How to filter CVs

How to filter CVs

The prospect of receiving hundreds of applications for one vacancy is both a recruiter’s dream, and a nightmare. How to sift through all those CVs to find that gem of a candidate can seem like a complete conundrum at times.

Everyone has their own way of thinning the pile. Some overwhelmed recruiters use extreme methods, such as deleting or binning the last tranche of applications, others decide to ditch a CV on a whim, such as the paper quality or number of pages. But of course these methods run the risk of missing that ideal applicant.

So we’ve done a bit of research to gain insight into the most successful methods recruiters and employers use to filter and read CVs…


Eliminate the time-wasters

Don’t start sifting through your CV mountain until after the cut-off point for receiving them. That way, you will look at all applications using the same criteria.

Then, get to work eliminating those who simply don’t display the essential qualities, skills and qualifications stipulated in the job ad. Let’s face it, if they don’t have them, they will never be able to do the job. Depending on the vacancy, these vital elements could range from having previous experience in an executive role, to just having a full, clean driving licence.

Remember to check if the candidate’s latest work experience is related to the job being offered and if their current salary is compatible with what you can offer them.

The CVs that make it through this first reading should be clearly presented, spelled correctly and should display the candidate’s current and past employers, achievements, qualifications and brief details of how they have progressed. If you find someone who exactly matches your criteria, earmark them for an early interview.


  • Make sure the information is relevant to the advertised job.
  • Look for evidence that their career is on an upward trajectory and not starting a descent.
  • Consider ditching a CV that is badly formatted, uses too much colour, strange typefaces and is difficult to follow.



Take a look at the hobbies and interests section if you have a working environment where people spend many hours together. Having a greater sense of what that person is like all helps form a picture of how well the potential candidate will fit in.



Worry if they seem to have less information about earlier qualifications or achievements. Bear in mind that depending how experienced they are and how many years of work they have, they may not have the space to list everything.


Reject the one-size-fits-all CV

If the jobseeker hasn’t tailored the CV to fit the vacancy, you can assume they’re not serious enough about working for your company. Not only does it show they haven’t done any research on the role or the employer, it also implies they’re sending out lots of CVs randomly.

So, what to look for? Evidence that the candidate has tailored their CV will be in the language they use, so compare their CV with the requirements on the job ad. If, for example, it emphasises the need for a candidate with experience in managing a team, you would expect the CV to specifically illustrate these qualities. If it doesn’t, ditch it.

There are more subtle pointers, too. If you’re recruiting for a role that requires applicants who are communications savvy, CVs might include Skype or web addresses in the contacts section, suggesting they are comfortable using new technology.

Similarly, if recruiting for an international posting, has the candidate included an international dialing code? It may be a small thing but it proves they have a global outlook.


  • Has the candidate included an opening summary of their career aims and is this tailored to the job vacancy?
  • Have they emphasized any skills that were stipulated in the job ad?
  • Take a look at their hobbies and interests


Don’t: Be afraid to be tough. By eliminating generalized CVs you are eliminating time-wasters who are not focused on the vacancy


Insist on application forms

One way to ensure you get answers to all your burning questions and avoid realms of time-wasting irrelevant information is to consider using application forms rather than CVs. You will know exactly where to look on the form to find details of their academic background, employment history and what technical and job-specific skills they have. This method means that not only do you get all the information that is relevant to the role, but you also have a more accurate way to compare candidates.

In addition, application forms allow you to incorporate screening questions. These can drill out a lot more information than a CV, helping you to gauge how much the candidate wants to work for you, how much they know about the company and how they might react under pressure. Questions could include:

  • What attracts you to our company/this role?
  • Give an example of one of your most challenging moments at work
  • Describe a time when you felt you had made the wrong decision
  • Career wise, where do you aim to be in five years’ time?


More basic questions, sometimes called pre-screening questions, include:

  • Are you eligible to work in the UK?
  • Are there any restrictions on your working hours?


Increasingly, application forms are issued and submitted online. The advantage of this is you can implement advanced software and filter out applications that don’t come up with relevant job titles, qualifications or personal qualities.

More specifically, you can filter for key words that are specific to the role – for example, phrases such as ‘budget control’ ‘increased turnover’ or ‘profit margins’ might gladden the heart of a recruiter looking for a savvy account manager.


  • Decide on the criteria that will highlight appropriate applicants
  • Make sure your questions are relevant to the role you are recruiting for
  • Clearly mark any mandatory questions
  • Provide a choice of document formats



Include any questions that could be discriminatory and don’t filter for health problems, dates, ethnicity or gender. Remember that the UK’s discrimination laws will come down hard on job rejections based on prejudice.


Use a scoring system

Some recruiters use a scoring system to evaluate the relevance of a candidate. Most start by making a list of the top five skills required for the job, including any relevant qualifications necessary for the role.

Then, assign a score to the candidates’ response to each skill set or qualification. For instance, they might score zero if they say they have increased staff morale, but don’t provide any evidence. If they provide a bit of evidence they might score one point, etc.


  • Decide on a minimum score and put any candidates who top this on to the interview pile.



Use this system if there are several recruiters involved in the sifting process, as it ensures consistency but, double-mark the first batch to ensure you’re all working to the same standards.


Check for evidence

For most recruiters, alarm bells go off if the candidate’s CV provides a wonderment of achievements, none of which are backed up with hard facts.

If the candidate hasn’t put a financial value to the sales they reckon to have made or backed up their claims of creative communication with examples of YouTube ads, they either don’t have the evidence, or they are sloppy. In either case, don’t waste your time reading on as there will be plenty of candidates who can give examples of these achievements.


  • Look for evidence of achievements, anything from a financial figure to rapid promotion, to proof that an innovative idea worked


Do: Be alert for inaccurate dates, exaggerated qualifications and job titles or inflated salaries.


Five other reasons to reject a CV

  • An inappropriate email address
  • Employment gaps
  • Being sent a URL to download the CV
  • The use of cliches or quotes
  • A CV written in the third person



No matter how big your reject pile is, remember it is good PR to acknowledge all applicants and to tell them if their applications have failed or progressed.



  1. AB June 20, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    The advice in this blog really is risible. Wait until an arbitrary cut off date before you even contact candidates to acknowledge their application? Yes – because the most marketable people won’t have had other offers in the meantime, and will probably be willing to wait through weeks of radio silence just for you. Use an application form instead of CVs? Sure – because experienced people with options have nothing better to do than fill in forms that resemble telephone directories, that asks for information that is 95% included on their CV, and furthermore asks for irrelevant and presumptuous details like referee contact information, before you’ve even deigned to speak with them or demonstrated you have anything of value to offer them in return for their skills.

    Recruiting the right talent is a two-way street. Candidates assess you and your culture just as you are assessing them. The recession has made no difference to that equation, except that instead looking for a needle in a haystack employers are now looking for a needle in a dozen haystacks. There are still as few good people as before, and they still have plenty of options. Alienate them at your peril. If you treat your recruitment process like a cattle call, don’t be surprised if what you end up with is compliant sheep that were most willing to put up with a disrespectful application process, rather than the skilled candidates with other options that you had hoped to attract.

  2. AB June 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    PS: Did you get these from the Big Book Of Classic Meaningless HR Questions:

    * What attracts you to our company/this role?
    * Give an example of one of your most challenging moments at work
    * Describe a time when you felt you had made the wrong decision
    * Career wise, where do you aim to be in five years’ time?

    You forgot to include “tell me all about yourself”. In addition to the above insightful, probing and original questions, that’ll reveal all you ever need to know about a candidate. Probably.

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