Ronnie Ann is an organizational consultant specializing in business process improvement and workplace coaching who can be heard from on her own blog, Work Coach Café. She has held many jobs of all kinds in the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors. Apart from watching really bad TV, eating pizza, and enjoying her beloved Brooklyn — her favorite pastime is helping people make sense of the oft- inscrutable world of work.
One of the privileges of having my own blog is reading what real job seekers say about the maddeningly mysterious job search process. What seems so obvious to those of us who decide who gets the offer is a source of mystery and frustration for folks hoping to get that job. And if you figure out the rules for one company, there’s no guarantee those rules apply elsewhere.
So, what happens to your resume after you send it?
♦ When you submit your resume online
Some companies require you to submit an online application – including your resume and possibly a cover letter. These resumes may be accessed right away or even later by other areas of the company. To allow online access, all resumes, including those submitted via snail mail and email, go into a searchable database.
The tricky part about online resume systems is that even though your resume has been received electronically, someone needs to get their hands on it to do you any good. And that takes a human being feeding keywords into the system so it can spit out matches. "Oh good!" you think. "I’ve worked hard to get all the right keywords or key phrases into my resume." Well, that helps, but you also have to hope the person is talented at coming up with the right keywords.
This isn't true everywhere. I’ve worked in places where HR staff who know little about a job take control and choose words they want, leaving the department looking to hire someone at their mercy. Resumes of perfectly qualified applicants may never get out of the database. That's why any time you get a live human to see your resume (through networking or somehow getting it into the hands of your potential boss), you're increasing your chances of getting to the next step.
♦ When you send your resume via snail mail or email
Unless you’re sending it to someone you know, anyone may get their hands on it—all the more reason to check carefully for typos and appearance, and add a cover letter or at least a few words that give them reason to think you might be a match.
Eventually, your resume gets to the designated screener (possibly with a comment or two from the initial screener), who gives your resume a quick once-over and puts it into their Yes, No, or Maybe pile. Again, things like appearance, typos, unexplained employment gaps, and the way you do or don’t clearly highlight relevant strengths can make a huge difference in catching their eye. For the Yes resumes (and sometimes some of the Maybes) the next step may be a phone interview or a call for an in-person interview. Either way, they want to make sure you seem like a potential fit for the job and company, especially the company culture (all the more reason to do your research).
Your resume lives on after you're hired
Even if your resume leads to an interview, its job isn’t done yet. It will wind up in the hands of interviewers, so make sure you know your resume really well, and be prepared to present your story in the best light, because they could be drilling down about anything they see on that sheet of paper.
Your resume will also show up during subsequent interviews, and in the hands of anyone else asked to offer an opinion. And it will probably be there as the company makes its final hiring decision. After that, it will have to pass through Human Resources (it’s probably been there at least once already), and, if they want to make you an offer, they'll likely use it to conduct a background check.
Finally, if you're hired, your trusty old resume may sit in your company file. If there are any inconsistencies (such as a job you didn't have or a company you never worked for), it can come back to bite you someday. But it can also be looked at during performance evaluations, or to give your employer more insight into your skills or new things you may be asked to do.
So, don’t believe anything you might read about the resume being dead or just a formality! While it’s true that networking is one of your strongest allies and will help you land an initial interview, your resume still works for you. Whether you get help writing it or do it on your own, take the time to make it the very best statement of who you are!
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