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Why you need to stop reading resumes

Updated: Jul 15, 2014 10:21 AM
© Hemera / Thinkstock © Hemera / Thinkstock

By Will Yakowicz


How do you hire new employees that are competent, work well with others, help drive a productive culture, and come from a diverse background? If you sift through piles of resumes and look for universities like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and MIT, you might get a smart employee but how do you know they will be able to get the job done? If you look for words like "unpaid internship," chances are that you'll hire someone of a higher socio-economic background with past experience. More and more, as new tools and technology change everything else, why are there so many job that rely on old resumes?

Terence Tse, an associate professor of finance at ESCP Europe, Mark Esposito, a member of the teaching faculty at Harvard University Extension School, and Olaf Groth, a professor at HULT International Business School, write about how resumes are inefficient, unreliable, and biased.

"[Resumes] highlight applicants' past achievements and experience. But while CVs are good at showcasing formal skills, they're not very useful for identifying values and behavior," the trio writes in Harvard Business Review. "Resumes generally don't distinguish between skills (knowing how to do something) and competencies (doing it really well and with great reliability and ease)."

Tse, Esposito, and Groth say that resumes are not good at telling you if a certain candidate would fit into your culture or not. "They only show the eligibility but not the suitability of a candidate. And while resumes can match an applicant's skills to the role, they are poor at predicting how well the applicants will interact with the company's culture and future colleagues," they write in HBR.

Even worse, resumes, they say, can be socio-economically biased. Resumes, due to their inherent nature, rely on showcasing grades, university reputations, and past work experience--all of which are biased toward wealthier candidates. "This process is no longer reliable; it has turned income inequality into career opportunity inequality, and recruiters are losing opportunities to tap a wider talent pool. As much as they claim to be interested in taking in talent from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, the practice of using resumes to select candidates can exclude those who can't afford education or taking unpaid internships," the three write.

Instead of relying on resumes, Tse, Esposito, and Groth suggest recruiters to turn their attention to "proof of competencies" instead of written proof of past competencies. You're looking for leaders with skills needed to succeed in a fast-moving, innovative environment, not a formal, polished, fancy C-Suite.

Below, check out three suggestions from Tse, Esposito, and Groth to ease away from your dependence on the resume.

Say good-bye to employment history.

If you are hiring people solely because of their long employment histories and not how the person acts, thinks, and interacts with others, you're focusing too much on age-old hiring strategies. "If hiring companies pay less attention to skill- and history-focused résumés and focus instead on the socio-emotional, cognitive, and behavioral traits of applicants, those from economically underprivileged backgrounds would have much broader job prospects. This garners higher professional effectiveness and also distributes and diversifies the social strata of labor," the trio write.

Get smart with smart data.

There is so much more to hiring than looking for a well-ironed shirt and a seemingly well-bred man or woman from New Haven. Hiring should be a deep dive into what the person is like and what they can do right now, and how many different situations and personalities they can juggle. Tse, Esposito, and Groth say companies as diverse as Coca-Cola, which uses data-driven and social media-centric hiring strategies, to startups like Seedcamp, which uses the study of personality and interests, or "psychographics," to identify teams with the greatest chance for success; to Australian tech company Kestral, which identifies the best-and-worst performing team members via "a team optimization process."

Look for core values.

If you were looking for a husband or wife, would you make a decision just by reading a well-manicured dating profile and one formal date? No, you want to find out who they truly are, what are their values, and what they stand for. Saberr, data-based hiring company, looks for candidate's core values and specific behavioral traits. The company's "metric mapper," which is the main element of their data-driven HR Strategy, uses algorithms to process "fundamental values and behavioral compatibility, as well as diversity," the trio writes. The company predicts how strong the relationship between an applicant and an employer could be by administering a survey to both parities, which looks for soft skills instead of more conventional credentials or past experiences. The algorithm allows the company to "project" how the new hires will fit into the environment.


The original "Why you need to stop reading resumes" article can be seen here.

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