Once you submit your resume and cover letter to an employer, it can feel as if your precious career documents have been sucked into a vortex, never to be seen or heard from again.
At best, you might get an auto-reply email that acknowledges your application (but promises nothing). Wouldn't it be nice to know what's happening to your resume after you send it?
While I was pondering how to approach this topic, AskAManager's Allison Green beat me to the punch. Her recent post, "How the Hiring Process Works on the Employer's Side," not only spells out what happens to your resume, it also provides a window into the hiring manager's mind. Be sure to read her whole post, but meanwhile I'll touch on some of the main points.
After your resume leaves your computer, the typical screening/hiring process will go something like this:
1) Applications start pouring in to the employer.
Pouring is the operative word. Allison is a hiring manager for a medium-sized non-profit, where they rarely get fewer than 100 resumes for any job posting; 200 to 400 is the norm. (Four hundred!) And these numbers are not unusual. No one can review that many resumes, so the vast majority of them will have to be eliminated.
TIP: Don't give them a reason to eliminate you.
2) Applications get passed to the decision maker(s).
Depending on the organization, the initial decision maker might be the hiring manager for the open position, an HR person, or a staff recruiter. Many people use hard-copy printouts of the resumes and cover letters; but larger companies are probably still keeping it electronic at this stage.
TIP: Make your resume attractive and organized, with plenty of white space so it's easy to read on screen or on paper.
3) They scan the submissions and eliminate MOST of them.
We talk a lot about the 10-second rule (you have only 10 seconds to pique the reader's interest), but Allison is generous. She says her first visual scan of the cover letter and resume lasts at least 45 seconds. At other companies, it might be a computer doing the scan, searching for certain keywords.
TIP: Don't apply promiscuously; if you're not qualified (or at least almost qualified), you're wasting your time.
4) They scrutinize the survivors and cut some more.
At this point, if you're still in the running, someone will take the time to fully read your cover letter and resume. (Yay!) But in the end, more applicants will be eliminated. (Aww.) The final candidate pool might be as few as 3 or 4 people, or as many as 10 or 15.
TIP: Previous steps were all about first impressions; this step looks for substance to support those impressions. Without it, you're gone.
5) They start contacting the remaining candidates.
This is where things start to vary from employer to employer. Allison typically asks candidates for a writing sample, a written exercise, or some other relevant material. Other companies (e.g., Pongo) go right to phone interviews, but ask for homework at a later stage. Some go straight to in-person interviews.
TIP: If you're asked to do some homework, do it, and follow the instructions to the letter. If you balk, you walk.
6) They conduct phone interviews.
The goal of a phone interview is to get a sense of how the candidate communicates, or as Allison puts it, to find out "whether or not she's crazy." More people get cut at this point, usually because they have the wrong experience, or commit some behavioral faux pas.
TIP: If they call you out of the blue and it's not a good time to talk, don't wing it. Politely ask to reschedule for a time when you can be at your best.
7) They determine finalists and schedule interviews.
At this point, the process becomes familiar, because you (the job seeker) are back in the picture. It's the usual sequence of in-person interviews (possibly 2 or 3), thank-you notes (from you to them), reference checks, and eventually – when you and an employer find the right fit – a job offer, negotiations, a handshake, and a starting date.
Now that you've got some insight into what happens on the dark side (wink, wink), I hope it's clear how incredibly important it is to make your resume and cover letter shine with a summary of your specific, relevant qualifications targeted to that employer.
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