Ask-A-Recruiter: How Do Recruiters Search and Screen Resumes?

jobsearchContributed by Caroline Ceniza-Levine of SixFigureStart

Last week I wrote about the two main factors that every resume needs – authenticity and specificity.  Specificity (i.e., tailoring a resume to the employer/ industry/ function you are targeting), is particularly important because it enables your resume to be found when recruiters search and noticed when recruiters screen.


Recruiters search for resumes on job boards, social networks such as LinkedIn, articles and white papers (especially at senior levels), and their own database.  When a search kicks off recruiters filter through the resumes from these sources by keywords and criteria.  If you don’t have those keywords or criteria in your resume, you may not get picked.


However, the variety and number of keywords and criteria changes per search.  Sometimes it is very specific:  for example, when I did a search for an animator who knew Aftereffects (as well as other things), I searched only for Aftereffects as a keyword.  It was specific enough that I knew I could rule out many people and then do a more careful search with just the resumes that had Aftereffects.  Sometimes searches are more criteria-based:  for example, a single job might require several years in the range of experience, good financial analysis skills, and experience in turnaround situations.  It is hard to adequately filter for these with just keywords so in this case, I would be likely to do a broader keyword search, such as finance, and review resumes from there.  The end result?  When you have a very specific skills (e.g., software, languages, etc) definitely list them.  But remember that keywords are just a guide for the beginning of the screening process. 


After the broad resume search, the resumes are screened further to look for the rest of the job requirements.  This is the more subjective process because invariable we weigh the overall package.  Most candidates have some but not all of the requirements.  It is not just who has the most requirements matched.  It is more important to have the dealbreakers matched.  So in the case of the animator, Aftereffects was a dealbreaker.  It wouldn’t matter if you had everything else in the job description if you didn’t have that.  Some with Aftereffects and a few of the other requirements had a better chance than someone with all of the other requirements but no Aftereffects.

So now that you know that keywords and the subsequent screening vary widely search by search, how do you as the jobseeker increase your chances?  You can’t change your resume for every job lead – it’s unrealistic and unnecessary.  Your best approach, as I write in many of my other columns, is to get as close to the decision-maker as possible whether this means via a resume submission or not.  When you are close to the decision-maker, you can learn what the keywords and the dealbreakers are.  When you are close to the decision-maker you can make your pitch and have the resume become your supporting document, not your primary form of communication.  When you are close to the decision-maker, you control more of the search and therefore more of your chances.  So, spend time on your resume but more time on your networking.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is co-founder of SixFigureStart, a career coaching firm comprised exclusively of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Prior to launching SixFigureStart, Caroline recruited for Accenture, Booz Allen, Citigroup, Disney ABC, Oliver Wyman, Time Inc, TV Guide and others.  Email Caroline at and ask how you can attend a free SixFigureStart group coaching teleclass.

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