Today, I received a folder of Recruiting candidate CVs from one of our HR. In this folder, there is a sub-folder named "pass". Question is does this "pass" mean the CVs inside are OK (i.e. that they have passed the current stage of the selection, and need to be looked at more carefully at the next stage) or not OK (i.e. that they do not deserve any further attention)?

If I want to mean the CVs in the folder that are not OK, what exact word should I use?

  • 6
    Are there any other subfolders? Oct 13, 2018 at 23:46
  • 13
    That sounds like a question for the person that sent you the documents...
    – JeffC
    Oct 15, 2018 at 5:18
  • 3
    Although this answer is better suited for Workplace:SE, why not just have a look at the CVs that were in the main folder and see if those in the sub-folder are of a qualitatively lower standard? If they're all crap candidates then you have your answer immediately, without having to prod the person who did the screening.
    – Richard
    Oct 15, 2018 at 10:20
  • 8
    This, for one, is a question that can be perfectly answered "yes." Oct 15, 2018 at 10:22
  • "Pass" means either going past another car on the expressway, or passing gas in a crowded subway car. (And a few others.)
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 15, 2018 at 18:02

5 Answers 5


I have encountered many people using the term "pass" in recruiting. Each time, the person believed they were making a clear statement. Roughly half of them mean "I don't like this one, pass" (as one might say when playing cards). The rest mean "I like this one, please pass him or her to the next round" (as the term is used in quality control). Each group is surprised to learn about the existence of the other.

I now insist that recruiting feedback never use the ambiguous term "pass." Useful terms to replace it are "proceed" and "no hire." "Proceed" makes it clear that the candidate is moving to the next round, as opposed to "hire" which may convey a stronger meaning of "make an offer now."

Simply using "yes" and "no" may suffice in some contexts, such as your example of labeling CVs.

  • 7
    Or "accept" and "reject".
    – Barmar
    Oct 13, 2018 at 17:29
  • 10
    @Barmar "Accept" just creates another ambiguity - was their application accepted (i.e. they were hired), or were they merely accepted to the next round or shortlist? "Proceed", "No hire" and "Hire" are much better. Likewise "reject" risks confusion with a possible "Never hire" category (e.g. it was discovered they lied on their application) Oct 14, 2018 at 9:16
  • "yes" and "no" are very good. "No" is obvious and "yes" means whatever in the context ("yes, this is the candidate to be hired" -- when in the hands of the decision maker, "yes, they passed our tests" -- when in the hands of someone in the hiring chain)
    – WoJ
    Oct 15, 2018 at 10:39

It's ambiguous.

It could mean "these candidates passed our tests".

Or it could mean "We'll pass on these candidates" (not give them offers).

You should ask whoever gave you the folders what the labels mean.


The context of the other state would indicate what the first one means in this case.

For instance, if the folders are labelled pass and fail, then pass means "These are candidates we want to select from."

If the folders are labelled pass and keep, then pass means "These are candidates we have rejected."

  • 2
    Huh, if I (UK) saw two folders titled "pass" and "keep" in the context of recruitment, I'd think "pass" meant "passed the test, pass through to the next stage" and "keep" meant "not suitable for this recruitment, but keep on file"; and outright rejects would have been deleted. If it was "proceed" instead of "keep", I'd think "pass" meant "Passed the minimum criteria, but the others are better; we could consider these candidates if all the 'proceeds' drop out". It's much better to simply not use ambiguous words. Oct 15, 2018 at 16:12
  • Interesting input. Absolutely this is dependant on dialects. Yes, the best thing would be something like "Hire from this folder" or "Keep this on file for next time" and "Do not hire" Oct 15, 2018 at 17:01

In the recruiting process, there are different candidates and different steps. "Pass" could mean that for a given candidate, you're passing on to the next step, or it could mean that for a given step, you're passing to the next candidate. As these lead to opposite meanings, the term "pass" by itself should be avoided.


EDIT: I gather from the comments below that the meaning of this word is highly region dependent and has the exact opposite meaning in the UK. The correct answer is probably:

"This word is ambiguous and you are best served by requesting clarification."

-- Origonal answer for posterity

The ambiguity has been previously stated. Linguistically it can either mean "The candidate passes our screening checks" or "We're going to pass over this candidate and keep searching"

In my experience (ten years hiring in Silicon Valley) this ALWAYS means we are not interested in this candidate. We will pass on them. It doesn't hurt to clarify but there's a strong chance these are "No" candidates. If you want to take a moment to dig through the sub-folder you will probably identify one or two who are clearly not qualified and this would support interpreting "pass" as "no".

  • 5
    This is what I meant when I wrote that each group is surprised to learn of the existence of the other. OP is likely not in SV given the use of "CV" instead of "resume." Oct 14, 2018 at 1:14
  • @JohnZwinck On the other hand, the use of "pass" (in either meaning, "I'll pass on that" or "Pass this forward") suggests they're not in the UK, for example. Oct 14, 2018 at 14:23
  • @DavidRicherby That meaning of "pass" would be clear to a UK audience, if only from the concept of "pass" in games and game shows. I think that's where the expression comes from in US English too, and while it might be a more idiomatically American expression it's certainly something Brits are familiar with and I'm almost certain I've heard British people say "Yeah I might pass on that" to mean "no thanks" in a jovial way. Potentially an Americanism, but still widely understood. If it is indeed American in origin, it's likely not used by older generations so much.
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 14, 2018 at 19:04
  • 2
    @Some_Guy I'm in the UK audience. While somebody might say "I'll pass on that", I'm not sure people would imagine that meaning in the context of recruitment. Indeed, given your mention of game shows, Mastermind is very well known in the UK and, there, "pass" means "I don't know". It would be quite natural to parse "pass" in the context of hiring decisions as meaning "I don't know -- what do you think?" Oct 14, 2018 at 19:09
  • 2
    @DavidRicherby also in the UK, and I agree that "pass" is very unclear. I think I'd assume it means "pass" in opposition to "fail", but you're right it could absolutely mean "pass" to someone else (and yeah you're also right that while we might colloquially say "I'll pass on that" it'd be very unlikely to infer the meaning of "we'll pass on this candidate" in the sense of "we don't want this candidate" from "pass" alone in a British context)
    – Some_Guy
    Oct 14, 2018 at 19:19

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.