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Four reasons why applicant screening processes don’t work

It’s time to fill that new job. You spend time creating that perfect job description, identifying all the best places to source candidates, and finally press ‘post’.

Within hours applicants start flowing in. Fantastic ones, ones with great potential, ones that could work with guidance, ones that make no sense at all, all mixed together in one big flood. 

No problem, right? You start the applicant screening process – the keyword searches, resume reviews, assessments, and screener calls. 

And just like with any good scrubbing, you clean out all those applicants that make no sense, those that aren’t a good fit, and…those that are perfect?

Unfortunately, most applicant screening techniques may be costing you great applicants.

Here are four reasons why your applicant screening process may not be doing what you think:

1) Keyword filters test knowledge of keywords, not fit for the job

Many ATSs offer keyword filters as a way to filter out applicants that don’t meet the needs of the job. The ATS searches documentation such as the applicant’s profile, resume, social media, etc. and matches keywords with words selected for the job.

This is a great way to measure if an applicant has a great knowledge of keywords or how ATS keyword search works, but it is not necessarily correlated to how qualified the applicant is.

For example, consider Veterans, people right out of school, or those who are shifting industries or disciplines. These applicants could have strong transferable skills, the right experiences, or could be a perfect match, but they aren’t using the same words to describe it. 

Chances are, with keyword filters, great applicants have just been filtered out in the screening process.

2) Applicants are ‘cheating’ keyword filters

While Keywords could be filtering out great applicants, they are also letting in unqualified ones. Why? Applicants are cheating!

Go ahead and search for how keyword filters work or how to beat the ATS keyword screening. What did you find?

There are countless articles and advice providing tips for the desperate job seeker on how to game the system. There are even technologies out there like Jobscan, Wordle and TagCrowd that does the work for the applicant, extracting the most likely keywords so they know what to use in their resume to get past the filters.

Even applicant sourcing solutions like Indeed and Glassdoor are getting in the game, giving tips to applicants on how to ‘beat the bot’.

So not only are great applicants being filtered out, but cheaters are passing the screening.

3)  Assessments are not always accurate, predictive, or fair

For those applicants that do get past the keyword filter, it is on to the pre-employment assessments. There are tons of them available – hundreds in the US market alone. These assessments measure everything from someone’s inclination to working in teams to their skills in Java. 

The thing is, not all assessments are created equal. Some are fantastic, others are complete bunk. And even the ones that are fantastic, they still must be used correctly – assessing applicants for things relevant for the job, otherwise, they are just filtering out potentially great applicants. 

Even worse, if by using assessments inappropriately, the assessments are filtering out certain demographic groups more than others, they add discrimination and liability to your process, which can cost a lot more than just great talent. Just ask Target who had to pay $2.8 million in an EEO settlement for their discriminating assessments or BMW which paid $1.6 million, or United Airlines which paid over $1million, to name just a few.

The keyword filters have filtered out some great talent while allowing in the cheaters, and the assessments, if used incorrectly, have taken out another chunk of applicants. 

4)  Screener calls holding applicants to inconsistent or irrelevant standards

Screener calls – at 20 to 30 minutes a pop, they are often time consuming, exhausting, and inconsistent.

With recruiters making dozens of these calls a week or more, even with the best of notes it is hard to stay consistent. Add an overburdened workload (with some recruiters having 20, 30, 50 open recs at the same time or HR generalists where this is one of many responsibilities), and a process without pre-created questions and standards for evaluating responses, and they become unreliable at best. Even the order that the applicants are interviewed have an impact on if they make it through.

How many applicants are put aside because they just didn’t ‘click’ ,or they faded into the crowd with the 10 other calls that day?

And of course, applicants cheat here too – or at least, those that prep with canned answers for the popular questions. Go ahead and search for “applicant screening calls” or “applicant screening questions” because your applicants are. It isn’t a bad thing that applicants ‘prepare’, but what about those applicants that don’t have the means or time or knowledge to polish their canned answers – does that make them less qualified for the job?

With screening calls, more potentially great applicants are knocked out.

Improve applicant screening and find your next great hire

It’s time to stop this cycle. Ditch the keywords, put in the time to truly evaluate the assessments, and replace the screener calls with a standard, consistent process that doesn’t overburden your recruiters and HR generalists. 

You can do it and we can help. 

At, we use anonymity to keep focus on what really matters while promoting diversity, compliance, and more efficient processes. Learn more at or contact us at

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