Is It Time to Dispense with Resumes?
As hiring practices evolve with technology, there may be better ways to find great talent than relying on resumes.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
Is the resume an invaluable screening tool?
Melanie Lundberg thinks so. Lundberg, assistant vice president of talent management and corporate communications at Combined Insurance, a Chubb Co., says resumes are critical in helping her decide who's a best fit for the insurer.
"It's an important component of the recruiting process," she says. "I just don't know how else you'd do it in the sense of getting that full story."
Grace Swanson has a different take. Swanson, vice president of human resources at fast-growing precision-parts manufacturer Accumold, says she's "not a fan of resumes."
Many of the resumes she encounters are filled with irrelevant (and often false) information. Swanson says resumes are not the best vehicle for quickly conveying what she's looking for when screening candidates: "To paraphrase Joe Friday [from Dragnet], 'Just the facts, ma'am.' "
As for Nathan Hughes, his position on resumes is crystal clear: His company, Detroit Labs, doesn't accept them at all.
"We've never accepted resumes," says Hughes, co-founder and engineering leader of the 130-employee, Detroit-based tech start-up, which makes mobile apps. "When we started this company, we decided not to just do what was normal, but what seemed to make the most sense instead."
The resume has long gotten a bad rap: Job candidates hate writing them, recruiters hate reading them and critics say they feed unconscious bias and lead companies to overlook otherwise great talent. While the resume continues to dominate, as companies build new technologies into their hiring processes, and recruiters and hiring managers increasingly look to social-media platforms such as LinkedIn and Facebook to evaluate candidates, some organizations are moving to alternative methods of screening that encourage candidates to demonstrate their skills, rather than summarize them.
An "Illusion of Validity"
An executive survey conducted last year by the Futurestep division of Korn Ferry suggests resumes may not be as critical today as they once were for landing a job.
More than one-third (35 percent) of those surveyed said resumes are less important to the job-search process than they were five years ago. In addition, 77 percent said networking was the most important part of the job-search process, followed by interviewing (16 percent) and social/online presence (4 percent). Dead last? Resumes, at 3 percent.
Although all respondents reported that they read candidates' resumes during the hiring process, 51 percent of executives surveyed said they spend less than five minutes reading a candidate's resume and 13 percent spend less than two minutes. That's actually much longer than what an infamous study conducted by The Ladders in 2012 found, which was that recruiters spent, on average, a whopping six seconds scanning a resume.
The resume works against people who are self-taught -- a group that includes a sizable chunk of today's software developers, says Vivek Ravisankar, co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, who predicts 2018 "will mark the end of the resume for developers." Ravisankar cites the findings of the 2018 Developer Skills Report, a recent survey of 39,000 software developers conducted by his company, which offers a platform designed to help companies evaluate candidates based on their skills. The survey found that about half of the respondents said resumes are not a good reflection of their abilities.
The findings point to a disconnect that's no longer sustainable today, when so many companies are furiously searching for talented developers, says Ravisankar.
"Although 81 percent of hiring managers rely primarily on resumes to evaluate developers at the beginning of the recruiting process, nearly all of them say actually measuring skill is the hardest part of the technical-hiring funnel," he says.
Resumes, with their emphasis on schools attended and previous employers, may impede otherwise highly talented developers who lack a degree from a well-known college or who haven't worked at a Google or Microsoft, says Ravisankar. They lead recruiters to discard candidates without giving them a chance to show off their skills, he says, while companies engage in bidding wars over pedigreed candidates, leading to an artificial shortage of developers.
A better way to find talent, he says, is to use platforms like his -- which uses competitive programming challenges designed to let programmers demonstrate their skills -- or GitHub, a site used by software engineers to share, create and collaborate on code and open-source projects and which has become an increasingly popular place to look for tech talent.
"I see places like GitHub becoming the new resume," says Ravisankar.
Resumes are also static -- the ones residing in your applicant-tracking system won't reflect the additional skills and experience gained by candidates in the time since they applied to your organization, says Carisa Miklusak, founder and CEO of tilr, a firm that uses algorithms to find candidates for companies that need to fill a large number of positions quickly.
"The resume is passé and ineffective," she says. "We believe skills are the new currency of the workforce."
Candidates will often "game" resumes, customizing them to emphasize what they believe will be most helpful in landing a particular job, says Miklusak.
Furthermore, companies that screen by resume may leave out a substantial number of people who could be great for a particular role but don't know how to write a resume or aren't skilled at navigating the complexities of applying for a job, she says.
With resumes, "we're judging people maybe more on their ability to summarize their career than their ability to do the actual job," says Kevin Parker, CEO of HireVue, a video-interviewing technology vendor.
Resumes have what Parker calls "the illusion of validity," or something that's presumed to work, but actually doesn't.
One of HireVue's clients, which is hiring thousands of software developers, has moved away from the resume for screening in favor of coding challenges. "We may look at the resume as a third step in the process, but at that point it doesn't matter where you went to school -- if you can do the work, then we're interested in you," says Parker.
The upside is that the company greatly improved its diversity while eliminating people who had great GPAs but couldn't do the actual work, he says.
Parker says he sees companies turning to alternative methods, such as structured interviews, video interviews and coding challenges, because they're better predictors of who can do the actual work.
"Five years from now, you'll find someone using resumes and you'll think, 'Oh my gosh, how cute! You still do it that way,' " says Parker. "The illusion of validity that resumes have will be apparent."
Resumes Still Predominate
However, despite its flaws, the resume continues to be the predominant vehicle for jobseekers and the recruiters who are screening them. And it continues to have fans within the HR profession, Lundberg among them.
The resume is the most concise summary of a candidate's skills and experience, she says.
"I coach everyone who works for me on this rule: Past performance is a great predictor of future performance," says Lundberg.
Pairing traditional resume screening with newer tools like social media, such as reviewing a resume and then taking a look at the person's LinkedIn profile, can be a very effective way to screen candidates for consistency, she says.
"I want to see that what you're telling me in your resume is the same as what you're telling people on your Linkedin profile," says Lundberg. She cites a candidate who applied for a business-analyst position with Combined Insurance. His resume looked good, but when Lundberg checked out his LinkedIn profile, she saw that much of it was devoted to a designer-clothing initiative he was launching.
"It said to me that this man would not be happy as a business analyst -- his creative passions do not lie in this role," she says.
And while critics contend that resumes can leave candidates open to unconscious bias over their names or gender, Lundberg says training -- not eliminating resumes -- is the solution.
"We all have unconscious biases that we have to check at the door," she says. Training managers to recognize and be on the alert for their own unconscious biases, along with behavioral interviewing of job candidates, helps Combined ensure that bias does not undermine its recruiting, she says.
Resumes are also a good way to determine whether or not a candidate is detail-oriented, she adds.
"I think grammatical errors in a resume are a dead giveaway," says Lundberg. "If a candidate hasn't proofread their own resume, that tells you something."
At Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, students are expected to create and maintain updated resumes, says Professor Rochelle Ford.
"Most employers in the communications industry -- advertising agencies, publishers, PR firms -- still expect resumes," says Ford, chair of the public relations department.
However, in the last two years, students have also been required to create e-portfolios of their work prior to graduation.
"It's visual evidence of their multimedia-storytelling abilities," says Ford. "It's like a living resume."
A Resume-Free Hiring Process
The decision to not accept resumes was one of the first Detroit Labs' founders made, says Hughes.
"No. 1, we wanted everyone at the company to have a say in who we hired," he says. "Two, if we relied on standard resumes, we'd have a hard time being able to consistently compare candidates."
Instead, candidates fill out a questionnaire with a detailed set of questions created by whichever team they'd be working with, based on the job for which they're applying. The teams are then asked to review the completed questionnaires and vote on which candidate they'd like to invite for an interview, based on the candidate's answers. Not only does the process give employees more say in who the company hires, says Hughes, it also separates out candidates who are genuinely interested in Detroit Labs from those who may be simply going through the motions.
"If someone applies to work here, we know they've spent at least 15 minutes to an hour getting to know us and applying to us, rather than just pushing a button to send us their resume," he says.
Individual teams come up with the questions, which are then reviewed by the company's lawyer to ensure they don't run afoul of any laws or regulations. The questions are designed to not only determine a candidate's technical skills but also to give a sense of who the person is and how they think, says Hughes.
They may include inquiries such as "Tell us about an experience that was very challenging to you" or "Tell us what is on your bookshelf and why," Hughes says.
Not all candidates are thrilled with the process, he admits, but it helps the teams get to know candidates better. It's also important for the company to explain to candidates why the no-resume process is critical to Detroit Labs' decision-making.
"I think it's been an outstanding way for us to avoid the 'like being comfortable with like' problem we've seen in the tech industry," he says, citing the tendency of Silicon Valley hiring managers to go with candidates whose resumes reflect their own backgrounds.
A "Lot of Wasted Effort"
The resume simply doesn't tell recruiters enough about the character and qualities of a candidate to determine his or her success, says Leela Srinivasan, chief marketing officer for recruitment firm Lever.
"Think of the modern workplace -- so much rests on the character of the individual and their ability to work in collaboratively in teams," she says.
Srinivasan cites a top-performing salesperson at a previous employer who was fired because the person's actions were not in line with the company's values.
"You could look great on paper, but results aren't everything," she says.
Srinivasan says she's intrigued by Detroit Labs' resume-free approach.
"I think it's interesting -- we've also worked with clients that decided to move away from resumes," she says, citing a company called KeepSafe, which mounted a "no-resume" campaign to get away from unconscious bias. Instead, applicants were required to fill out an online form with details of projects they'd worked on.
"I think Detroit Labs is attempting to get to know candidates in a different way," she says. "Communication skills aren't easily discerned from a resume -- you can't tell whether someone's good at persuading or advancing an argument. You can more easily determine that with a question-based approach."
At Lever, Srinivasan uses a mini-challenge of her own -- an on-site presentation -- to assess candidates on a variety of dimensions: Are they clear communicators, do they give sufficient context upfront, are they aware of their audience?
At an organization where teamwork and cross-functional collaboration are important to results, you need empathy and the ability to build strong relationships, says Srinivasan.
"I always want to know how our candidates interact with our receptionist or the candidate-experience coordinator," she says. "If they don't treat those people with respect, it raises serious questions for me."
She says she looks for "intellectual curiosity" from candidates, which she notes you can't discern from a resume. "The questions they ask of me are often more telling than the answers they give -- how they're thinking about our business, how they're listening and engaging in the conversation that draws more information from me."
At Bain Consulting, one of Srinivasan's previous employers, the company conducted case interviews in which candidates were given problems to solve. The company used them to get a sense of how candidates think -- did they tackle the problem in a logical way, do they think in a structured way?
"Resumes are static, reflecting a fixed point in time, and yet people are continuously evolving," Srinivasan says.
The Des Moines metropolitan area, where Accumold is located, has an unemployment rate of just 3 percent "and I've probably interviewed about 2.5 percent of that 3 percent," says Swanson.
The 350-employee company, which was started in a garage 30 years ago, makes precision parts for "micro-molding" tiny components out of plastic -- components that can literally be smaller than a grain of sand, she says. It's looking for candidates who are reliable, detail-oriented and who want to remain with and grow at Accumold, says Swanson.
Accumold has invested heavily in trying to grow talent locally, including a scholarship program with a nearby community college in which it pays for students' education while they train at the company to become tool-and-die makers.
Swanson estimates she spends about 30 seconds reviewing each resume she receives and finds them inefficient. "There's just so much non-value-added information on a resume," she says. "And there's more than a few resumes I've seen where the information didn't hold up on the background checks."
Swanson and her team are currently thinking through how to customize Accumold's job-application process that would eliminate the need for resumes altogether.
"When you've got hundreds of people applying and 90 percent aren't qualified, that's a lot of wasted effort," she says.