Where a Screening Process Might Break Down: The Human Factor

Screening by Humans

The resume screening process can break down in a variety of ways. In this post, we’ll take a look at the human factor: how errors and bias on the part of persons involved in the screening process might affect your candidacy. 

Screeners who just “wing it.” There are a couple of common ways this might happen. First, if it’s a single person, it could be that he or she has sole authority over hiring and thinks: “I’ll know what I like when I see it.” Or it could be that a supervisor has asked a person or committee to do the screening without giving any clear guidelines. In these cases, it is likely that there will be some loose criteria, but unless the person or committee comes up with some that are clear, it’s pretty much like “shooting at the side of a barn.”

(Yes, employers are just as guilty of this as job-seekers!)

Sometimes bias comes into play. Sometimes screeners ignore stated criteria in favor of their own “preferred” qualifications. At other times, a “preference” may be factored into the equation. For example, some employers have a preference for hiring and promoting from within, or through employee referral programs. Some give preference to those that come directly to a human resource officer than to those entered through the web. Some may give preference to candidates who apply through the company over those forwarded by job boards. And some individuals might give preference to people who went to the same school, were a member of an organization they like, or who they know through social connections.

Sometimes, screeners are lazy or disorganized and skim hastily through the résumés. If it is because the person is lazy, there’s just no telling whether there will be a rhyme or reason to their picks. If it is because they are disorganized, they might give early applicants a more thorough review than those they review closer to the deadline.

So what can you do, in the face of human errors and bias? Not much, really.

  • If a screener is just “winging it,” that is an internal issue for his employer to deal with, and it is well beyond your control. You’ll really never know if this is the case, so don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. When someone is just making it up as they go along, it doesn’t matter how you’ve presented your arguments. It’s probably a blessing to not work with people who have such a loose grasp on such an important role.
  • You can never control for a screener’s bias. In fact, there is always some sort of bias at play. In the best cases, the bias is toward a candidate with certain skills or experiences. In the worst cases, the biases aren’t stated, but internalized by the candidate, and it’s likely they justified screening a candidate in or out based on some other grounds. The best way to deal with perceived bias is to tightly align your arguments with a potential employer’s known biases. When reading job announcements, look for the terms “preferred,” “would a plus,” “desired,” or “ideal.” if you lack any of the skills or experiences listed with these terms, you will be less competitive than candidate who have those skills and experiences. The best you can do is argue for transferability of skills, aptitude, and motivation.  So write your resume toward related skills and experiences, and describe them in ways that accurately depict your strengths in other areas, and your motivation to close any gaps. This can be done through re-writing bullet points and/or the professional summary on your resume, and through the cover letter. The strategy is simple. Acknowledge the gaps quickly and show how you would fill them, while also showing strong foundational skills in other key skill areas.
  • You can’t control a screener’s laziness or disorganization. But you can apply early (as soon as you see a position posted), and organize your documents in a clear concise manner, that brings the most important details up front and early, so the lazy screener gets en0ugh information from pre-screening the document’s top third of page 1 that they don’t have to read any further to make an initial decision. Basically, make it easy for a lazy person to quickly see what you have to offer.

This post is part of a series adapted from my e-b0ok “7 Points to a Winning Resume.”  Next up in the series, we’ll explore the applicant’s role in the screening process, and how you can increase your possibility for  success.


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