What Role Should Resumes Play in Recruiting?

Corporate Recruiting, Staffing

The Harvard Business Review recently published a blog titled "Resumes Are Messing Up Hiring." The thrust of the piece is evident from its title, which may seem abrasive to many recruiters. However, there's some nuance in the argument, and may be a chance for talent acquisition professionals to assess how much they value resumes and how they interact with them during the recruitment process.

According to the HBR blog article, resumes don't really help recruiters understand candidates' skills as opposed to competencies. The difference is crucial – skills are what a candidate knows how to do, and competencies are what he or she does very well. In other words, resumes can certainly show whether a candidate is eligible for hiring, but not whether he or she is suitable. They're also not great tools for determining how the candidate would interact with the company and its workers over time.

Furthermore, even the function of resumes as keys to understanding whether a worker is qualified is outdated and unfair, according to the piece. Resumes lead to a focus on grades, universities and prior work experience. Many talented people come from backgrounds that barred them financially from upper-echelon universities, for example, or from unpaid but prestigious work-experience jobs. It's also so common as to be a truism by now that some of the best tech talent is self-taught, and can't list a degree related to their expertise, if any degree at all, on their resumes.

What's the Alternative?
Savvy recruiters already know not to rely too heavily on the resume in the hiring process. While it can be a useful screening tool – a use against which the HBR article warns – that is often as far as its usefulness goes. One role the resume tends to play in hiring is a sort of official representation of a candidate. A resume can be passed from recruiter to recruiter, and to potential future managers, in a way a candidate can't. Therefore, more first impressions are based on a resume, but at the cost of a more complete picture of the candidate.

With an applicant tracking system that allows recruiters to enter their own notes and impressions about a candidate and make them accessible to anyone who needs to see them, over-reliance on resumes during the hiring process can diminish. Instead of a piece of paper, key decision-makers can instead get a holistic picture of a candidate, compiled over time by recruiters and hiring managers. Regardless of one's feelings on resumes generally, the more complete view is likely to be preferable.