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Jessica Chesher

Managing Editor

Innovation eReview
HR Article

So, let’s see, where were we?  Oh, yes, we had just begun marketing the job, and the resumes are pouring in, what to do, what to do?  Fear not, business leaders, for, as usual, we have some highly opinionated suggestions on what to do with those resumes.  
Anyone who has ever seen our workspace would get a good hearty laugh out of this one, but the most important thing when it comes to resumes is to be organized.  You must keep the resume, cover letter, references and other pertinent information (such as writing samples, academic papers, artwork, etc.) from each applicant together and accessible.  Not only is this a good idea from an order and organization standpoint, it’s the law.  The federal and state governments forbid discriminating on the basis of age, race, gender, etc. (you know the drill) and if you don’t hire someone and they file a discrimination lawsuit against you (a very, very remote possibility, but it does happen), you must have all the documentation provided by each applicant in perfect order.  Imagine the mess that would ensue if you didn’t hire someone because their writing samples were terrible, only to discover that they weren’t *their* writing samples….”Nuff said, you get our point, and we’re sure that you will comply. 

If you’re going to have multiple people reviewing resumes and applications, don’t let the originals out of your control.  Bad things can happen to innocent paperwork in the hands of others, and the one resume that gets lost may be the one you really want (or the one the feds call you about….).  

Now that we’ve gotten you sufficiently paranoid about keeping resumes together, let’s talk about reviewing resumes and we’ll see how we can add to the paranoia.  Remember those federal and state laws that forbid you from discriminating on the basis of age, gender, national origin, race, etc.?  Well, your obligation to adhere to those laws begins when you advertise for the job, but ratchets up a few levels the moment that resume hits your inbox or mailbox.  It is imperative that you keep in mind both the letter of the law and the spirit and intent of the law when reviewing resumes, not only because it is the law but because great people sometimes come in unusual packages, and your resume scouring should be inclusive (as in including the qualified people of all stripes), not exclusive (as in screening out people who you *think* won’t fit into your culture or organization).

Our method of resume screening, honed from years of experience paring down literally hundreds of resumes for each position (once upon a time, we worked at what was known as a “cool” company and had way more applicants than we needed for most positions) is as such:

Get together all pertinent info (resumes, completed application, references, cover letter, writing samples, etc.), from the mailed and faxed resumes, print off the emailed resumes and put each individual’s information together. 
  • Make a copy of all resumes
  • Put all original resumes in alphabetical order
  • Create a file for originals and put it in a safe place
  • Create a file for the copies and keep it handy, you’re going to need to refer to it often
  • Create a file for rejected applicants for this position, and keep the rejectees in your file cabinet for at least a year.  Federal law requires it, and you will want to be able to confirm if someone did apply should the state unemployment folks or some other official agency inquire as to the status of a specific resume or application
  • Quickly review each resume as it comes in to ensure that everything you requested in the ad is there.  If everything you requested is not there, reject those candidates immediately by sending them what we affectionately refer to as a “rejecto” or “ding” letter

Sending a rejection letter just for not including what you, the potential employer, requested is harsh you say?  As far as we’re concerned, the last thing anyone needs is someone who cannot or will not be bothered to follow directions, and, as long as you were clear about what you wanted in your advertisement, woe be tide to the ones that don’t follow those directions.  You may be thinking that it we’re so darn militant about rejecting those who don’t comply with the requirements in the ad, why bother to send them a rejection letter?  Well, it’s our opinion that each and every resume deserves a rejection letter, whether or not the person actually did what was asked of them or not.  Trust us when we say that sending the letter, while perhaps a waste of $.37 a throw, is really worth it in the long run for several reasons.  

First, you don’t get people calling several weeks or months down the road saying “Was that job filled?” (believe us when we say those phone calls are a pain where you never had a headache).  Second, when you bother with the details, such as sending a rejection letter, you are running your organization professionally, and almost everyone who receives one of your rejection letters will be impressed that you actually took the time to send one.  They may be disappointed in the message, but they will be impressed that you actually responded to their interest.  Not sure what to say in a rejection letter?  Fear not, friends.  We have suggested text below, which you are free to use and abuse at will.   

After one week of receiving resumes, take the ones that have not already been rejected and review them closely, with an eye toward your requirements.  (It helps to have the job description, which, *of course* you did, and the ad copy in front of you when performing this task.)  Divide them into “yes” and “no” piles.  Wait, what’s that?  Why, I can hear the cries from here, “What about the maybes?”  Friends, there are no “maybes”, because at this point the “maybes” should be in the “yes” pile.  The first cut is to get the grossly misqualified, overqualified and under qualified folks out of consideration.  Once you have ascertained that all those who belong in the first cut of the “no” pile are in there, send them a rejection letter, file their resume, and call it a day.  Trust us on this one, looking at too many resumes in one day kills brain cells, and causes the dreaded “resume blur”, when they all start to look the same (bad) and you question if you really need to fill that job.  That’s a surefire signal that it’s time to go home, indulge in your favorite adult concoction (you just knew we’d find a way to work adult beverages into this month’s newsletter again, didn’t you?) and forget you ever saw a resume.

Now we’ll fast-forward a few days, after you’ve had time to rest your resume-addled brain.  You can’t rest long, though, for there are more resumes to plow through, and the hard work has just begun.  It’s time for cut #2, and this is when it gets tricky.  Drag out the job description and ad copy again and, tying that objectivity hat firmly under you chin (you may end up with a callus there after all is said and done), take a hard and ruthless look at the resumes.  It’s time to cull those “maybes” out of the group and leave yourself with a reasonable number of people to (potentially) interview.  Yes, it’s hard to do, but you must, for you want the best person possible to fill your position.  Some suggested screens are job specific, if you say “B.A. or B.S. preferred”, why not cull out everyone without that degree?  This is also the place to cull out the infamous “job hoppers”, those on the fringe of being qualified and anyone whose resume or cover letter contains a typo (if you haven’t already sent them packing).

Send the next round of rejection letters, dutifully file the resumes away and prepare for the interview process, which, coincidentally, is September’s installment in the ongoing HR drama that is this column.

We will leave you with some of our thought about rejection letters.  First, send them.  Second, they don’t have to be a book.  Third, you must be clear about rejecting them, no ambiguity, just clear and direct language.  Anything less will result in phone calls you neither want nor need.  

Here are our two final pieces of advice:
If the applicant has a gender-neutral first name, such as “Pat” (and it does happen, honest) say “Dear Ms. or Mr. Smith”, and don’t be embarrassed.  It’s up to the person with the gender-neutral name to let you know their gender or risk the “Ms. or Mr.” routine.
Don’t say “Please call if you have any questions”.  Yes, this is a business transaction, but it’s not a transaction like a sale or even a credit inquiry.  Frankly, and this probably sounds harsh, but our attitude is bourn out of hard experience and a healthy respect for the law, you don’t want to talk to these people because they will waste your time and because anything you say can and may be used against you in a court of law.  You don’t want to tell them why they didn’t get the job, just that others who were closer to your requirements did receive consideration, and that is all you want to tell them.  You want to tell them in a letter, not in a give and take conversation on the phone, via email or in person.  No, the bloodless, unctuous letter is your friend in this instance, and remember to use that friend to your advantage. 

Here is a rejection letter that we have used successfully (success = no phone calls and no employment discrimination lawsuit filed by an applicant) in several organizations:

Dear Ms. Smith; 

Thank you for submitting your resume for the position of Human Resources Consultant at Inhuman Resources Corporation.  We received many resumes, and have identified a pool of candidates who very closely fit our requirements.  You application was not in that group and you are no longer being considered for the position of Human Resources Consultant at this time.

We sincerely appreciate your interest in Inhuman Resources Corporation and wish you the best of luck in your search for meaningful employment.  


I.M. Inhuman
President, Inhuman Resources Corporation

See you all next month, when we delve into the delights of team based hiring, which, in our humble opinion, is a great way to hire people.

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