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What's The Trick To Avoid Getting Filtered Out? (Résumé Filters)

Originally appeared in "The Games Game" column on The IGDA website was massively redesigned in 2013, making old columns unavailable, so select columns are now being reposted here on an as-needed basis. This column first appeared in March, 2010

Hi Mr. Sloper,
What I want to know is how employers filter résumés. If I know what criteria they use to weed résumés out, I'll know how to design mine so it stays in consideration.
I figure those guys look to see what college I went to and what degree I have, and what my GPA is, and what projects I worked on in class, what technologies and environments I've learned in class.
Also, I heard that I shouldn't put my address in the résumé, because they can always just contact me and ask me where I live if they're interested in me. And then when I've got them on the line, I can put on the sales pressure.
Will those do the trick?
Filter Me Not


Dear Fil,

There are many schools of thought on how best to arrange a résumé and what exactly should go in it. But your résumé isn't likely to get filtered out just because of the way it's laid out, or due to a poor choice of filler material.

First we go through and just look at the email containing the résumé, to see which job (which specialty) the applicant is applying for. Then, having selected the ones applying for the job we're hiring for, we look at the résumé itself. We don't look at the portfolio unless the résumé fits our criteria. Every hirer has different criteria, so some folks might not do it the way I do it.

The things I really look for when filtering résumés are:

  • Your focus. Are you applying for a job we have open, and would you fit the opening;
  • Have you had work experience? Do you know how to comport yourself in a genuine work environment;
  • Where do you live;
  • What degree you got (a bachelor's is better than an associate's) and how long you were in school (4 years is much better than 2 years);
  • Do you know the stuff we need you to know to do the job we need you to do;
  • What you've done with what you learned -- you learned how to program, or draw, or animate, or write, or whatever, right? Prove it. Show me a great portfolio.

    Nobody expects a lot in the résumé of a recent graduate. You're brand-new, so of course you don't have much, if any, actual work experience. But if you have the right degree and the right focus, and if we're considering raw candidates, then I might forward you on to the department manager. Or if the department manager needs me to also filter portfolios, then I'd check out your portfolio too. If it's too far removed from what we're looking for, then you're out of the running.

    If we're willing to take a raw graduate, that doesn't mean we're willing to deal with the additional bother of interviewing and hiring an out-of-towner. Much less someone from another state or country. So actually, that's usually the first thing I look at on the résumé -- where you live. If you didn't give an address, then I look for clues, like the area code of your phone number, the location of the college you graduated from. If you're applying to be an artist, you've just graduated from a 2-year art school, and you live in another state, then I don't need to look at your portfolio. Because we can find truckloads of good artists just like you right here in town.

    So there's no special trick to writing the résumé. It's what's IN the résumé, not how you write it, that's important. It's about who you are and what you have to offer. No résumé trickery can hide that from us. If you're raw, the real trick is to be qualified, and to be local. If you're experienced, there is no trick.

    The Other Side of the Job Search (How Can I Filter Résumés?)

    Originally appeared in "The Games Game" column on The IGDA website was massively redesigned in 2013, making old columns unavailable, so select columns are now being reposted here on an as-needed basis. This column first appeared in April, 2010

    Dear Tom,
    I remember when I was submitting my résumé and cover letter all over the place, and how frustrated I felt when I got no reply, or got a terse "thanks but no thanks." It's weird, but now I've been tasked with selecting candidates for our new project. As soon as I talked to HR about it, I was forwarded a couple hundred application emails! I started to read them, and got this strange feeling: It was as if I was the guy writing them, and I didn't want to hire me because I sounded so pathetic and not yet ready! I've only scratched the surface so far, but nobody seems qualified enough. Even a guy who went to my school, I'm embarrassed to say. I sympathize and wish I could give somebody the chance I so craved. But the volume of the pile of applications! How do I find the gems among all this?
    Need Direction


    Dear Need,
    Funny. I just wrote last month's column about résumé filtering. But that one was written for the benefit of the applicant. Now I get to write the "through the looking glass" version.
    I know this is going to sound like extra needless work, but I've found that it helps to create a database of all the applicants. You can use a database program, or you can do it in Excel. Only a few of the applications are in hardcopy -- most of them came in through your company's email system, or through some sort of online application system. I haven't worked with an online application system, but I have done this with emailed applications.
    The thing you need to do is document and record each application in your database or spreadsheet. You need to record the date of the application and the email name of the sender and the subject line of the application (so you can locate them in the email archive when needed). You might be able to find a way to automate some of that. Then categorize the applicants according to what jobs they're applying for.
    If your major need at the moment is programmers, you've focused the work right there. You can address the non-programmer apps later. For now you can concentrate your efforts on the programmers. So that's the first filter.
    Your second filter depends on your criteria. Are you looking for experienced candidates without regard to expense? If so, you can just check the résumé for experience. Or are you looking for low-cost help? If cost is a factor, or if you're in a hurry to get someone hired, then maybe non-local candidates have to be filtered out. Problem is, many applicants these days withhold their location. You can look at their phone numbers and email addresses for clues, if so.
    Once you've filtered by category and by your major criteria, then it comes down to the hard part. NOW you're ready to actually look at the qualifications and portfolios. But now you have a much smaller number of them to go through.

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