The word triage is obviously French in origin and may have originated on the battlefield during the Napoleonic Wars. By the time World War I became a reality, the term in its medical sense was in common usage. Wartime catastrophic wounds and limited medical resources raised the need to make quick battlefield decisions on which patients would receive priority treatment. At one end of the spectrum were those casualties that would not recover regardless of the degree of treatment received and some would recover even if not treated. Triage would determine those with life threatening injuries that would benefit the most from medical treatment. Keeping this analogy in mind, recruiting requires some sort of triage to funnel limited resources where they will have the best return. Certain expectations can be driven from this concept in the minds of both recruiters and job seekers.
- Recruiters – It is a noble motivation to want to give every applicant an equal chance. Reality dictates that a job opening with hundreds of possible candidates will require triage to give the most attention to the most qualified. Some applicants will obviously be totally unqualified. Surveys show that between 60% – 70% of resumes submitted for an opening will be unqualified. A significant number less than that will be an immediate disqualification because there needs to be a real search for potential as well as past performance. Usually there will be three possible general distinctions: Those who are not remotely qualified, those who are marginally qualified, and those who meet all specifications and show potential. Think like a job seeker. What are they trying to tell you?
- Job Seekers – The best chance of being noticed by a recruiter or hiring manager is to survive the resume triage. It is somewhat of a myth that only a few seconds is spent on any one resume. The time actually spent reading a resume is scalable based on the needs of the job and the qualifications and experience presented in the resume. Some may be discarded immediately at first glance. Even though there may be a nugget of excellence shining somewhere on the page, if it is not prominently displayed it will be overlooked by a screener. There does not have to be a different resume for each application, but there should be sufficient tailoring to prove a best match for the job. Think like a recruiter. What do they want to see?
The reality of the triage makes some people cringe. In an ideal world under pristine conditions the best candidate would never slip between the cracks, but no recruiting function will ever be funded for perfection. Is this too pessimistic? Not really. For recruiters to do the best possible job they must be compassionate about the people they touch. It is a very serious job to hold someone’s future in the balance. For job seekers, the best approach is always to only apply for jobs within reach. A stretch application is acceptable when there is evidence that there has been mastery at a lower level, otherwise it is like hoping to win the job lottery.
On a final note, it is never permissible to allow human decisions to be made by machines. An ATS is a tool that can do a rough cut, but never allow it to decide the fate of anyone. It is also a waste of everybody’s time for a candidate to spam the system in hope that something sticks. It won’t.
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