Malcolm Finney of Management Dynamics looks at the ground rules for getting an interview with a prospective employer.
Much has been written about the interview process. Books and articles abound offering advice to potential interviewees; how to sit; how to answer questions; how to ask questions; what to wear; and so on.
The clear presumption is, of course, that an invitation for interview will naturally be forthcoming. However, sadly, it may not happen. Many potential interviewees will no doubt have experienced the agonizing wait for a reply after an application for a job has been lodged. Statistically, the probability of a favorable response is often small.
So what determines whether a rejection or invitation for interview falls on the doormat one morning?
While an element of luck often plays a part (as in most things), a review of research in this area reveals some interesting insights.
Research findings: some pointers
Four years ago one researcher found that no less than 94% of employers confirmed that screening based on the application form was standard practice. This seems hardly surprising. In an increasingly competitive world employers are unlikely to want to waste valuable management time interviewing applicants when a simple review of the application form may indicate unsuitability. But herein lies the problem for the budding interviewee. How is he/she to figure out what the employer is looking for? Can the application form/cv/resume enhance the likelihood of interview if it is properly prepared?
It is important to understand at the outset that resume screening is not a science. Inevitably where humans are involved imperfections, bias and errors are inevitable. Some factors are beyond the control of the applicant. For example, research has shown that older applicants are generally less highly rated than younger applicants; that physically attractive individuals have the edge over less attractive individuals; and that stereotyping of jobs based on gender is commonplace and thus, for example, males may be perceived to possess attributes closer to those of the stereotypical manager than females.
However, not all factors are beyond the control of the applicant.
Key resume items
Recent research conducted by the writer has shown that in situations where the applicants are not newly qualified graduates, the three most important pieces of information used to screen a resume are current job responsibilities, previous job responsibilities, and rate of career progression. These are the factors upon which the recruiter will concentrate during the 15 to 60 seconds typically allotted to initially reviewing a resume. Inter alia, this suggests that over concentration on, for example, identifying acceptable or impressive hobbies to list, or listing at great length outside positions (for example, scout master) or worrying about class of degree or degree subject is perhaps somewhat unnecessary.
Resume item ordering
The writer's research also found, in line with earlier research, that the order in which information is presented may also affect judgment by the recruiter. It is thus sensible to have the stronger and more relevant information listed earlier rather than later.
Furthermore, and perhaps surprisingly, one single piece of negative information has been shown to be extremely damaging and indeed can overwhelm a greater number of positive statements. It is therefore clearly sensible at application stage, where possible, to leave out any negative pieces of information using the interview itself as the opportunity for any explanations.
To reinforce particularly important aspects a cover letter attached to the resume is a must. The letter offers the opportunity to highlight, and to draw the recruiter's attention to, key aspects of your choosing. However, beware the over-long cover letter or indeed the overlong resume. For a resume, three pages is an absolute maximum and a cover letter should be no longer than one page. Employers also expect a resume to be typed and grammatically correct.
Form of resume
Unfortunately, as to the best form of resume to submit, the research findings are mixed. There appears to be no clear evidence demonstrating that the so-called functional resume format (i.e. highlighting qualifications, achievements and special skills) is to be preferred to the traditional format (i.e. listing the past in a chronological manner) or vice versa. What is clear is that despite advice to the contrary one standard resume is unlikely to be appropriate for all job applications. The dispatch of an identical resume to every potential employer is unlikely to bare fruit.
Finally one or two words of common sense, nevertheless sometimes overlooked.
Ensure that at all costs the recipient's name, qualifications, and address are absolutely correct. Also, do not use colored writing paper, fancy print formats, pictures and, unless specifically requested, do not enclose a photograph even if you are attractive!
If nothing has been heard within seven to ten days, call and politely enquire whether in fact your application was received; the secretary to the recruiter may be invaluable here (find his/her name, however, before speaking to him/her).
Finally, it is perhaps worth repeating that recruiters are human with all their attendant foibles. Filtering resumes is more of an art than a science, and often one man's meat can be another man's poison.
With luck, following some of the pointers above should enhance the likelihood of interview.
The above article first appeared on our sister site, AccountingWEB.co.uk
Malcolm Finney is founder of Management Dynamics which specializes in consultancy and training for the professional and financial sector. He is also an international tax consultant and can be contacted via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org