Pre-Screening Job Applicants: The Truth is in the Details

The best use of an interviewer's time is spent prior to meeting the applicable. A quality prescreen of each candidate does two things: It saves the interviewer time by identifying undesirable candidates up front and allows the interviewer to prepare more fully and tailor the interview to each candidate. A quality prescreen should include a thorough review of all materials furnished by the applicable with a focus on consistency and truth in the details. The interviewer should attempt to gain some insight into each candidate prior to the interview.

o Never write on original copies of pre-employment documentation!

Instead, use workshops or make two copies of the documents. Use one copy to take notes during the review and the other in case of an interview.

o Never begin a pre-employment investigation before having a signed application and information release.

A powerful tactic in prescreening applicants with resumes is to first accept a candidate's resume, then let them complete the application. Most applicants who are intent on fudging periods of employment have a very difficult time keeping their dates straight. If you have the opportunity to observe the candidate while they fill out an application, check to see if they refer to another copy of the resume or to another piece of paper. Oftentimes, applicants refer to "cheat sheets" in order to keep periods of employment consistent between resumes and employment applications.


The simple truth regarding resumes is that they are sales tools used by applicants; advertising aimed at winning an audience with the interviewer, approbably- "buyer beware." An applicant will never understate job descriptions, responsibilities, achievements or salary. The strategy in evaluating resumes involves separating "fluff" from "super-fluff."

"In writing biography, fact and fiction should not be mixed. And if they are, the fiction parts should be printed in red ink, the fact parts in black ink." -Catherine Drinker Bowen

It may be helpful to consider the following:

Does the resume appear to have been written specifically for the position or does it appear to be a boilerplate document? A resume that is addressed to a specific individual and shows that the candidate has done some of his or her own homework indications interest in the position.

A poorly written or disorganized resume may be indicative of the candidacy's work ethic. Resumes that omit dates of employment may be trying to cover up large gaps in employment or a change in careers. Is there a pattern of consistent growth and progressive job responsibilities?

Resumes that contain too much information not related to the desired position (listing too much information about hobbies and interests) may be an attempt to draw attention away from where the essential information is missing. Look for qualities that may indicate that the applicable is "bottom-line oriented" (all businesses are in it for the money) and concerned with growth potential within the company.

Never make a job offer based on a resume. Instead, compare it to an application and use it to develop areas for further questioning and discussion with the applicant during an interview.


Most studies indicate that more than 1 in 3 applications contain inaccuracies. Consequently, while reviewing any application you are looking for completeness, accuracy, and consistency.

First, look over the entire application and ensure that it is filled out (in ink) in its entity, signed, dated, and legal (would a jury or hearing officer be able to read it?). Do not consider the application if it is not in order. If necessary, call the candidate back and have it completed it to your satisfaction.

Make notes on a copy of the application, highlighting the following areas (this will make it easier to quickly find important information later):

o Social Security Number

o Name and Address

o Previous addresses that are not within the local area

o Convictions, if any

o Education institutions beyond high school

o Supervisor's name, phone number, dates and wage of prior employment

o Reasons for leaving prior employers

o Relatives and personal references that live outside of the local area

Consider the following "red flags" that will need further explanation by the candidate:

o Any blanks

o Unexplained gaps in time between previous employers

o Other irregularities with dates

o Previous supervisors with the same last name as listed relatives or other personal references

o When the reason for leaving does not relate to the next job (ie "left for better wages or benefits") or if the next job does not support the assertion

o Periods where salaris or promotions increase sharply or decrease

o Skills that are included when there are no obvious reasons in prior employment or education to support learning the skill

o Any periods of self-employment

o Instability in job history "job hopping"

o Any other inconsistencies