Let’s say you want to hire a software developer. You posted a job ad, received several dozens of resumes and now it’s time to start looking for your next great hire. You stumble upon one resume but only for a few seconds.
This candidate joined Harvard, took a pre-law major and dropped out two years later. Although they seem to have been busy with some programming projects, you’re sure you can do better than that. You move on to the next candidate.
Well… You just threw Bill Gates’ resume to the trash.
Recent research reveals that resumes aren’t always a great predictor of job performance. Yet, they impact hiring decisions because they’re at the very beginning of the recruitment process. Those candidates that you move forward are the ones that you’re eventually going to hire. And the ones you reject in the just six seconds you spend reading their resume, don’t have a shot.
Maybe it’s time to reconsider whether resumes are an effective screening tool.
The Dark Side of Resumes
Resumes are a snapshot of what candidates have already done. They don’t speak for their potential or skills. They don’t reveal their interests for future career and growth. Resumes simply reflect the past, not the future or even the present.
While on paper, someone may seem like the perfect fit for the role, their education and experience don’t necessarily show on their job performance. Likewise, someone who seems to lack the necessary qualifications, could actually be hard-working and potentially bring even better results to the team.
Here’s how resumes may hinder your hiring:
Most people think that bias can arise when you meet and interview candidates in-person. But there can be many biases that come into play simply from reading a resume. Resumes contain a lot of information that’s not necessarily related to the job, such as age or college.
Here are some examples of how you may be impacted by unconscious bias when screening a resume:
- Age – You can easily guess the candidate’s age based on the date of their first role or the date they graduated from school. Perhaps you are unconsciously thinking that someone older or younger would be better for the role. Or, you’re thinking that your 30-something-year-old candidate won’t fit with your young millennial team. This way, though, you’re missing out on fresh ideas that a new person can bring to the table.
- Name – The name can tell you a lot of information about the applicant, most commonly their potential race and gender. One study showed that hiring managers are more likely to call back candidates who are of the opposite gender to them. It may be best not to know these things before interviewing as gender and race are not indicators of how well someone can do the job.
- Education – Around 35% of managers believe that top-performing staff studied at ‘highly reputable institutions’. This means that a hiring manager is more likely to choose a candidate who studied at an Ivy League college over another who studied at a community college. But, in fact, the only thing that the name of the school tells you is that this candidate had or didn’t have access to a better educational system.
- Address – Regardless of which city you are in, there are probably ‘good’ neighborhoods and ‘bad’ neighborhoods. You can potentially infer someone’s socioeconomic position from an address. This can be a source of bias as it is irrelevant to their ability to perform the role.
Presenting False Information
Research has shown that up to 85% of people lie on their resumes. This doesn’t mean that most candidates are dishonest – they’re trying, though, to leave a good impression on their potential employers.
Therefore, candidates won’t mention times when they failed. Instead, they may even exaggerate a bit on their successes. Also, they could hide information that could be reasons for rejection, like a layoff.
Here are some of the most common things people lie about on a resume:
- Education – people lie about having a college degree when they haven’t been to college or haven’t graduated.
- Employment gaps – perhaps the person got fired or left a job under bad circumstances. Whatever the reason, many people adjust dates of roles to cover an employment gap.
- Experience – embellishing experience is common in candidates’ resumes. For example, some will claim to have managed more people than they did or increased sales by some fudged percentage.
Not all candidates share false information on their resume on purpose. People tend to have selective memories, therefore some information could be unintentionally inaccurate. Besides, the past performance described on a resume is self-reported and subjective, to some level.
Missing a Correlation to Performance
Resumes talk about past experience. But, based on research, past experience isn’t linked to job performance. Even if we put research data aside, the fact that someone was successful at a job doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be equally successful at the next one.
That’s because an employee could have been productive because they had appropriate support from their manager, they were given the right tools and resources and they could thrive in this particular company culture.
So, more focus should be given on whether a candidate is likely to succeed in your company. Also, keep in mind that resumes contain mostly descriptions of tasks and projects. Unlike other screening processes, such as pre-employment testing, you have no quantitative data on the candidate’s talent.
Not Being Unique
Have you noticed how after screening resumes for a while, they all look similar to each other? Maybe because they are. Candidates are using online templates – and that’s not just about the format of the resume.
They also copy phrases and keywords (like hard-working, result-driven and go-getter) they think their potential employers would like to read. A resume tends to describe what you want to hear not what candidates really are. This is making it even more difficult for great candidates to stand out, as they’re simply trying to sound professional and don’t really let their unique abilities shine through.
If not resumes, then what?
Resumes may not be as an effective screening tool as you were probably thinking so far. But you still want to hire employees. Why don’t you try some alternatives to evaluate candidates’ skills?
Cognitive tests, personality assessments and blind, job-related assignments could help you form a more objective and bias-free opinion on the candidates before you invite them to an interview. And they’ll make sure you don’t throw Bill Gates’ resume to the trash again.