Interviewing from the other side of the table, part 1: selecting applicants for interviews


Resume and reading glasses

Hiring new people is a risky activity for me as a manager. It takes time for screening and interviews, and once someone new starts, it will take the time of my team to train them before they are productive. There is risk in selecting the wrong person for a job, be it that they don’t have the right skills, or that they will be a poor fit for our team or culture. In this three part series, I will share how I screen resumes, how I design questions to learn about candidates and understand their skills, and what my team looks for in an interview. Team and culture is very important to me, so I am very selective about who joins our team; fairness and consistency are important as well, because for every candidate in the process, it is an incredibly personal journey to find a new job.

Resumes, so many resumes

We all see the articles online that hiring managers only spend two or five or ten seconds on your resume. This is partly true. I’ll share my resume screening algorithm with you—this is my own process, and may not be the same for all hiring managers.

When I post a position, I generally receive between 15 and 30 resumes. If I am hiring one position, I feel that it is fair to interview three to six of the best applicants. Image yourself in this position—you have one job to fill, and over 20 resumes in a stack on your desk. You want to fill the position quickly; but still make it as fair as possible.

I have a few different categories of applicants that come my way:

  1. Known talent, and team members that already work for me;
  2. Applicants within the same job family, but from another department;
  3. Applicants in a different job family, but within our company;
  4. Local applicants from outside our company; and
  5. Long distance applicants.

Sorting through the stack of resumes

#1 – Known talent

I’m not going to interview everyone. As I look through resumes, I will sort the resumes into two piles—known talent and everyone else. Known talent includes both applicants that currently work for me (applying for a full-time position or for a promotion), applicants within my department that I know, and applicants that I have met. You can easily become known talent if you meet the the hiring manager for any position. There is no better time than now—meet leaders who hire people for your dream job so they can get to know you. If your dream job is already posted, set up some time with the hiring manager and ask some questions.

If I know who you are and think highly of you as a candidate, your resume really doesn’t matter—I probably didn’t even read it. I already know you are capable, and we have probably already discussed your interest in the position.

If I have enough candidates to set up interviews at this point, I may have a quick glance at the rest of the resumes to see if I am missing someone amazing, but I am ready to move to the next phase in my process.

#2 – Same job, different department

If you are in a large company, chances are, you may apply for a position very similar to the one you currently have. Maybe you want to work on a new team, a new technology, are looking for a full-time position, or want a promotion. You are in a pretty good position, see #1 above, reach out to the hiring manager to make sure they know who you are and where you are coming from.

As I screen resumes, I am looking for similarity in what job you are performing today against the position I am hiring. Your resume should have a mix of both job description and accomplishments so I can get a feel for your skills—be sure to clearly include your job title and level for your current role. If you are a good match against the job description, based solely on your resume, I will consider you for an interview. Keep in mind that for applicants in this group, I don’t know anything other than what is on your resume. If you have a skill I need, and I don’t see it, I will move on to someone else who included it.

Since we are in the same company, and all I have is your resume, usually I try to get a bit more information before setting up an interview. I have asked candidates for past performance reviews, and I usually ask around to see if anyone knows you. I want to make sure you are a good match for my team before we go any further. Be proactive when you think about looking for a new position in your company, and try to get into the known talent category for your new manager—meet leaders, find opportunities for exposure, and have a good personal brand.

#3 – Different job, same company

Sometimes we want to switch jobs—the best way to do this is within your current department, or within your own company, since you already have a professional network, mentors, and sponsors, as well as good job performance history. Moving from one job to another could be a pretty clear step, think of a developer who wants to become a systems architect, a business analyst moving into QA, or an individual contributor seeking a people leader role. Sharing your story and personal development journey with the hiring manager is a great way to get started, and even to get into the known talent category above. As you craft your resume, pivot the duties from your current role in the direction you want to go, by focusing on the aspects of your current job that relate to the new position—make it easy for the hiring manager to see that you have the skills, training, or credentials required, even if you don’t play that role today.

Sometimes though, you may want to move from one job to something that may not seem directly related. I’ve coached team members who wanted to leave IT for business, and switch from business analysis into IT security. In these cases, some of the same advice applies—find a mentor in the new role, meet leaders in positions to hire that role, and find opportunities to get involved through communities or practice or user groups.

As I screen resumes, I usually have enough candidates at this point to get started, but I work in a very large company; smaller firms don’t have the same ability to hire from within.

#4 – Local candidates

If I am unable to fill my interview roster with candidates from inside my company, I will turn to the external resumes. I know less about these applicants, and I probably don’t have anyone within my network that can share more information as to what their work is like. Again, I have to go solely on what was included in their resume, so clearly laying out skills, credentials, and current role information is important. When hiring for any position, I want someone who already has the ability to perform the role, so a resume with skills that closely match the job description will warrant a longer look.

Local candidates can be known talent too! Just like trying to find a new job in a large company, finding a new position in a local market uses the same tactics—involvement in communities of practice, professional associations, and finding chances to gain targeted exposure in professional events by volunteering will give you opportunities to meet leaders in your profession or future hiring managers. Build a brand that extends beyond your own company’s walls, by becoming an expert or sharing your knowledge in your field by speaking or writing.

#5 – Long distance candidates

Long distance job-seekers are in a rather unenviable position when it comes to screening due to the cost and time required for setting up interviews; and the perceived risk that they may not be serious candidates, or follow through with moving to a new city. It’s not impossible to get an interview, the bar just seems to be higher in these cases.

Selecting interview candidates

After my initial pass through the resumes, I may have more qualified candidates than interview slots—sometimes I have 10 great resumes and known candidates, and may only want to interview six. Narrowing the pool to a reasonable number isn’t just for myself, but everyone else I have included in the interview process. With each interview taking an hour, and four people in each interview, it could take 24 hours of interview time to select one new team member. With an average hourly rate of over $35, it can cost nearly $900 just to interview candidates; excluding the time of talent acquisition professionals, resume screening, follow up interviews, and negotiating offers.

To reduce the number of applicants, based solely on resumes, I am looking for the best qualifications. Candidates with more experience, more education, more certifications, and more clearly defined current roles that match my needs will stand out. A great example is that while no position on my team requires a college degree, applicants that have college degrees are more likely to be interviewed over other candidates when I filter the candidate pool to a smaller number.

Not being selected for an interview

Some hiring managers give feedback as to why candidates weren’t selected for an interview, and some don’t. I make it a rule to meet with candidates from my own team or department if I don’t interview them. If they are in my company, I will at least send a one line reason to Talent Acquisition for the candidate, and share that they can contact me if they would like more information. The bottom line, is that within your own company, it never hurts to ask for feedback.

Outside my company though, I’m sure lack of information can be very frustrating as a job-seeker, because many awesome people might apply for the same job, and the hiring manager just can’t interview everyone. You might not hear anything after applying for your dream job. The truth may be that the hiring manger already had someone in mind, or there was a strong pool of candidates.


Be proactive, meet leaders and hiring managers in your profession, become known talent, and have a good resume that matches the job description.


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