The Science of Resume Screening

The Machines are here:
Software systems are everywhere. From banking to shopping,  fromtraveling to education, from whatever-you-can-think-of to whatever-you-cannot-even-think-of, software are all-pervasive and resume screening is no exception. While this is a great advance for HR departments, this can be quite a scary prospect for job seekers as a majority of resumes sent to these HRs are not read by humans. In this article, we would like to educate you on the inner workings of the resume screeners, a key component of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS).
The Applicant Tracking System (ATS):
The Applicant Tracking System helps HR managers streamline the various HR processes such as recruiting, payroll, etc. within their organization. Resume screening is an integral part of the ATS. Here is an article on how ATSs work. HR departments receive resumes in the thousands for every job posting. ATS makes life much simpler for them by doing the laborious task of going through resumes to shortlist candidates for an interview, thereby saving a lot of time. While it makes complete sense from the HRs’ standpoint, it can kill a job seeker’s chances of landing an interview. For a job seeker, it is the ATS’s way or the highway. Let us now go into how the ATS screens resumes in order to level the playing field for job seekers to give them a fair chance. Once the job candidate uploads the resume, the following are the steps performed by the ATS:
1. The resume is parsed.
2. The resume is evaluated against the job for a fit.
1. The Resume is parsed: 
What does this mean? The ATS expects the resume in a certain standardized format. This standard has been adopted by the HR community in order for HR systems to be able to communicate with each other easily.
Candidates create resumes using different file formats and in very different fashions. For example, one candidate could call the work history section of the resume as “Work Experience”, whereas another candidate could call it “Professional Background”. It is the job of the resume parser to categorize these as work history so they can be evaluated uniformly. The job seeker’s job is to create a parser-friendly format of the resume. It is important to understand that resume parsers can only do so much. Higher the resume compliance with the HR standards(something that the parser looks for), higher the chances of correctly interpreting the information, which in turn improves interview chances.
Here is a list of standard sections(pay special attention to the terminology) that the resume parser expects to see in the resume:
a. Contact Info
 • Person Name
  o Given Name
  o Preferred Name
  o Middle Initial
  o Family Name
  o Suffixes, and suffix types (educational, generational, qualification)
  o Formatted Name
 • Postal Addresses
  o Use/Location (i.e. home, work, school)
  o Street Address lines
  o Municipality
  o Region(s)
  o Country
  o Postal Code
 • Phone Numbers
  o Use/Location (i.e. home, work, personal)
  o Phone Type: Telephone, Mobile, Fax, Pager, TTYTDD
  o Phone Number: Original Format, Normalized Format, or Structured When Available
 • Email Addresses
  o Use/Location (i.e. home, work, personal)
 • Personal URLs
b. Job Objective
c. Executive Summary
d. Qualification Summary
e. Employment History
 • Start Date
 • End Date
 • Employer Name
 • Position Title
 • Organization Name (i.e. division, department, client)
 • Location: Municipality, Region, Country
 • Job Category
 • Job Level
 • Full Text / Job Description
 • Support for nested positions
f. Education History
 • Start Date
 • End Date
 • Graduation Date
 • School Name
 • Location: Municipality, Region, Country
 • Degree Type (normalized)
 • Degree Name
 • Major
 • Minor
 • GPA (actual/scale)
 • Full Text / Description
g. Competencies
 • Skill Name
 • Date Last Used (calculated by parser)
h. Licenses and Certifications
 • Name
 • Date
i. Achievements
 • Description
j. Foreign Languages
 • Read
 • Write
 • Speak
 • Fluent?
k. Military History
 • Unit or Division
 • Rank
 • Start Date
 • End Date
 • Recognition
 • Disciplinary Action
 • Discharge Disposition
l. Security Clearances
 • Specific clearances, or “has/does not have a clearance”
m. Associations
 • Organization
 • Role
n. Speaking Engagements
 • Date
 • Title
o. Publications
 • Authors
 • Title
 • Journal
 • Volume
 • Publisher
 • Publication Date
 • Publication Type
p. Patents
 • Patent Name
 • Inventors
 • Patent Status
 • Patent Date
q. References
 • Full Contact info
 • Full Text of each
 • Ancestors (name of mother, father)
 • Availability
 • Birthplace
 • Date of Birth
 • Driving License
 • Family Composition (spouse, children)
 • Gender
 • Location (Current, Preferred)
 • Marital Status
 • Mother Tongue
 • Nationality
 • National Identity Numbers (multiples allowed, each with number, type, phrase)
 • Passport Number
 • Visa Status
 • Willing to Relocate
 • Salaries (Current, Expected) (number and currency)
 • Hukou City and Area [Chinese]
 • Political Landscape [Chinese]
 • QQ number [Chinese]
 • Total years of all experience in career
 • Total years of management experience in career
 • Is current job management-level?
 • Current management level
 • CXO level/type
 • Human-readable synopsis of management history
The list above is quite exhaustive, yet there are a few other parser specific sections that are evolving to narrow the filter further. Not all sections are mandatory. However, if one were to include certain sections, it would be strongly advised to stick to the above nomenclature and include all the necessary details that the resume parser.
In this manner, the resume parser first identifies the above sections from the uploaded job seeker’s resume. Hence, the higher the compliance, the better the candidate information gathered for evaluation purposes.This phase is followed by another very important profile evaluation phase.
2. Parsed resume evaluation:
Once the resume has been parsed, the ATS gathers the required candidate information in a standardized format. It is now time for the matching engine to evaluate the candidate for the particular job. Matching engines are extremely intelligent nowadays.
It all starts with identifying the right keywords, which vary from job to job. For example, if the job is for an iOS developer, the matching engine would expect keywords like iOS, objective-C, cocoa,object-oriented programming and so on. Here is an article on how to pick keywords for your resume. Knowing these keywords is winning half the battle. However, matching engines are smart enough to do more than just look for keywords in the resume. The other factors are as follows:
a. Context: 
It makes sure that the keywords appear in the right context. For instance, it will look for the skill Objective-C in the relevant sections of the resume such as competencies, work history, and so on, and not in sections like contact info.
b. Meaning:
It ensures that the meaning of the keyword has been rightly found. For instance, if the job is looking for a Product Manager, the engine does not identify text like “…collaborated with the Product Manager…” as a match. It looks for candidates with actual Product Managerial experience.
c. Value:
The engines also check for the current position that a candidate is in. For example, a person who was a Product Manager in the past, and is CEO right now, might not be looking for a job as a Senior Product Manager. The value of the match is judged as well.
d. Experience:
The current experience of the candidate is given priority. For instance, if one is looking for a manager with 5 years of experience, the engine will match only those candidates who have been managers in the last 5 years.
e. Skills:
Like experience, the skill experience can also be given priority. If one is looking for a programmer with 3 years of C++ experience, the engine will match only those profiles who have at least 3 years of C++ experience in the recent past.
f. Data Range:
The engine also has the ability to deal with ranges of values. A simple example would be one of wanting profiles with a GPA above a certain score.
This is the level of sophistication that the ATS has reached. Hence, job seekers need to be savvier than ever to maximize their chances of landing an interview. Here are a list of simple rules you could follow to optimize your resume.