Getting Managers to Pay Attention to Resumes: “Five Greats, No Uglies.”

Why don’t managers pay more attention to recruiting? Of all the questions I get from HR professionals, this is by far the most common. Managers often fail to put much time into recruiting for a variety of reasons. Why do managers fail to pay attention to recruiting? Delays by managers in screening resumes directly slows the time to fill a job by as much as 25 percent! Because the cost of a vacancy in technical positions can be thousands of dollars per day, is essential that HR professionals learn how to overcome the managers’ resume-reading roadblock!Why managers are too busy:

  • The hiring process takes so long and thus there is a weak connection (in the manager’s mind) between the effort put forward in the hiring process and the reward they get for hiring a great employee.
  • Too many rules, guidelines, legalities and procedures, all of which either intimidate or frustrate most managers.
  • They don’t see the immediate business impact or the ROI of great hiring.
  • It used to be easy to find good candidates, and now it’s hard!
  • HR doesn’t do its job. They always give me crummy candidates!


Flooding managers with resumes In this piece I’ll focus on the last issue listed above…”HR always gives me crummy candidates.” Many recruiters operate on the principal that more is better. In other words, the more resumes you give to a manager the better. In fact, nothing can be further from the truth. If you physically watch a manager go through a stack of resumes you’ll find some amazing things. Not all managers are the same but in general, this is what you’ll observe:

  • They postpone looking at “stacks” of resumes. The volume alone is intimidating.
  • Eventually they will pick up the stack and take them home with the best intentions of reading them. In fact, it usually takes a minimum of five days for them to find time to read them.
  • They never find a block of time to review resumes in a single sitting, resulting in uneven assessment, depending on their mood at the time they read that “batch.”
  • They often review them in a location and at a time that are less than optimal for concentration. There are often distractions in the background (TV, on the plane, when they are tired etc.).
  • Managers get angry and give up on the process easily. Frequently it occurs when they come across one or two resumes of obviously “unqualified people.” I call these resumes “uglies.”

The solution: “Five greats, no uglies.” Managers seldom realize that they are the No. 1 factor in slowing the speed of hire. Their willingness to postpone resume screening and interviewing can be deadly in a war for talent where the top candidates are all gone within ten days. Most HR departments exacerbate the problem because they don’t take a scientific approach to managing and manipulating management’s behavior. If you want managers to screen resumes rapidly here is a proven solution. At Agilent, we call it “five greats, no uglies”!

  • Never give a manager a “stack” of resumes. Five is the maximum at any one time. No exceptions, no excuses. Their attention span is just too short for a stack. It’s OK if they ask you to provide them with access to more “less qualified” resumes–but don’t mix the two bundles of resumes.
  • Never give a manager an “ugly” resume. An ugly resume is defined as varying by more than 25 percent from the basic education, experience or key competency requirements. When managers get “an ugly” they often react dramatically, call HR a name, and they then invariably stop reading the rest of the resumes. “Six sigma” applies to resume sorting also!
  • Attach to the stack of five resumes a half page “scorecard.” The sheet assures the managers that all of the included resumes meet the minimum requirements. It includes a chart showing how each of the 5 resumes meets or exceeds each of the minimum qualifications.
  • Test your resume sorters. It is essential that you continually test and re-test those that sort the resumes into the five great, no “uglies” stack to insure a near-zero error rate. Ask a few technical managers to blindly force rank a pile of the resumes of your current employees. Then train and re-train your sorters until they can pick out the five best resumes, with no “uglies” every time!
  • Attach a manager “satisfaction” rating sheet in order to assess the quality of each group of 5 resumes that are sent to managers.Ask them to assess whether the “five greats, no uglies” criteria was met. Reward recruiters based on the managers satisfaction and on their accuracy on the resume sorting tests.

Summary Given the limited time and attention span that managers have, it is essential that HR understands precisely why managers are slow at reviewing resumes. By regulating both the volume and the quality of resumes you can increase hiring speed by as much as 25 percent. The key is to “front load” the process with a quality resume sorting and screening process. If you do that well, managers will take it from there!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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