Posted: April 09, 2009
The black hole problem
Why resumes disappear into the voidBy Liz Ryan
I don't mind telling job-seekers that 60 or 70 percent of resumes get tossed aside after a quick screen. That's good news for job-seekers. The resumes that get knocked out of the process are the ones with egregious typos and misspellings. Most job-seekers, once they realize that a "their" in place of "they're" can tank a resume, can take care to avoid mistakes like that.
I don't mind telling job-seekers that another big chunk of the candidate pool gets dinged over the use of cookie-cutter cover letters and generic resume language. They can correct for that, too. If the job is a PR job, we don't want to send off the version of our resume that says "I'm qualified for any marketing, PR or internal communications job." We want to edit the resume to delete the terms that this particular employer isn't looking for. That's common sense, but way too many job-seekers forget to do the little bit of customization that would signal "I'm paying attention." Big mistake.
It's more upsetting for job-seekers to learn about the Black Hole of HR. I'd rather they hear the bitter truth than sit at home stewing over a certain phrase in their cover letter or a resume gap from five years ago. Because of the way the Black Hole works, these small issues most likely made no difference whatsoever to the candidate's chances.
Here's the Black Hole scenario. You see a job ad, and you shoot off a resume-and-cover-letter package. You send it to an e-mail address specified in the job ad, or you post it online at the employer's website. So far, so good.
Now, let's imagine the other side of the pipeline - the employer's facility. An overstressed and understaffed HR manager is sitting at her desk, when Charlie (a manager) walks in. "Here's a new job requisition," says Charlie. "Can you post this right away?"
"Sure thing," says the HR manager. She's happy to get the requisition off her desk. After all, she has ten million other things to take care of today. She posts the job spec on Monster or CareerBuilder or Craigslist, and forgets about it. Who can blame her? She'll check on the incoming resumes in a few days. Charlie the manager makes a mental note to stop by and get an update on resume flow at the end of the week.
The end of the week arrives and Charlie stops in the HR manager's office. "How many resumes have we got?" he asks, and she says "95." "That's great," says Charlie. "Why don't you phone-screen ten candidates, and give me the best five to interview?" "Will do," says the HR manager.
Here's where the Black Hole phenomenon comes in. How many resumes (out of 95) will the HR manager review, in order to find ten candidates for phone screens? Maybe fifteen - maybe twenty. She won't look at 95 resumes. She doesn't need to! She'll review as many of them
as it requires to find 10 candidates worth calling on the telephone. Most of the resumes will never be read - they'll never be glanced at - by anyone involved in the selection process. (Isn't that a cheery thought?)
That's the Black Hole problem. Most resumes don't get read. It's not that they didn't like your resume - it's that they never saw it! This is why it's critical to use our networks in the job search process. A personal entree can overcome the Black Hole problem. If we don't have a friend to make an intro, we can use LinkedIn to find a decision-maker or influencer to write to. That approach isn't foolproof by any means, but it beats the tar out of pitching resumes into the void. Your job search is too important to play dice with, after all.
Liz Ryan is a former Fortune 500 HR exec and an advisor to organizations and job-seekers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.asklizryan.com.