How the Hiring Process Actually Works

This guide to the hiring process helps demystify the resume-to-offer pipeline.

Written by Lisa Bertagnoli
Published on Apr. 26, 2021
How the Hiring Process Actually Works

Your resume is pristine and your cover letter, so polished. Anticipation high, you load both into your dream employer’s online application site and hit send. Feeling satisfied with your good work, you’re confident you’ll get a call soon to set up a phone screen.

And then — nothing. Your application seems to have disappeared down some HR rabbit hole. What happened? This hiring guide is here to help, or at least demystify what can be a vexing process.

To get an idea of how hiring works, we talked to Kene Washington, director of managed services at onShore Security, a Chicago-based cybersecurity company; Jennifer Henry, senior vice president of workforce engagement at Lanham, Maryland-based edtech company 2U; and Toby Arbel, vice president and head of people at CHEQ, a New York-based anti-fraud technology provider. All spoke from their own companies’ points of view, noting that the hiring process varies from company to company.

What’s Involved in the Hiring Process

The hiring process can mystify even experienced job seekers. Sometimes you get an automated response; other times, applications and resumes seem to tumble down a mysterious tunnel into a deep, dark pit, never to be seen nor heard from again. Hiring practices and processes vary from company to company, yet the processes have a sameness and a certain cadence: Companies review resumes and applications, choose candidates, conduct interviews and make choices. Some use artificial intelligence and automation systems to sort through what can be hundreds of resumes; others do not. But at the end of the process, they make an offer, or issue a thanks but no thanks.


How many resumes do you get on average for tech jobs?

Kene Washington: Cybersecurity is a really hot market right now. So we get on average 30 to 40 resumes for an analyst position. From there, about 50 percent of the candidates are pegged for an initial interview. This is where candidates typically sort themselves, as many don’t respond to a request for an initial interview. Between mass applying and a competitive market, good candidates get snatched up quickly. We typically don’t do any mass hiring, so after our peer interview process, we select who we feel is the best candidate to make an offer to.

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Jennifer Henry: On average, for jobs listed to a job board, recruiters will receive anywhere from dozens to hundreds of resumes. It depends on the size of the company and many other variables. Generally speaking, about 15 percent of resumes will convert to a phone screen. From there, about two-thirds will advance in the interview process.


What happens to applications and resumes?

Washington: Our human-resources management software system auto-responds via email and the hiring manager for that position is notified. They log into the system to review resumes, add notes, rate candidates and decide whom they want to interview.

Henry: Generally speaking, applications are routed through an applicant tracking system, software that recruiters use to sift through resumes and identify keywords that match the required skills and experience listed in the job description. Recruiters get dozens and even hundreds of resumes, depending on the size of the company, demand for the role, or where the job is posted (on a company website or job board). Some resumes will be completely discarded if they don’t include keywords that the ATS is looking for. Even when resumes do break through the ATS, recruiters only spend eight seconds on average looking at an individual resume to determine if they should be moved ahead in the process. So it’s critical to have a resume strategy that helps you break through the initial screening process.

“Even when resumes do break through the ATS, recruiters only spend eight seconds on average looking at an individual resume to determine if they should be moved ahead in the process.”

2U’s workforce engagement team coaches students using a discipline-based “employer-competitive framework” that we tailor to each of our bootcamps: coding, data analytics, cyber security, UX/UI, digital marketing, fintech, project management and product management. Through this framework, we help students identify the important keywords and give them data-tested resume templates to maximize their chances of breaking through the ATS.

Further ReadingHow We Made Our Hiring Process for Engineers More Efficient — and More Fair


Do companies use AI to screen resumes?

Washington: We don’t use AI or any sort of automatic filtering of candidates.

Henry: It’s incredibly common for keywords to be built into a company’s hiring ATS. For example, one keyword we see a lot for coding jobs is JavaScript. If that’s not on a resume, chances are high that an ATS will automatically reject a resume. Recruiters will also CTRL+F for keywords as a secondary screener and automatically reject resumes that don’t include them. Additionally, ATSs often struggle to showcase resumes that have bold or highly colored backgrounds because the complex colors and fonts don’t compute with the ATS systems. Recruiters are incredibly busy, so to a certain degree these practices are understandable.

These automated processes, however, also introduce bias and can create a hegemonic review process. Someone can get easily lost in the shuffle if they have all the right experiences but is earlier on in their career, or is a non-traditional learner who doesn’t have the same level of career support and guidance. We see this a lot with the students we support with career services at 2U, and it disproportionately affects lower-income students, students of color and those who might be the first in their families to go to college. That’s why we always coach our students to build simple, straightforward resumes with the right keywords to really maximize their chances of breaking through the noise.


How long does it take for companies to respond?

Henry: It really depends on the company and the role. Many times you won’t hear back at all. Generally, 2U’s workforce engagement team advises students if they haven’t heard back in 30 days, then the company is probably not moving ahead with their resume.

Washington: In addition to the automated response, an onShore Security applicant is likely to see a response within three to four business days.


When do humans review applications?

Toby Arbel: A human should lay eyes on applications fairly early on. With large companies, AI and other screening may be necessary due to volume, but it is important to remember that — dealing with people after all — the human touch remains critical when recruiting. Many of the things we at CHEQ look at are not set in stone and are unlikely to be discovered by an AI tool. Many candidates could be very applicable and this would not necessarily be detected by technological solutions alone, and this could unfairly overlook some relevant candidates. I am very excited by AI and technology and the standard use of solutions that provide automated workflows, screening, scheduling, interviewing and collaboration; however, the human element cannot (and should not, in my opinion) be replaced.

Washington: Generally, the hiring manager is looking at applications within a day of receipt. They are looking for the skills required and also for a good tone and adherence to the application requirements. You’d be surprised, for instance, how many people just repeat their resume as the required cover letter.

Henry: Each employer is different — there’s no universal timeline or process for hiring candidates. But at a high level, when reviewing resumes, employers are looking for candidates whose hard skills and experience best fit a position. From there, a hiring manager or committee will set up interviews to get a better sense of a candidate’s transferable skills to see if they’re a fit for the team.

Further ReadingWhat Makes Your Interview Process Unique?


What happens during the interview stage?

Arbel: The first step at CHEQ is to ensure that candidates meet the specified criteria. In technical and research and development roles, this is what we do to decide on our initial phone screen. However, just as important, recruiters play a role as guardians of the company culture. With that in mind, we explore not only checking the box for the dry relevant experience and skills, but also the culture fit and the passion for our mission and the path to get there, which is used to vet candidates for this stage.

Henry: Once your resume has been selected from the general applicant pool, the typical cadence is to have a short phone interview with a recruiter, followed by a short phone interview with the hiring manager. That said, at 2U, we’re seeing more tech roles ask candidates to do a short tech assessment following the phone call with the recruiter and before the interview with the hiring manager. Then, if the interview with the hiring manager goes well, candidates will go on to do a longer “tech interview,” which can last anywhere from three to seven hours.


What are interviewers looking for?

Henry: To see if you’re the best fit for the role. For technical roles, they also want to make sure candidates understand and can answer the why behind their questions — why did you choose this solution? Why should we use this language or tool, and not the other? Why is it the best fit for the product or business? Not only are hiring managers looking for candidates who have the hard skills to succeed in a position, they’re also looking for candidates who showcase their social and emotional intelligence, as well as a growth mindset and willingness to learn, so that they can determine how a candidate would work well within the wider team. At 2U, we’ve found employers preaching this across the board when we collect their feedback for our technical boot camp programs. All jobs are a team sport. At the end of the day, these human skills — leadership, management, critical thinking, creativity, empathy — are the ones that no computer, no artificial intelligence and no form of automation can replicate.

Arbel: Typically, the initial call is with the recruiter alone. Here, we analyze both the core skill set needed to do the role and their cultural fit, and explain the role and culture to the candidate so everything is laid out. I am a big believer in transparency. Once this stage has passed, it moves to a professional interview with the direct manager, where the specifics, for instance engineering experience, are looked at in more depth for the relevant role.

Washington: The main thing to determine in the first interview is to answer any questions that arise from the resume review, and it also gives us a chance to understand the candidate’s drive and interests.

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When do candidates undergo a skill assessment?

Washington: Skills are mostly determined just from conversation, but sample work is sometimes requested and short quizzes are administered for certain positions at OnShore Security.

Henry: The tech assessment, or more in-depth tech interview, comes at different stages. However, we advise students to discuss the relevant skill sets they’ve learned through our programs throughout the interview process. This gives employers extra insights into their abilities and shows them that a candidate has identified the in-demand skills in the market and taken the necessary steps to acquire them. Having a portfolio of your work ready at the onset of the hiring process is a great way to break through and showcase how you apply your skills and experiences to potential employers.


What are final steps for candidates?

Washington: Some candidates are sent to others within the company for additional interviews. Background checks are required, and some positions get a peer interview too. There’s a good bit of time taken to make sure the candidate understands the position they are being considered for and the company environment and processes.

Henry: So much focus is put on the substance of the conversation during a job interview that candidates often forget that what comes afterwards is just as important. A same-day thank you note following your interview is a thoughtful gesture that shows hiring managers that you’re prompt in your follow-up and interested in joining their team.

It’s important to not feel discouraged if you don’t receive an offer. Treat every interview process as a learning opportunity. The more conversations and tech assessments you do, the better you’ll do on the next one. The job for you is out there: Keep going.

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