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


Visitors: 535

The best use of an interviewer’s time is spent prior to meeting the applicant. 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 applicant 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.

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

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

  • 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, appropriately- “buyer beware. " An applicant will never understate job descriptions, responsibilities, accomplishments or salary. The strategy in evaluating resumes involves separating “fluff" from “super-fluff. "

    "In writing biography, fact and fiction shouldn’t 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 indicates interest in the position.

    A poorly written or disorganized resume may be indicative of the candidate’s work ethic. Resumes that omit dates of employment may be attempting 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 lacking. Look for qualities that may indicate that the applicant 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 entirety, signed, dated, and legible (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):

  • Social Security Number

  • Name and Address

  • Previous addresses that are not within the local area

  • Convictions, if any

  • Education institutions beyond high school

  • Supervisor’s name, phone number, dates and wage of prior employment

  • Reasons for leaving prior employers

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

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

  • Any blanks

  • Unexplained gaps in time between previous employers

  • Other irregularities with dates

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

  • When the reason for leaving doesn’t relate to the next job (i. e. “left for better wages or benefits") or if the next job doesn’t support the assertion

  • Periods where salaries or promotions increase sharply or decrease

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

  • Any periods of self-employment

  • Instability in job history “job hopping"

  • Any other inconsistencies

    L. Scott Harrell is the author of Truth or Consequences: Hiring for Integrity, a manual which completely and accurately describes proven pre-employment hiring strategies and interviewing skills developed from 14 years of experience as a private investigator and principal of CompassPoint Investigations.

    More information regarding Hiring for Integrity and other effective hiring practices can be found via his website:

  • (954)

    Article Source:

    Rate this Article: 
    Why Most Railroad Job Applicants Don't Get Hired
    Rated 4 / 5
    based on 5 votes

    Related Articles:

    Prejudging, Pre-Qualifying, Pre-Screening - No Matter What You Call It, It's ..

    by: Geoff Cohen (February 20, 2008) 
    (Business/Sales Training)

    Telemarketing Training Pro Urges Screening Applicants By Phone

    by: Dr. Gary S. Goodman (June 13, 2006) 
    (Business/Sales Teleselling)

    Pre Employment Screening

    by: Jay Barker (January 05, 2010) 

    Pre-Employment Screening

    by: Josh Riverside (January 03, 2006) 
    (Business/Careers Employment)

    Why Pre-Employment Screening is Important

    by: A. Ortega (June 10, 2009) 
    (Business/Human Resources)

    Pre-Employment Screening: The Watchful Eye That Mitigates HR Risk

    by: Hitesh Asrani (March 29, 2006) 

    Set Yourself Apart From Other Job Applicants

    by: Todd Hicks (March 20, 2008) 
    (Business/Careers Employment)

    Why Are 95% of Job Applicants Not Called Back?

    by: Brian Stephenson (December 15, 2004) 
    (Business/Careers Employment)

    What Recruiters Look For In Staffing Job Applicants

    by: Ken Sundheim (July 27, 2011) 
    (Business/Careers Employment)

    Why Most Railroad Job Applicants Don't Get Hired

    by: Sean Martin (October 13, 2005) 
    (Business/Careers Employment)