One of the biggest challenges faced by recruiters and hiring manager is the resu-mess – the tidal wave of unqualified applicants that buries people and overwhelm the process.

resu-mess recruitingThe screening process typically starts with the candidate completing an application or uploading a resume. But few companies seem to consider the impact one or the other has on finding the best employees. They select the approach that seems most convenient not necessarily most effective. While often neglected it is time that each company to start at the very top of the screening funnel and ask: is it better to rely on an application or a resume when screening candidates?

Application vs. Resume

It seems that uploading or emailing a resume has replaced the fill-in-the-blank application for many organizations. That makes sense since so much information is transmitted electronically. But is the resume really a better option? Should the traditional application be abandoned?  Or should an organization request both?

The best approach will depend on many factors including, industry, job, and personal preferences of managers and HR.  But the requirements currently imposed upon many applicants are spurning away many viable candidates. It doesn’t make sense to require a warehouse worker to submit a resume or for a sales manager to complete an application when his resume already provided the recruiter with all the information she needed. One-fits-all rigid and out-of-touch application processes are simply bad practices when screening employees.

One factor altering the application or resume decision is that that the majority of job searches begin on a mobile device. And yet one survey found that only 10 percent of career sites are even mobile friendly. For the applicant it’s inconvenient if not difficult for many applicants to upload a resume from a smartphone or tablet. It’s even more challenging to complete an application on a website that is not mobile optimized or at least mobile readable. Because so many potential employees, especially the younger and more tech savvy ones, do not even own a desktop computer anymore, the incomplete application rates for businesses recruiting-as-usual is skyrocketing.

Another problem with resumes is they are often ghost written.  Career coaches and dozens of other services help write a story that “pitches” the candidate in the more favorable light. Third parties proof spelling and grammar. What’s more, many are keyword optimized better than website landing pages so that recruiters and software spot them first.

In a sense, career coaches, headhunters, and outplacement services function as “Mad Men” of recruiting. Keywords don’t make the candidate any more qualified. They just help make the resume stand out. In effect, the resume often has no correlation between the applicant and his ability to perform the job in real time.  Since writing skills are essential in most jobs anyway, applications that include open-ended questions help reveal a candidate’s ability to write including a check on grammar, punctuation, and style.

A candidate’s resume is also a reflection of what he thinks is important to the job, but that might not match what matters to you.  The application presents the same information, but in a more standardized job related format. An application makes it easier to compare one applicant to another and easier to identify the best prospects. An application is also one more way to ensure you’re screening employees and selecting new hires in a way that is consistent and fair and compliant with EEO regulations.

A short application (fewer than 20 questions including job specific screening questions) is one way to get more candidates to apply. It provides an opportunity to secure essential details about a candidate’s past employment, education, and other relevant qualifications. Admittedly a short application might attract more unqualified candidates but an automated process for screening employees that uses an applicant tracking system can help recruiters quickly pick out the best prospects. Top candidates rise to the top and can be contacted and additional information requested without delay.

Which is better for screening employees: application or resume? For many companies, the application offers many advantages when seeking ways to screen a lot of candidates in a short period of time using limited resources. The resume is still an important instrument but it doesn’t need to be the first piece of information a recruiter sees. The data from applications too can be collected, scanned, and analyzed easier and more affordable than using artificial intelligence software to parse a resume.

In addition to a whole list of other changes and improvements every company must make in evaluating its recruitment and hiring process, a good first step is assessing the best way to get an applicant to introduce him- or herself.