positions
  • Educational background, including minimum qualifications necessary and any relevant certifications
  • Technical skills, including software or systems that the candidate needs to be familiar with
  • Soft skills required for optimal job execution
  • Personality traits required for a cultural fit

The resume can shine a light on the candidate's work experience, educational background, and even technical skills. Although, it is best to conduct pre-employment tests to assess technical knowledge.

Nonetheless, the right qualifications will depend on the nature of the job and factors such as what values the company believes in and what successful candidates have demonstrated in the past.

If you are not sure where to start with this, talk to current employees and their supervisors, as well as HR managers and senior leadership.

2. Categorize each of them as minimum or preferred

Once you have your final list of qualifications, it is time to class them into minimum and preferred qualifications. Under minimum, put those that are essential for the candidate to do their job well. For instance, a sales associate will need strong written and verbal communication skills to sell a product.

On the other hand, preferred qualifications would be those that help a candidate do even better at their job. For instance, a sales associate with a solid technical background in the product being sold would be an example of someone with preferred qualifications.

If you have trouble distinguishing, simply ask yourself — will the candidate be unable to do their job without this qualification? Put it under the 'minimum' list if the answer is yes.

Other qualifications, ones that you can train them in once they have been selected, can go under the 'preferred' list. Another point to remember is not to make the minimum requirements so restrictive that it unnecessarily eliminates good candidates.

For instance, someone may have all the necessary skills and certifications to do the job well but have only two years of work experience instead of five. In that case, the work experience requirement should not be a deal-breaker.

3. Create a resume scorecard for each of those qualifications

With your categories in place, it is time to chalk out a resume screening scorecard. This allows you to easily rank candidates and shortlist only those with the highest overall score across the minimum and preferred categories.

Bear in mind that different skills might be assigned different weightages based on your requirements (e.g., in a sales role, strong communication skills might have a higher weightage than proficiency with CRM tools).

Therefore, making this resume scorecard is essential to avoid confusion or disagreements with your team later. Plus, once you create one, you can duplicate the document and personalize it as per different job roles and departments to create a series of resume screening templates.

4. Invest in a resume screening software

Particularly if you are recruiting in high volumes, resume screening software can help you quickly filter out candidates who do not meet your requirements.

While some recruiters argue that software does not always screen correctly, you can quickly fix that with a properly designed resume screening checklist.

For instance, you can set the algorithm such that candidates without the minimum requirements are eliminated, and candidates who meet the minimum requirements are compared based on how many preferred qualifications they have.

Here again, the resume screening scorecard will help the software finish the job quickly and give you a final ranking of the candidates who did best overall. It is simple, fast, and much more accurate than doing it yourself.

8 best practices for accurate resume screening

As you can imagine, the resume screening checklist requires considerable attention to detail to build. However, it is not just about following the four steps outlined above (although that is important too).

It is also about ensuring that the final checklist is designed to attract diverse talent from as many talent pools as possible.

To that extent, the checklist should be part of a more extensive system that focuses on separating the wheat from the chaff. Here are some handy best practices to help you out:

1. Articulate the perfect candidate beforehand with your team

Given that there is usually more than one person deciding on whom to pick, there are likely to be clashes. Some might place more emphasis on preferred qualifications than others, for example, and what might be acceptable to one could be a deal-breaker to another.

For that reason, having a discussion where everyone pitches in and reaches a consensus on what the 'ideal' candidate looks like is critical. Even better, have an actual physical copy of the notes on your ideal candidate. Whenever there are disagreements later, the team can refer to the notes.

2. Be highly specific in your job description

A good starting point for attracting suitable candidates is to be extremely specific about the skills, qualifications, educational background, and other attributes you are looking for.

Do not be afraid to use numbers and strong words like 'must have.' Vaguely worded job descriptions are likely to attract all manner of applications from people who are unsuitable for the position but still applying 'in case' they have a chance.

Therefore, reduce your workload and save the time of those applicants by being ultra-specific in your job descriptions.

3. Check for 'blanket' resumes

Among the unsuitable candidates are often those who apply to all jobs with the same basic resume and hope to be selected by at least a few of them. Such applicants are not invested in the job and are unlikely to be worth your time.

For instance, if you are offering a marketing role, and the resume summary says 'experienced sales candidate looking for a regional-level role in sales management,' they obviously have not done their homework. This again will help you pare down the list of applicants.

4. Consider qualities outside the minimum or preferred requirements

You will likely receive applications from candidates who do not necessarily meet all the minimum and preferred requirements but who have interesting aspects to their resumes all the same. For instance, they may speak multiple languages or have been placed as a finalist on a major reality show. These are noticeable things, well worth learning more about, and could be considerations for shortlisting that candidate.

5. Look for accomplishments vs. responsibilities

Knowing what a candidate was assigned to do at their last job is helpful, but what did they accomplish there? Successful, productive candidates will not shy from listing their accomplishments along with their responsibilities.

For instance, a sales candidate may have been 'responsible for managing 50 accounts in the XYZ region', but it's much more impressive when they add 'exceeded regional sales targets by 35% in Q1 and Q2'. Here again, numbers matter.

Merely saying 'exceeded targets' does not have the same impact as the qualifier 'by 35%'. Look out for actual accomplishments while screening a resume.

6. Keep an eye out for 'extreme' employment patterns

While it is normal to have a mix of stints on a resume, extreme employment patterns might be worth flagging. Too many job changes within a short period, for instance, could indicate a lack of commitment, while a decade-long stint at the same company could indicate risk-averseness.

Of course, different candidates have different experiences. It is essential to understand the whole picture before judging (such as whether the gaps were caused by illness or other personal problems).

Even so,  evaluating a resume checklist helps earmark patterns like these, even if you do not eliminate people based on them.

7. Beware of keyword stuffing

Quite often, candidates who do not meet the minimum requirements for a job may tweak their resume to make it look like they do.

Typically, this involves stuffing the resume with industry buzzwords or 'power words,' assuming that a screening tool will pick up on these and shortlist the resume.

To get past the buzzwords and understand the actual substance of these resumes, invest in a top-notch recruiting software that looks at genuine strengths and weaknesses.

8. Use standardized assessments

Another way to filter out those with 'embellished' resumes is to conduct a pre-employment test on the skills required to do the job. This helps you see for yourself whether the applicants live up to the promise of the resume and further reduces the shortlist pool.

You may choose to opt for a technical test, a verbal reasoning/numerical ability test, a situational test, a psychometric test, or a combination of these. Using Adaface, you can set up a 45 min-long candidate-friendly assessment and filter out unqualified candidates.

Recruit quality talent by screening smartly

Finding the right person for the right job does not have to be a chore. It can be a gratifying process if you have the preliminaries in place.

A well-thought-out resume screening checklist can be your number one asset for filtering unqualified candidates out of your way and ensuring that everyone on the hiring team knows what to look for.

Coupled with top-notch applicant recruiting software, you will soon be well on your way to welcoming your dream candidate.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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