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7 Tools HR Uses to Cut Candidates

job hunting job search advice job search tips Aug 11, 2023
grumpy HR person screening candidates

For every posted job, the Human Resources (HR) department is expected to cut 95% of all candidates before a hiring manager sees a single resume. Unfortunately, even qualified applicants will often be cut during the screening process just because they don't understand how the hiring process works.


From a lack of appropriate keywords in the resume to failing to send a cover letter when requested, these are all essential details that cost even the best potential employees the chance for a wonderful job.


Every HR department uses several universal tricks to weed out the candidate pool. However, these tricks are easy to overcome once you are conscious of them.



Cut #1: Clear, Written Instructions

What it is:

A long list of specific instructions on applying for the job.


Why they do this:

If you can't follow clear, written instructions, HR does not want to talk to you.


How to pass:

Send them everything they ask for exactly how they request it.


Mortality Rate: +50%

More than 50% of job seekers will be eliminated because they did not follow the directions.


The first test in any application process is to see if you can follow clear, written instructions. The HR thought process is, "If you can't follow written directions, I don't want to talk to you."


Passing the test is simple – send them everything they ask for in the way they tell you to send it. Seem simple enough? You would be shocked at how many people fail this test!


Sometimes these instructions are understood instead of formally written. For example, writing "see resume" on an application is NOT following the instructions. Instead, you must copy and paste everything from your resume into the application. It's the only way to guarantee that your qualifications will be properly entered into the database. No wonder an average application takes up to 45 minutes to complete!



Cut #2: The Yes/No Factor

What it is:

Specific criteria, skills, education, or experience required to perform the job.


Why they do this:

The new employee really does need this particular ability or qualification to succeed in this position.


How to pass:

Use the right keywords and keep critical information easy to find.


Mortality Rate: ~20%

For any job posting, about 20% of the candidates who survived the first cut are not qualified to do the job, OR the computer did not recognize that the candidate was qualified.


Some criteria are a firm requirement in the mind of the employer. For example, if a hospital is hiring a medical doctor, the candidate must have a license to practice medicine in that state. If you are missing that crucial piece, you will be rejected. Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to change the employer's mind on a firm requirement.


It's a drop-dead requirement. You either have it or you don't.


A note about keywords…

Yes, the rumor is true: computers are screening your resume. The applicant tracking system (ATS) wants to see 60-75% of the keywords from the job description in your resume.


NOTE: that is keywords, not qualifications.


Many qualified applicants are cut because they didn't use the right keywords in their resumes. For example, if your resume lists your degree as a "BS," but the job posting asks for a "Bachelor of Science," the computer may not recognize the abbreviation. Suddenly, it thinks that you don't have any degree at all.


BS, indeed.


Don't have everything? Apply anyway!

Ever heard that before? It is true, and here's why: in every job description, some criteria matter more than others. Unfortunately, you cannot tell which ones are the most important.


Just because a degree or years of experience are listed first in the Requirements or Qualifications does not mean they are the most important criteria. In truth, it is traditional for HR to start the qualifications with those two points.



Cut #3: Industry Knowledge

What it is:

Proper use of jargon, language, and industry acronyms – this also includes grammar and spelling errors.


Why they do this:

It is the first test to see if you know what you're doing.


How to pass:

Check your work before sending any resume or cover letter.


Mortality Rate: 5%–10%

An uneducated or inexperienced candidate often misuses common industry jargon. Letters transposed in licensing acronyms, misinterpreted duties, and badly written descriptions of their experience are all clues to the HR department. This is a surefire way to get cut.



Cut #4 – Annoyance

What it is:

If you are annoying, HR will find an excuse to cut you.


Why they do this:

There are three reasons: They are looking for an easy cut, they don't want to work with jerks, or they are on a power trip.


How to pass:

Be clear and concise in all communications. Respect their time. Be professional at every turn.


Mortality Rate: 5%–10%

Annoying people are rarely hired.


If you get on the HR department's nerves, they will search your resume to find the one mistake to cut you – or they may even invent one. At the screening level, HR people have a lot of power. Screening is conducted with minimal oversight, especially in the early rounds. In other words, they can cut you without fear of reprisal.


Remember: Even though the HR department may say, "No phone calls, please," that does NOT apply to hiring managers. If you contact your potential future boss, they can resurrect you from the cut pile.



Cut #5: Relevance

What it is:

They are FINALLY reading your resume for content.


Why they do this:

NOW HR is looking for the right fit, not just cutting candidates.


How to pass:

Relevance applies to more than just the job posted. It includes your research on the company while emphasizing your strengths.


Survival Rate: 10%

Congratulations! You just made it to the short stack of desirable candidates.


Integrate your research about the company into your cover letter. Ensure your submitted materials stay on target to prove you are the best candidate. Each job contains unique elements. A stock resume and cover letter may get you past the first screening level, but that doesn't mean you will make the top 10%.


Believe it or not, some candidates do not even read the company's website before applying. Taking even a few moments to customize a cover letter and resume for the specific company can make a real difference. In Resume Tweaking Made Easy, we will cover this in-depth.


BIG TIP: Your resume is actually not about YOU – it is about the company's needs. Think about how you, as an employee, will help them accomplish their goals:

  • What are the challenges in the industry?
  • How well do they stack up to the competition?
  • What problems can you solve?
  • How can you save them money?
  • Or how can you help them make money?


All you need to do is prove ONE of these things to showcase your candidacy.


Cut #6: Difficult Communication

What it is:

If they have trouble reaching you, you may get cut.


Why they do this:

There are too many applicants. Due to short deadlines, they are just too busy to wait for you.


How to pass:

Answer your phone! If you can't do that, be professional and be responsive.


Mortality Rate: Depends on how good your competition is.

The more responsive you are, the better your chances.


The screening process continues when the HR department starts calling candidates. One test involves how long it takes you to return their phone call. Of course, the top picks are called first, but if they must leave a message, they keep calling other candidates. Not only that, but candidates have also been knocked out of the running because of unprofessional email addresses, bizarre voicemail greetings, or (my personal favorite) the full voicemail box that won't allow someone to leave a message.


Cut #7: Gut Reaction

What it is:

Before sending any candidate to the hiring manager, HR weighs all the factors, including their judgment of how well the person performed throughout the process.


Why they do this:

Every candidate put before a hiring manager reflects HR's work.


How to pass:

Be relevant, professional, and passionate.


Survival Rate: Only 3%–5% of all applicants

Remember, these are survivors, not necessarily the best qualified.


When the candidate list is narrowed to the top picks, instinct plays a part. The best HR recruiters often select one candidate over another because "it feels right." All the extra homework on researching the company pays off here. During your initial interview, be sure to ask relevant and intelligent questions.


Confidence comes across on paper. Self-respect is a tangible element in the job search; it shows how you write and speak about yourself. Most employers want someone competent and interested in their specific job, not just "any old job." That's the "spark," the "magic bullet" that pierces the corporate veils.


Final words on dealing with HR

Now that you know how the HR department is screening you, you never have to fall victim to these tricks. Remember to follow their rules, even the unspoken ones. Be professional and complete in all your communications. Use this book's tools to ensure you are in the top 5% of any candidate field.


Need some help with surviving the HR process?

Looking to implement some new strategies that handle these frustrations head-on? Schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with our career experts to gain insight into how you can improve your results:


Wondering how effective your job search is? Schedule a complimentary 30-minute consultation with one of our career coaches, Donna Shannon or Dia Kline

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