The Harsh Realities of Résumé Review and Selection— Part I

Chuck Winters, Partner, REACH Human Capital, Memphis, TN

If there were just one secret to getting your résumé selected, every consultant in the world would share it. The reality is this: there is as much advice on this topic available as there are competent career coaches and counselors. For the job seeker, all this advice can create a murky view of what one is really trying to achieve by preparing a résumé.

The résumé is— no more, no less— an attention getter. It’s almost a sure bet that someone will review your résumé, along with many other résumés. Here are some “common sense” considerations about the reality of that review process:


  1. Sometimes a résumé will be rejected before any human eyes have seen it. This is the problem with the skyrocketing volume of online submissions. Companies are ill-prepared to wade through thousands of résumés submitted online, so they have computer algorithms to do it. Even if you put in all the right keywords, this is still an imperfect “needle in a haystack” system. Common sense indicates that getting your résumé to the decision maker by another method will give you a better chance of being selected. The initial human screening will neither be done by a high level individual nor by the hiring manager. This person will have many (many, many?) résumés to sift through and no one can be sure which method will be used to narrow the field. Sometimes there will be a list of “must haves” provided by the hiring manager, sometimes only an old job description that does not reflect current reality. Remember that Human Resources departments have been decimated during the past few years. If your résumé ends up in THAT stack— keep your fingers crossed. Network your way into a company and get your “insider” to hand-deliver your tailored résumé to the hiring manager.
  2. 2.    Little time will be spent reviewing each résumé. Also, the mindset of the individual doing the review is unclear. What is clear is that many résumés must be “eliminated” and only those few that represent an unambiguous job match will be selected. If the person reviewing the résumé does this for a living every day, he or she will have developed a number of “biases” and personal techniques for winnowing the field— some of which may not favor your résumé. Common sense indicates that if your résumé is in the stack being reviewed, the job match must be easily discernible within the first 15 seconds of review. Create a compelling and concise summary statement and powerful bullets that say: “This is who I am and what I can deliver on day one.”
  3. As the process continues up the ladder, each individual who reviews the résumé will be looking for the “perfect match.”  Higher ranking individuals are not impressed with “style over substance.” They are looking for the meat, and they need to see it right away. The best résumés, at this stage of the review, are those that capture attention with meaningful accomplishment statements. The reader must think “We really need that kind of accomplishment at our place.”


Ideally, the best résumés are designed to answer (in a succinct way) the following questions:

  • Who am I? What do I do? How long have I done it?
  • What can I deliver on day one with no additional training?
  • What career level/level of responsibility have I attained?
  • What have I DONE in former jobs that really mattered?
  • What qualifications/skills/educational background do I bring?

As a consultant, I often review first draft résumés that answer only some of these questions— and I am reading every word! Make sure the structure of your résumé doesn’t make the reader have to search for your qualifications.

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