Where Does A Resume Go?

Resumes take a complex and long path for job applicants.

Published on January 14, 2020

The job application process is like an Olympic high jump competition. The first hurdle is set fairly high and some people are eliminated right away. Then the bar is progressively raised and raised until only one person clears it. For jobs, the success of your first few jumps is determined by a resume.

Once your resume is submitted, especially online, it can feel daunting to wait for the reply. Often times you are left with questions about the process. Where did my resume go? Who is looking at it? How will the company decide who to interview? When will I hear anything?

Every company has a unique process for dealing with job applications and resumes. Some have very formal processes while others may extend job offers over a casual cup of coffee. Most companies do share this similar flow to the process of reviewing resumes.


The First Hurdle

When applying online for jobs, the process will almost always incorporate an applicant tracking system (ATS) and set filters for individual jobs. This is the first hurdle to clear.

When a company receives a resume, the first thing that touches it is an ATS. This automated system scans each resume for keywords and other information. These systems used to be so expensive that only large corporations used them, but now they’re becoming common for businesses of any size.

An ATS does a good job of quickly weeding out the least qualified candidates based on a company’s preferences. The ATS will quickly remove about three-quarters of all applications. The average corporate job posting will get around 250 applications with resumes. With this volume of resumes, recruiters want to waste as little time as possible on people who don’t properly meet their qualifications.

But an ATS can be finicky – an applicant needs to make a resume just right for its robot eyes to see it clearly. If a resume is not in an ATS compatible format then a perfectly qualified candidate may be eliminated before they get a chance. Almost all applicant tracking systems can read plain text documents and Word documents. Some ATS systems can read a PDF, but the accuracy can vary depending on the system. Word documents are the safest because they can almost universally be read by a human and an ATS.

Nontraditional resume formats can also confuse an ATS. The simplest form of a resume is a hybrid resume. Hybrids are where a resume is ordered chronologically by job experience. The skills and responsibilities of the job are then listed below each experience. Skills-focused resumes can be good for certain types of professions, but tend to make it more difficult for the ATS and recruiters see your work history and roles clearly.

Most companies set up keywords to be the most important component in their process with an ATS. Keywords are what an ATS is scanning for within your resume. Keywords are words or short phrases that will be unique to each job. For example, a customer service job’s keywords may include: helping customers, inbound/outbound calls, resolving customer complaints. If your resume doesn’t have the right keywords, then it might be removed quickly from the candidate pool.


The Recruiter

If your resume makes it past the ATS’ filters, the second hurdle is a human looking at your resume… for approximately 7 seconds. 7 seconds is the average amount of time a resume is reviewed for. This is an incredibly small window of time for someone to make such a complex decision about you, your experiences, and who you are as a worker.

A recruiter might start by taking out the resumes that they feel aren’t actually qualified. This can mean resumes that are stuffed with as many keywords as possible, but don’t actually have good experience. Even the ATS cannot save recruiters from this time suck.

Then, recruiters take a second look at resume stack. Now they’re looking for who they feel are the best candidates. 

A resume only has seconds to grab a person’s attention. That means the resume needs to be well designed and easy to digest. A resume can highlight key points by making the text bolded, in ALL CAPS, or larger than all the other text. This will draw the recruiter’s eye quickly, making their job easier and your chances of success higher.

At the end of the day, recruiters are human. Each one will have a unique viewpoint on the resumes that come across their desk, so there’s no one way to appeal to them all. There is some luck in this game. A recruiter’s unique viewpoint can actually be a downfall in the recruiting process. Silent biases that everyone has can creep into the split-second decision to pass a resume on, or reject it. 

If a resume does manage to appeal to the recruiter here, the resume is pushed forward for next steps. 


The Short List

If a resume has cleared the past two hurdles then it is a very high performer. It made it to the short list. 

The resumes on the short list are often sent to the direct manager of the open position and/or some type of group closer to the job. This individual or group is who ultimately decides who gets interviewed. This can be an incredibly time consuming process. At this stage all of the applicants are very qualified for the job, so choosing between them can be difficult. These decisions often come down to the feelings of the people in the room and what the individuals value most in an applicant.

Typically, less than 3% of the original applicant pool for corporate jobs will be asked to do an interview. Those chosen few applicants receive some form of communication from the company to interview. 


Sealing the Deal

That’s it! That’s the unexciting journey a resume takes. The final interviewee’s resumes are kept with whoever from the hiring committee will conduct the interview. Now a resume’s job is to be a supplement to the interviewer. A resume helps interviewers remember who they are talking to and develop personalized questions. The rest of the hurdles (like phone interviews, in-person interviews, personality tests, social meetings, etc.) will he handled directly by the applicant.

Now that is just the journey of a standard resume if everything goes flawlessly, but that doesn’t always happen. There are other factors that can make this process much more complicated. 

One confounding factor is company size. There are differences between how big and small companies hire. A big company has more resumes to deal with and will also likely have more procedures to handle that volume. A small business, like a family owned restaurant, will likely have few enough applicants to skip right to the recruiter review. At either size company, the decision of who to interview can still take several weeks. Smaller companies will usually get less resumes, but bigger companies will have the resources to handle the mountain of resumes they receive.

One laborious exercise that affects resumes before they even get submitted is setting criteria. An internal team needs to figure out what attributes are necessary for someone to do the job. This can include anything, like education, hard skills, or creative thinking.  Then those criteria are programmed into the ATS and need to be communicated to the people in the hiring committee. The best case is these criteria are used objectively throughout the entire hiring process, but biases can sneak in and override those standards.

Creating and submitting a resume can be a tedious and complex task – it can be even more tedious and ineffective to review them. If the idea of trying to go through this process multiple times is exhausting, there are other options. Some companies have begun moving away from the resume model because it is so complicated, biased, and time consuming. A skills-based approach can actually be easier on the applicant, make hiring decisions faster, and reduce hiring bias. If you want to find jobs in your area efficiently without a resume, consider tilr and skip the resume hassle.