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Resumes are a Terrible Way to Select Candidates

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 3, 2020

Our search firm presents resumes to hiring managers almost every day. And on that short list of people is usually at least one resume the hiring manger would prefer to reject. In a few seconds of skimming the resume, all the hiring managers can envision is some unqualified person wasting an hour of their precious time. So rejecting the unusual resume seems like a time saver … except it’s not.

We know from experience that candidates with non-traditional resumes can be a very pleasant surprise in the interview. They are often hired, and then go on to thrive on the job. We only present candidates after we’ve already read a few hundred resumes and talked to a few dozen people. So we know what the hiring manager's options are.

So why do I say resumes are a terrible way to select the best candidate? The problem actually is not with the resume itself. The problem is that most hiring managers ask themselves the wrong question when they look at resumes. Managers ask resumes to answer the question, “Has this person already proven that they are qualified?” But a resume cannot prove anything, it can only hint at the possibility of something. Asking the wrong question eliminates too many of the most interesting candidates. Rather than saving time, it costs you time by prolonging your job vacancy.

While managers are busy eliminating people simply because they arrived at their level of competency by an unfamiliar path, we are busy asking a different question. We ask, “Could this person be qualified?” In challenging times like these, people from unexpected or nontraditional backgrounds often outperform the people who have resumes that are similar to the hiring manager's career (because you learn different things when you travel on different paths).

So if you are embarking on a career change, what can you do? First, stop hoping that your resume will tell your story, because it can't talk. Instead, you need to find someone who is willing to introduce you personally. (I know, that’s ten times harder than mailing a resume, but it works 100 times better.) When your resume is not a perfect match to the job specifications, or if you have a broad range of skills, and don’t “pigeonhole” easily, your resume has a 99 percent chance of being rejected. Few hiring managers will give your quirky resume the benefit of the doubt when 300 people have applied for the same job. The safe, easy, boring, familiar resume will have the advantage every time. Accept that fact start finding a way to get yourself introduced.

Topics: Hiring Managers, Hiring Process, Reading Resumes