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Your Resume Bias is Causing Your Staffing Problems

Posted by Bob Corlett on June 1, 2009

One of the biggest causes of your staffing problems may be your own resume bias.   No, I am not referring to age, gender, race or religious bias.  Hopefully you are not biased in that way - none of us want to think of ourselves as biased in any way, but most people are "resume biased."

We all form these mental pictures of what a good resume should look like, and then we reject everyone who does not fit our mental picture.   In my experience, this "resume bias" is just as damaging to your hiring as any other kind of bias because, like other forms of bias,  it excludes highly qualified people you need to be considering.

A resume bias overemphasizes how, where and when a candidate acquired their skills and experience while ignoring attributes than are not easily demonstrated on paper.  It assumes you know something about someone solely based on the facts presented on the resume.  Remember, you are hiring a person, not a resume.  And a resume cannot demonstrate vital work behaviors, those all important attributes that we call "fit." 

We work hard to avoid resume bias in our search process, we celebrate the non-traditional candidates and don't put much stock in the "perfect resume."   In fact, about 2 weeks into every search, we give clients a status update.  It often sounds something like this:  "So far our candidate research has uncovered 50 potential candidates who we have contacted, our social media outreach has resulted in another 200 people already sending in their resumes.  Our interviewing starts this week, we have about 20 people scheduled, and we'll select the best 6 for your interviews next week."  It all sounds so reassuring.  The process is underway.  The candidate pipeline looks strong.  But we always issue our standard disclaimer.  "Of course, a good resume means nothing until we talk to them."  You see, experience has shown us that we have no idea if these people will be right for the job until we talk to them.  And we remind ourselves of that fact every time we issue the disclaimer.

While many resumes may appear to be well-aligned with a position, we know we will rule out about 90% of the people we talk to - and some of the people we rule in will have very non-traditional resumes. Often the non-traditional career path (the "bad" resume) is the best qualified candidate.

A resume is a poor representation of a person, yet a recent survey showed that "relevant work experience" is the major criteria on which top executives are hired.    And while, on the surface, that appears to make sense, the survey showed that "fit" factors - like the ability to work with teams, or learn new things - were almost completely overlooked.     That is the very definition of resume bias.

Knowing that, it's really no wonder that executive tenure is shortening, declining to an average of just 2.3 years.

So, if you have someone screening resumes for you, be sure to insist that they present to you at least a few "non-traditional" candidates.  You'll be glad you did.


Topics: Hiring Process, Reading Resumes