Where a Screening Process Might Break Down: The Human Factor

Screening by Humans

The resume screening process can break down in a variety of ways. In this post, we’ll take a look at the human factor: how errors and bias on the part of persons involved in the screening process might affect your candidacy. 

Screeners who just “wing it.” There are a couple of common ways this might happen. First, if it’s a single person, it could be that he or she has sole authority over hiring and thinks: “I’ll know what I like when I see it.” Or it could be that a supervisor has asked a person or committee to do the screening without giving any clear guidelines. In these cases, it is likely that there will be some loose criteria, but unless the person or committee comes up with some that are clear, it’s pretty much like “shooting at the side of a barn.”

(Yes, employers are just as guilty of this as job-seekers!)

Sometimes bias comes into play. Sometimes screeners ignore stated criteria in favor of their own “preferred” qualifications. At other times, a “preference” may be factored into the equation. For example, some employers have a preference for hiring and promoting from within, or through employee referral programs. Some give preference to those that come directly to a human resource officer than to those entered through the web. Some may give preference to candidates who apply through the company over those forwarded by job boards. And some individuals might give preference to people who went to the same school, were a member of an organization they like, or who they know through social connections.

Sometimes, screeners are lazy or disorganized and skim hastily through the résumés. If it is because the person is lazy, there’s just no telling whether there will be a rhyme or reason to their picks. If it is because they are disorganized, they might give early applicants a more thorough review than those they review closer to the deadline.

So what can you do, in the face of human errors and bias? Not much, really.

  • If a screener is just “winging it,” that is an internal issue for his employer to deal with, and it is well beyond your control. You’ll really never know if this is the case, so don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. When someone is just making it up as they go along, it doesn’t matter how you’ve presented your arguments. It’s probably a blessing to not work with people who have such a loose grasp on such an important role.
  • You can never control for a screener’s bias. In fact, there is always some sort of bias at play. In the best cases, the bias is toward a candidate with certain skills or experiences. In the worst cases, the biases aren’t stated, but internalized by the candidate, and it’s likely they justified screening a candidate in or out based on some other grounds. The best way to deal with perceived bias is to tightly align your arguments with a potential employer’s known biases. When reading job announcements, look for the terms “preferred,” “would a plus,” “desired,” or “ideal.” if you lack any of the skills or experiences listed with these terms, you will be less competitive than candidate who have those skills and experiences. The best you can do is argue for transferability of skills, aptitude, and motivation.  So write your resume toward related skills and experiences, and describe them in ways that accurately depict your strengths in other areas, and your motivation to close any gaps. This can be done through re-writing bullet points and/or the professional summary on your resume, and through the cover letter. The strategy is simple. Acknowledge the gaps quickly and show how you would fill them, while also showing strong foundational skills in other key skill areas.
  • You can’t control a screener’s laziness or disorganization. But you can apply early (as soon as you see a position posted), and organize your documents in a clear concise manner, that brings the most important details up front and early, so the lazy screener gets en0ugh information from pre-screening the document’s top third of page 1 that they don’t have to read any further to make an initial decision. Basically, make it easy for a lazy person to quickly see what you have to offer.

This post is part of a series adapted from my e-b0ok “7 Points to a Winning Resume.”  Next up in the series, we’ll explore the applicant’s role in the screening process, and how you can increase your possibility for  success.


The Screening Process: How Recruiters Choose Candidates Worth Pursuing


How Will You Stand Out from the Crowd?

Once a job application arrives at an employer’s office, the screening process can begin. As mentioned before, screening might be done by a single person, by a group of persons, or by a machine. You may not know which approach a company takes, unless you ask specifically about how screening is done in the department or division where an opening exists.

There may also be nuances between writing for a machine and writing for human. Lacking information specific to a particular type of screening software, job seekers must do their best to present their arguments in language that can be easily filtered by both human and machine.

Let’s imagine a “typical” screening process, discuss some possible stages in that process, and then imagine some strategies that might be useful for capturing and keeping the reader’s attention.

It’s probably impossible to give one explanation that will cleanly and accurately describe all the nuances to different stages of the job search process, but let’s try to describe some generalities.

I have been on many screening and selection committees during my career, and I’ve seen a few thousand résumés during that time. My explanation of the screening process is heavily drawn on my personal experience. In no way should it be construed that my experiences are somehow universal. However, I do believe that I can bring some insights about how résumé screeners and job search committees might conduct their screening processes.

A “Typical” Screening Process

In my experience, screening works like this:

  • Application packets arrive at the employer. This usually happens these days via e-mail or through a database-driven form that is part of an online application system.
  • Some companies may use software to scan your documents or keywords and phrases before a real person takes a look at. This is less common in small businesses, non-profit organizations, local governments, and academic institutions.
  • Other companies may allow a recruiter or members of a search committee to view a candidate’s materials as soon as they are available in the system, and to rank them.


Whether your résumé is screened by a person or by a computer, some sort of ranking system will likely be used to determine the degree of “fit” between the candidate and a fictional “ideal” candidate. Such a system relies heavily upon the use of scoring rubrics, which are much like the guides that a teacher might follow in grading a standardized test.

Ideally, the screeners use a scoring rubric to rate each candidate on their match to minimum and preferred qualifications. Ideally, those members of the committee follow those guidelines and come up with a list that accurately reflects the match between each candidate and the stated needs of the employer.

Ideally. Not always in practice. But ideally.

In the next post in this series, we’ll explore ways the screening process might break down, and what you might be able to do to minimize the possibility that you will be screened out of a process.

Is Working in Student Affairs a Career?

bigstock_Question_4434761Like most people who end up working in Student Affairs, I didn’t imagine my career when I was a child. I wasn’t even aware that Student Affairs was a career. And, once I chose it as a career, I realized that many people still think it isn’t one.

Texas A & M’s Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development has a great humor page, where I found the Top 10 reasons you became a Student Affairs professional, and I particularly connected with #3 . . .

“You enjoy the challenge of trying to tell people what you do for a living.”

The last time I think my parents really understood what I did for a living, I was a resident assistant. And for many of my friends and acquaintances, that is pretty much what they thought I did, up until I left my last formal position in Student Affairs (Assistant Director of Residence Life at Penn State University.) I was in college for a living, and I settled roommate problems and busted people for drinking. (Which many acquiantainces thought was irony in action, on both counts, but that is a story for another day.)

Academics and “serious” professionals don’t know what to make of us, either. For example, Wikipedia’s current entry for Student Affairs has a section on criticism of the field which reads, in part…

“The field of Student Affairs has been criticized for its emphasis on formal, professional training, calling into question whether the field is theoretical or practical. Complicating this criticism is the question of the role of student development theories in student affairs practice. It is claimed that student development theories are used to “proactively identify and address student needs, design programs, develop policies, and create healthy…environments that encourage positive growth in students.”

“Yet, often student affairs practices often bear little resemblance or connection to student development theories. As Paul Bloland (1979) wrote in an article in the NASPA Journal, “We have cultivated an expertise that was not requested, is not sought out, and for which there is little recognition or demand. Many entry-level and (many) seasoned professionals know little of student development theory and practice and, in fact, do not really need such expertise to meet the role expectations of their supervisors or, in too many instances, their institutions.”

Yet, for almost 20 years now, I have planned my life around the idea that Student Affairs is a career. In 2009, I left a stable job to venture out on my own, and establish a career coaching practice dedicated to helping others pursue their passions for working with students and find their own niche in Student Affairs. My perspective is that Student Affairs is actually a calling, within which you will find many career tracks. And it isn’t for everybody. I actually think it is the responsibility of those in the field to both recruit people with potential, and to “counsel out” out those who don’t have the passion and the fortitude to do the work. It’s no kindness to someone to show only the benefits, and none of the sacrifices, that go along with the profession.

In his song “Mr. Bad Example,” Warren Zevon recalled many career exploits of the song’s protagonist, and like those who work in Student Affairs, the protagonist clearly wore many hats, including the following…

“…worked in hair replacements, swindling the bald, where very few are chosen, and fewer still are called.”

The same could be said about Student Affairs. Very few are chosen, and fewer still are called. And I don’t think that a love of student development theory is required for success. I don’t care much about academics, or about student development theory, but I do know that Student Affairs is a calling, and that you can make a great career in it, if you are passionate about working with young people, and believe that helping people find their way is a worthy pursuit, you may be cut of the right material. But only if you have the strength of will and character to ignore the assaults on your dignity, your professional worth and your profession. They come with this line of work. The only thing that is truly important is that you know who you are and what you are about. If you are meant to serve students, you will. It’s just a matter of time. And in many cases, of strategy. If it’s meant to be, you will find your way. Just know, in the meantime, that many are in your corner, and have been in your place, before you. And we are here to help.

October is Careers in Student Affairs month. In honor of this, I am offering a coaching package for new professionals, to help them get off to a good start. It includes the following:

  • A professionally written resume, geared toward your preferred target positions ($85 value)
  • LinkedIn C0aching Package (1 hour LinkedIn training, plus profile optimization advice ($50 value)
  • Practice interview, by phone or Skype ($85 value)
  • One additional coaching session ($85 value)
  • Access to an online job search group, with activities, lessons, and a private discussion board): $50 value

Purchased separately, this package would be $355, but this deal gives you nearly 30% off! For only $250, you get all of the above, including 6 months of access to the group, and any additional workshops or activities added to the job search group.

I’m opening this deal up only to new professionals (either those finishing school and looking for their first job, or with less than 5 years of professional experience). Availability is limited, and this special will not be repeated.

Sign up now!

This offer is no longer available.

Career Tracks in Higher Education: Assistant Dean of Students


Eric Grospitch, Ed.D is the Assistant Dean of Students for the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. For this post, which is the second edition of our new guest post series on Career Tracks in Higher Education, Dr. Grospitch answered questions about his role, where it fits within the university, and what he does as an Assistant Dean of Students.

Name: Eric Grospitch, Ed.D.

Highest Degree Earned: Ed.D University of Kansas

Title: Assistant Dean of Students

Division his department falls under:  Student Affairs and Enrollment Management

Enrollment of the University of Missouri Kansas City:  15,492

Number of years of full-time experience Grospitch had when he began this position: 11

 The minimum education required for this position: Masters

Years of experience that were required for the Assistant Dean position: 8-10

What are your major responsibilities in your current position?

Responsible for oversight of Residential Life/Housing; Student Involvement (orientation, LGBTQIA, Fraternity & Sororities, Student Programing) Student Government, Student Allocations, Veterans programs, Campus Discipline

Does your role require direct service to students? If so, explain.

Yes, serving as an advisor to SGA, Allocations and various student focused committees.

How many persons in your department hold an equivalent rank? One.

How many people do you supervise? Are they Full-Time or Part-Time? Professional Staff, Trades/Custodial Staff, or Student Staff? (Please list numbers for each.)

  • Directly – 2 Directors
  • Indirectly:
    • Full time – Masters level –10
    • Full time administrative – 5
    • Full time maintenance – 5
    • Grad students -5
    • Undergraduate students – 50+

What is the title of the person your report to? What is the title of that person’s immediate superior?
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and he reports to the Chancellor.

 What is your typical day like? Your typical week?

That is hard to say because each day is different based on the time of year with the ebb and flow of the academic year.

What do you spend the majority of your time doing in your current role? 

Clearly most of the time is in different meetings and following up on individual concerns, discipline or projects.

What did you think you would be doing more, when you applied for the job? 

I’m not sure what I thought I would spend more time doing, but I have spent more time working on enrollment management type conversations, and how all we do engages us in the recruitment and retention of students.

What survival skill is most important in your current role? 

Creating relationships with trusted colleagues is clearly the most important – and those colleagues may not be on your campus.  As you move “up” you are more and more isolated on your campus.  Having colleagues that you can connect with to bounce ideas, seek input and advice is critical. I have found that through my involvement with NASPA.

 Do you serve on committees within your department? Division? University-Wide? What roles do you play on these committees?

  •  ZIPCar and Transportation Launch Team (Chair)
  • Veterans Services Development Committee
  • Collected Rules and Regulations Review Committee
  • Academic Program Review Committee
  • New Student Convocation (Chair)
  • Divisional Customer Service Training Program (Chair)
  • Campus Safety Messaging Committee (Chair)
  • Case Management Team (Member)
  • Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Divisional Assessment Committee
  • LGBTQIA Partnership Committee (Chair)
  • Violence Prevention Task Force  (member)

What advice do you have for persons seeking this type of position? 

The piece that has been hard for me, but most important is to take your time.  Many of us want Dean, VP roles, but the tradeoffs and politics need to be weighed as you move up – particularly as you balance life & job.  That said, I do think there are a few things to remember that I will tell anyone that will listen.

  1. If you say you are going to do something, do it.  New and even seasoned professionals that forget or fail to follow through on commitments can quickly be chalked up to someone you can’t count on.
  2. If you know something can’t be done in the time given, make sure you are honest in your statements. But again, if you say you can get it done, do it.
  3. Do the things no one else wants to do.  With a smile.
  4. Don’t have one year of experience 5+ times, work to diversify your work to get a true 5+ years of experience.
  5. Look for ways to volunteer and get involved with different offices on campus.  Help with Bid Day, Orientation etc.  Those are tangible experiences that you can use to guide your career path later.
  6. Get involved with a regional or national organization.  Whether reviewing proposals for a conference, volunteering at the conference, begin to build your network of friends and colleagues.
  7. Don’t forget how small our profession is.  If you grotesquely burn a bridge in one place, it is very hard to truly start over, unless you are willing to reflect, learn and share about that experience.
  8. Learn technology.  Twitter, web, etc.  We don’t need more technophobes and serving our students will require it.
  9. Engage authentically in diversity training at all opportunities.  The more we know about ourselves, the better we are able to serve all of our students.
  10. Read, Read, Read.  The student development theories that we learned in grad school are great, but things are changing rapidly and the research is trying to catch up.  Keep abreast of new ideas and concepts as it relates to retention and matriculation of students and bring those ideas (with appropriate citations/credit) to the table.

Eric submitted his article by e-mail, in response to my recent call for first-person perspectives on career tracks in higher education. You can, too! Visit our guest post submission form or e-mail sean@higheredcareercoach.com.

Do you have questions for Eric? Post them in the comments, or send him an e-mail. (He said it was okay!)

Infographic of the Week: The Boom in Online Education

The Infographic of the Week this week comes from FindOnlineEducation.Com, and gives an interesting overview and some facts about the growth of online education.

Some key information featured in the infographic:

  • Online education represented 5.6% of enrollment in the United States in 1995 and now represents 27.5%
  • U.S. News and World Report ranked 196 online bachelor’s degree programs in January 2012 and recognized Westfield State University for having the best faculty credentials and training, Arizona State University for having the best student services and technology, and Bellevue University for having the most student engagement and assessment.
  • The overseas market in online education is expected to grow by 50% by 2014.
  • Online education is currently a $73.8 billion enterprise, but is expected to grow to $220 billion by 2017.


The growth of online education programs will have a great impact on career tracks in higher education. While it remains to be seen how this will actually play out, I think that the trend toward online education will mean the following for higher education professionals:

  • Comfort with technology will continue to be a key differentiator between candidates. With so many baby boomers and early Gen X-ers re-entering the job market or finding themselves “re-careering,” they will increasingly need to adapt to new technology. If this does not happen, we will see even further growth of millennial representation in key support roles.
  • There will be an increase in advising and admissions positions, and over time, a decrease in residence life and student activities staff on campus. This will require candidates to increasingly demonstrate their knowledge of curriculum development, information systems and databases.
  • Advising from a distance will require a comfort with virtual teams, online project management systems, webinar/webmeeting technology and cloud-based data storage and file-sharing.

What Do You Think?

What trends do you see higher education professionals dealing with, as online education programs continue to grow? What key skills do you think will be required? And how can we train people for the challenges that come with this new educational environment?

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Education Revolution | Infographic |