How to Create a Resume to Meet Online Screening Requirements

By Laura DeCarlo

Your OnTarget resume may never be read if an employer’s online screening program decides in advance that you aren’t qualified for the position’s stated — or unstated — requirements. In essence, screening software has the first word about who is admitted for a closer look and who isn’t.

Online screening is an automated process of creating a blueprint of known requirements for a given job and then collecting information from each applicant in a standardized manner to see whether the applicant matches the blueprint. The outcomes are sent to recruiters and hiring managers.

Online screening is known by various terms — prescreening and pre-employment screening, to mention two. The purpose of online screening is to verify that you are, in fact, a good candidate for the position and that you haven’t lied about your background. Employers use online screening tools to reduce and sort applicants against criteria and competencies that are important to their organizations.

If you apply online through major job sites or many company website career portals, you may be asked to respond yes or no to job-related questions, such as:

  • Do you have the required college degree?

  • Do you have experience with (specific job requirement)?

  • Are you willing to relocate?

  • Do you have two or more years’ experience managing a corporate communications department?

  • Is your salary requirement between $55,000–$60,000/year?

Answering “no” to any of these kinds of questions disqualifies you for the listed position, an automated decision that helps the recruiters thin the herd of resumes more quickly, but that may be a distinct disadvantage to you, the job searcher.

On the other hand, professionals in high-demand categories, such as nursing, benefit by a quick response. Example: Are you an RN? If the answer is “yes,” the immediate response, according to a recruiter’s joke, is “When can you start?”

Sample components of online screening

The following examples of online screening aren’t exhaustive, but they are illustrations of the most commonly encountered upfront filtering techniques.

  • Basic evaluation: The system automatically evaluates the match between a resume’s content (job seeker’s qualifications) and a job’s requirement and ranks the most qualified resumes at the top.

  • Skills and knowledge testing: The system uses tests that require applicants to prove their knowledge and skills in a specific area of expertise. Online skills and knowledge testing is especially prevalent in information technology jobs where dealing with given computer programs is basic to job performance. Like the old-time typing tests in an HR office, there’s nothing subjective about this type of quiz: You know the answers or you don’t.

  • Personality assessment: Attempts to measure work-related personality traits to predict job success are one of the more controversial types of online testing. Dr. Wendell Williams, a leading testing expert based in the Atlanta area, says that personality tests expressly designed for hiring are in a totally different league than tests designed to measure things like communication style or personality type.

    “Job-related personality testing is highly job specific and tends to change with both task and job,” he says. “If you are taking a generic personality test, a good rule is to either pick answers that fall in the middle of the scale or ones you think best fit the job description. This is not deception. Employers rarely conduct studies of personality test scores versus job performance and so it really does not make much difference.”

  • Behavioral assessment: The system asks questions aimed at uncovering your past experience applying core competencies the organization requires (such as fostering teamwork, managing change) and position-specific competencies (such as persuasion for sales, attention to detail for accountants).

  • Managerial assessments: The system presents applicants with typical managerial scenarios and asks them to react. Proponents say that managerial assessments are effective for predicting performance on competencies such as interpersonal skills, business acumen, and decision making. Dr. Williams identifies the many forms these assessments can take:

    • In-basket exercises where the applicant is given an in-basket full of problems and told to solve them.

    • Analysis case studies where the applicant is asked to read a problem and recommend a solution.

    • Planning case studies where the applicant is asked to read about a problem and recommend a step-by-step solution.

    • Interaction simulations where the applicant is asked to work out a problem with a skilled role player.

    • Presentation exercises where the applicant is asked to prepare, deliver, and defend a presentation.

    • Integrity tests where the applicant’s honesty is measured with a series of questions. You can probably spot the best answers without too much trouble.

Pros and cons of online screening

Here’s a snapshot of the advantages and disadvantages of online screening, from the job seeker’s perspective:

  • Advantages: In theory, a perfect online screening is totally job based and fair to all people with equal skills. Your resume would survive the first cut based only on your ability to do well in the job. You are screened out of consideration for any job you may not be able to do, saving yourself stress and keeping your track record free of false starts.

  • Disadvantages: The creation of an online process is vulnerable to human misjudgment. Moreover, you have no chance to make up for missing competencies or skills. (An analogy: You can read music, but you don’t know how to play a specific song. You can learn it quickly, but there’s no space to write “quick learner.”)

Can your resume be turned away?

What if you get low grades on answering the screening questions — can the employer’s system tell you to take your resume and get lost? No, not legally. Anyone can leave a resume, but if they don’t pass the screening, the resume is ranked at the bottom of the list in the database.

The bottom line is that if you don’t score well in screening questions, your resume is exiled to a no-hire zone even if it isn’t physically turned away.