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Resume Scanning Simplifies Tracking

April 1, 1993
Related Topics: HR Services and Administration, Candidate Sourcing, Featured Article
In most corporations, the recruiting department has the dubious distinction of being the last bastion of rule by paper. The reason? Resumes.

In virtually every other area of American companies, paper documents remain only as a legal backup. Workers perform their daily duties on computers, which hold the data taken from the paper documents. Until recently, however, this wasn't the case with resumes. "Until last year, we were still as dependent on the old metal file drawer as we were 30 years ago," says Chris Dorr, manager of human resources at MCI Telecommunications Inc. in Richardson, Texas.

Things have changed at MCI and hundreds of other companies. Their human resources departments are deep-sixing their paper resumes in favor of resume-scanning and -tracking systems. These turnkey systems now make it as easy to track resumes using computers as it is to track invoices or purchase orders.

For MCI, the installation of SmartSearch2™ was a natural next step from their tracking system. Before buying the SmartSearch2 resume-tracking system, MCI had developed its own system for using a PC to track resumes. Recruiters at MCI entered basic information from each resume into the system, including a code number that represented the job or jobs for which each candidate was qualified. The recruiters then filed the actual resumes alphabetically by the applicants' names. When looking for candidates to fill a specific position, recruiters would use the PC data base to generate a list of all applicants who had the appropriate job codes. They then pulled the resumes from the file drawers.

Besides being back-wrenching work, Dorr says that the main problem with the system was the burden it placed on the person doing the coding to interpret job skills correctly and in a timely manner. "If he or she wasn't skilled at interpreting resumes, or if there was a backlog of resumes waiting to be coded, a lot of new resumes were as good as lost," says Dorr.

Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, experienced similar problems before it bought Resumix ™. Just like at MCI, recruiters at the resort determined job categories for each applicant when they received their resumes. Rather than input a job code into a computer, however, Disneyland made photocopies of the resumes and distributed them in folders labeled by job category. In addition to causing similar misinterpretations, as was the case for MCI's system, Disneyland's resume-tracking system also caused a burdensome, growing paper file and extra work to support it. "It took a lot of time copying a resume five times and filing the copies in five places," says Jay Scott, supervisor of professional staffing at Disneyland Resort.

Now when resumes arrive at either MCI or Disneyland Resort, recruiters no longer have to interpret them to determine job categories or make multiple photocopies. Instead, clerks scan the resumes into a computer data base. Later, recruiters can search the data base for candidates who have specific qualifications. "There's a lot of control," says Dorr. "We can broaden or narrow the search to get the right number of candidates. We can peruse files and eliminate the candidates who don't have the proper qualifications. We can prioritize resumes. And we can do all of this without getting a single paper cut."

How a tracking system works.
Although every resume-scanning and -tracking system has its own unique features, the systems all generally operate the same way. When resumes arrive in the mail, a clerk scans them into the computer. The scanner sends a picture of the document to the computer, and the optical character reader (OCR) software translates the resume data into ASCII, which the computer understands. Next the clerk edits the on-screen form to ensure that it matches the printed resume. The reason for this editing is that OCR software isn't perfect, despite dramatic improvements during the last few years. Faded resumes or resumes that have unusual typefaces may not translate correctly.

Most managers say that the scanning and editing process takes very little time—about five minutes per resume using a fast scanner. Part of the reason the process is so quick is that the clerks can ignore insignificant details. For example, Dorr says that his company has trained its operators not to spend time editing job experience that's more than five years old.

As soon as the clerks scan and edit the resumes, they can program the system to generate a thank-you letter to each applicant. When the hiring manager needs to fill a position, he or she tells the recruiter which requirements applicants must have. The recruiter then searches the data base, using key words. The computer displays the number of resumes that meet the required criteria. If the number is too large or too small, the recruiter can change the required qualifications. For example, if a search for candidates who have had 10 years of experience on Novell networks yields only five resumes, the recruiter can change the search criterion to seven years of experience.

Once the program finds a manageable number of applicants, the recruiter can view either the resumes or resume summaries online and eliminate any that aren't appropriate. Then the recruiter can have the system print selected resumes. The printouts may be in a report format, or, depending on the system, they may be facsimiles of the original resumes. In either case, the recruiters then can route the hard copies to the hiring manager. The systems also can transmit the resumes through E-mail or by fax.

Tracking systems offer advantages.
Resumes can be valuable resources. The control rendered by tracking systems allows recruiters to realize their full potential. "We had no idea how valuable the resumes we received were to us because we had no reasonable way to take advantage of them," says Catherine King, manager of employment and college relations at Ethicon Inc., a Somerville, New Jersey, subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. She says that in the past, unless a resume's arrival corresponded with the announcement of a particular job, the candidate's resume normally was lost in the shuffle. "I know there were times when we even paid a recruitment agency to send us a candidate, only to find out later that we already had that candidate's resume in our file drawer." King says that Restrac™ has allowed her company to reduce its reliance on recruitment agencies substantially.

Dorr's experience at MCI has been similar. "In the past, when we got a request from a hiring manager, we knew that we had many resumes on file of people who were qualified for the position. The problem was finding these resumes. We ended up using ads and sometimes recruiters to compensate for our inadequate filing system," says Dorr.

Having a resume-tracking system not only makes it easier to access resumes on file, but it also speeds up the process. As a result, hiring managers are more willing to work with the internal recruiting department rather than requesting an outside search firm.

"Typically, when hiring managers finally get their requisitions for new em-ployees approved, they want the people yesterday," says King. "By the time they call us, they're already looking through their phone files for a recruiting firm. I'd say we have about a day to get them a stack of resumes before they dial the outside recruiter. Our old manual system took too long, and the backlog was too great for us to meet such a fast turnaround requirement. We can do it easily now, however."

The ease and speed that resume tracking systems provide helped another company change its policies for resume submissions. Nike Inc., located in Beaverton, Oregon, never used to accept unsolicited resumes. "We had no reliable way of tracking resumes, so we thought, why keep unsolicited resumes on file?" says Karen Cross, employment specialist at Nike. "When we received unsolicited resumes, we sent the applicants polite letters explaining that our policy was to accept resumes only for specific job openings. Unfortunately, this meant missing some good people."

The company recently has installed Resumix. Now, it accepts all resumes and even solicits them. Cross says that because the company has a growing information-systems department that needs programmers continuously, it now actively invites candidates to send in resumes for future consideration. Its resume-tracking system stores the resumes, allowing for easy access once a position becomes available.

Resume systems also allow the recruiting department to give candidates higher-quality service. "We consider ourselves to be a very service-oriented company," says Disneyland's Scott. "If people call us and ask about their resumes, we key in their names and give them an immediate response. We feel that this helps us meet our high service standards."

King agrees that providing immediate answers to queries from candidates raises the level of service offered by her department at Ethicon. She adds that doing so also saves her department money. "When we can answer questions on the first call instead of the third, we're more efficient. Eventually that may result in a lower head count," she says.

Although King prefers not to discuss potential or actual reductions in staffing at the organization as a result of resume systems, she says, "It's clear that the system makes us more productive. When clerks no longer have to line up at the copy machine or spend hours sorting resumes, we're definitely reducing the number of labor hours needed to run our department."

What about cost?
The cost of the systems varies greatly, depending on a number of issues, primarily related to hardware. As a general guide, a small, three-or four-user system costs somewhere between $30,000 and $75,000. Some of the variables that affect price include:

  • Number of users
  • Whether the company can use its existing terminals and computers or needs to buy more
  • Whether the system can run on an existing network or requires a new one.

The cost of a system depends as well on its required use. For example, the cost of scanners varies greatly, based on speed. A very slow machine that scans a resume in five minutes costs less than $3,000, but a fast scanner that can input a resume in a few seconds can cost as much as $30,000.

Vendors say that most companies opt for faster scanners. However, companies that must scan resumes at multiple sites, such as at branch offices, might be able to settle for the slower machines for the sites that have a lower volume of incoming resumes.

An organization also needs to decide whether or not it requires its system to have imaging capability. Imaging systems capture and store not only the resume data but also a picture of the original resume. When the resume prints out, it's a facsimile of the original document. This allows the hiring manager to see if it contains fancy characters, an idiosyncratic format or spelling errors—all of which could have an impact on a hiring decision.

Companies that don't opt for imaging systems can pull the original paper resume from the file to accompany the computer printout. If the goal of installing the tracking system is to eliminate paper resume storage entirely, however, an imaging system is a must. Even if laws require that companies save the paper resumes, imaging systems allow companies to place them in inactive storage, where recruiters never have to handle them.

Buying an imaging system can result in additional costs. For example, an imaging system requires more magnetic storage. Some states require that images be stored on nonerasable disks if they're replacing paper documentation. Companies may have to buy new kinds of storage equipment. Also, imaging systems require more computer resources at the end-user location.

For example, resume images can't be viewed on a text-based terminal. They require a Macintosh™, a PC or a workstation that has a lot of memory and a fast processor chip.

Despite these additional costs, vendors say that an increasing number of users opt for imaging systems. They attribute this to the dropping cost of processors and memory, and to the high cost of keeping paper resumes—in terms of both real estate and administrative expenses.

Most managers find the installation of a tracking system and the training for its use relatively painless. As a result, few see any downside to the installation of a scanning and tracking system.

"We aren't functioning in a radically different way from the way we did before. We're just functioning more quickly and efficiently," says Dorr. "It's like trading in a horse for a car. It's an easy transition."

Personnel Journal, April 1993, Vol. 72, No. 4, pp. 77-79.

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