how the hiring process works on the employer’s side

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A couple of people have asked about this recently, so I’ve put together a description of how the hiring process works on my side. Keep in mind that this is just how I do it — other hiring managers do it differently, and larger companies often automate the early stages of this.

1. A job is posted and applications start coming in. The number of applications we get varies depending on the position, but it’s unusual to get fewer than 100 for any job. For some types of jobs, we’ll often get 200 to 400. (That’s most often the case with jobs that don’t require a specific type of experience, but just require being generally smart and competent. And once when I advertised for a writer, I got close to 500; apparently everyone wants to get paid to write.)

2. The applications get printed out and come to me in hard copy, thanks to someone fabulous who helps me with hiring, because I like to be able to write notes on them. I may be alone in doing that; a lot of people do it electronically at this stage.

3. I do an initial screen, which means I scan the cover letter and scan the resume. Often this initial scan is as short as 45 seconds, because on many, many applications it’s immediately clear that the person doesn’t have the experience or skill set I’m looking for. Partly this is because of people who are applying to every job they see, and partly it’s because of people either not believing or not paying attention to the job requirements. I use some flexibility here; I’m definitely not 100% rigid about sticking to the listed qualifications, but I’m only willing to deviate so far, since I listed them for a reason.

4. Then I’m left with the group who didn’t get immediately discarded in the initial scan. Now I look at each of these more closely. I read every word of the cover letter this time and really scrutinize the resume. As a result, some more people get cut.

5. The group remaining is the candidate pool who I’m going to interact with. This group generally gets asked to submit a writing sample, do a written exercise, or provide some other sort of supplemental material relevant to the position. (Many places don’t do this at all, and many places that do do it after the interview. I do it at this stage because I’ve found it’s hugely helpful in identifying the strongest matches early on.)

6. Now it’s on to phone interviews, for the best candidates who made it through after the last step. I usually do anywhere from 8 to 15 phone interviews for a position. These are pretty short — 15-20 minutes (or shorter if I realize while we’re talking that the candidate isn’t right), and they’re just to gather more information about the candidate, including whether or not she’s crazy. A lot of people get cut at this stage, because once you get on the phone with someone, you often quickly discover it’s not a good match — either because (a) once they start talking about the details of their experience, you discover it isn’t quite what you need, or (b) they take themselves out of the running through their behavior, as described here.

I make lots of notes at this stage, some of them weirdly enthusiastic. When I like a candidate, I’ve been known to excitedly write “yes! yes!” on her resume. If there were a hiring manager version of writing “Mrs. Brad Pitt” like a schoolgirl, with a heart over the “i,” this would be it.

7. Now that I’m done with phone interviews, I figure out who the finalist candidates are, and those are the ones I bring in for in-person interviews. I generally want to bring in four or five people.

And you know the rest. There are interviews, reference-checks, a job offer is made, rejections are sent, blah blah blah. But that’s what it looks like on the inside, at least for me.

What about you guys, those of you who hire? How different are we?

{ 17 comments… read them below }

  1. The HR Store

    Good one. Your have explained the hiring process (from the inside) very well. It's also called the 'recruitment funnel' in hiring parlance.

    As you mentioned, technology places a big role in today's candidate management process and recruiters do avoid printing resumes (at least not all of them!).

  2. Steve

    Great post, as it also gives me insight into the next evolution of my own company. We're a small consulting firm that hasn't had a need for a full-blown HR department yet, so much of the hiring decision have been made by our own team of consultants. On top of that, our various project team sizes ebb and flow, so we have to constantly adjust for need versus glut.

    We also get tons of people blanket-applying for every job they see. I always slap myself on the forehead whenever I get a computer engineer saying he/she wants to program in SQL for [insert misspelled company name here]. We don't do anything with of the sort.

  3. Kerry

    I do the initial screen on the computer, but I print the ones I'm interested in. Then I do phone interviews, and I type pretty much word-for-word the answers they give into a MS Word form that I've been using and tweaking since 1996. The successful phone interview candidates come in for interviews with the hiring manager.

  4. Just Another HR Lady

    Very similar to my process as well, although, no, I don't print anything off, I keep everything as electronic as possible. Otherwise I have paper flying everywhere.

    You're being kind though I think, when you say that some scans can be as short as 45 seconds. :-) On my first screen, I can screen through a pile of resumes and discard and accept right away within seconds, based on people who do meet the criteria at all.

    It's the second scan where I look a little more closely for those who are a match and "kind of" a match. That's probably 1-2 minutes.

    The last screen is reading thoroughly through all the ones who made it this far for those we wish to contact.

    Then yes, phone screen, testing, interview, references, offer, hire.

  5. HR Maven

    There are positions for which we will request a writing sample. During that part of the process, once we receive the materials, we will review everything – the writing, the grammar, punctuation, etc.

    Applicants will often not make it after this stage as well.

  6. Karla

    Thanks for the post! As a job seeker, this is really helpful to know about the path that my resume/cover letter take after I hit send. :)

    I have a few questions in regards to some of the steps:

    1. Are there specific words/phrases that you look for during the first scan (besides the things that are listed in the job post)?

    2. After posting a job, do you set a specific timeline for how long you will accept applications? For example, some posts do not indicate a deadline for sending in a resume. So if I find the post a week after it was put up on the web, is it too late to apply?

    Thank you!

  7. Ask a Manager

    Karla, there isn't a certain set of words that I'm always looking for — definitely varies by job.

    And I'm always accepting applications for at least 3-4 weeks after posting a job, if not longer. Of course, this varies from employer to employer, but I think anyone would be insane not to leave it open AT LEAST that long. And if someone fantastic shows up after that, I'm not going to disqualify them just because of an arbitrary deadline.

  8. Karla

    Great! Thank you for answering my questions. With the high number of people responding to job posts, I thought the window for accepting resumes might be smaller than that. I will now be applying to more jobs with much more confidence even after finding an opening 2 weeks after it was posted. Thanks again for the insight!

  9. Anonymous

    I'm curious about your process before the job is even posted. In my experience, a number of positions are filled then – either by internal applicants or others who were encouraged to apply through informal networks.

  10. A

    Again, thank you for the insight on this article, I appreciate it much.
    I have a question about delivery of the resume. Some listings state how they require the resume (i.e. in the body of the email) What about the ones that don't? Is it advisable to place the resume as an attachment and in the body of the email for the nonspecific postings?

    Recently, tried a program that includes a link to the resume with the cover letter but that seems like it may spook someone into thinking it's spam. Would it spook you into deleting it?

  11. Ask a Manager

    A, definitely don't do the link thing. It's a little annoying to have to go somewhere to retrieve the resume/cover letter rather than just having it provided right there in the email.

    I prefer just having it all as attachments.

  12. Anonymous

    I just complete an interview with a mental healthcare company. I have recieved a phone call regarding pay, an email asking for additional references, and most recently an email stating that my hire packet was sent for approval…all I want to know is do I have the job?

  13. Just Had A Phone Interview

    At the end of my phone conversation, the screener asked “do you expect compensation?” for an entry level job … I literally did NOT understand what she meant because I could not fathom not getting a salary/ paid hourly for a coordinator position at NBC headquarters … At first I thought she meant as insurance, or benefit packages- so I quietly said no… Any thoughts on this? Thank you so much- you have no idea how much your blog helps. It is the only site I have found that gives a GREAT mental image of the other team!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      You guys, do not quietly say you do not expect compensation! If someone asks you a question like that, ask what they mean. Of course you expect compensation.

  14. Katie

    Do you generally have an idea of who you will hire after that phone interview and use the in person interview to reinforce your feeling or do most hiring managers truly wait till after all the in person interviews are conducted to have an idea of who they would like as part of their team?
    For instance – on the individual who’s resume you would write “Yes Yes YES!” would that person be most likely to get the job if their in person interview went well?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      The “YES!” just means “this person seems very strong so far.” But things can always change — sometimes dramatically — at a later stage. Some people do far better in the next interview than the did in the phone screen, and some people do much worse. So you’ve got to withhold judgment and let the process continue playing out.

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