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Three Reasons Why Resumes Are Unreliable

Written by Emily Peirce

Resumes are one of the most common ways to assess job candidates.  They’re designed to boil down an applicant’s accolades and accomplishments into one, easily digestible page of information, so it makes sense that we rely on them as a critical part of the hiring process.  But do resumes really give employers the information they need to make informed hiring decisions?  We’re taking a critical look at everyone’s favorite hiring criteria and exploring what tools may be more helpful when trying to identify the right person for the job. Here are three reasons why you should start taking resumes with a grain of salt:


1.     They are often full of bad information
. Resumes are known for containing embellishments, exaggerations, and the occasional outright lie that are used to bolster the chances of securing a job. This isn’t new or groundbreaking information. In fact, one study found that 57 percent of hiring managers have found lies or embellishments on a resume.  A little “self-enhancement” is completely normal; employers expect their potential employees to put their best foot forward.  But resumes are clearly flawed in terms of providing the most accurate representation of an applicant.

2.     They can introduce unconscious bias into the hiring process. Resumes, which are typically one of the first things you use to evaluate an applicant, can unintentionally invite partiality into the hiring process.  Unconscious or implicit bias is a problem often cited as an unintended side effect of the interview process, but it’s not limited to face to face interactions.  Multiple studies have shown that unconscious bias relating to race or gender presents itself in resume evaluation, and have found that even employers with the best intentions aren’t aware that these inadvertent associations have made their way into the process. 

In one such study, researchers found that resumes with stereotypically white sounding names were 50% more likely to receive a call back than were identical resumes with stereotypically ethnic-sounding names. Such findings have prompted a hiring trend known as “blind hiring,” which often involves hiding identifying information (like names, which can sometimes signal gender or race) on a resume to help reduce instances of bias. Putting less weight on resumes and more of an emphasis on standardized and objective means of assessing a candidate helps hiring managers ensure that they haven’t unintentionally excluded or included a candidate for the wrong reason.

3.     Even when accurate, the information on resumes isn’t that helpful. Even if you could eliminate any bias and verify all the information on a resume, there are still limitations on the utility of resumes for predicting future performance.  This is partly because research has shown that previous experience in similar roles is not as predictive of future success as one would think, and also partly because even though the resume lists experience, it rarely yields reliable information about the quality of that experience. Think about resumes as a menu at a restaurant: they can effectively communicate a list of ingredients, and pique a diner’s interest, but ultimately you can’t be sure of the quality of the menu items before trying them yourself. 

 

Thankfully, there are more useful tools for actually predicting on-the-job performance.  Research consistently shows cognitive aptitude to be three times more predictive of success in a role than experience, and four times more predictive than education level, two pieces of information traditionally gathered from perusing a resume.  Being overly reliant on resumes means you’re spending a lot of time focusing on material that’s less helpful when predicting an applicant’s ability to do the job.

What’s more, by focusing on finding applicants with the perfect combination of experience on their resume, you might exclude great applicants who demonstrate strong potential in that field but haven’t yet gained the experience.  In a job market where more and more “entry level positions” require 2-5 years of experience, job seekers entering the labor force for the first time have a tough enough time being considered for a job even if they are shown to be an excellent fit by other, more telling metrics (like cognitive aptitude).

Despite their drawbacks, it’s not likely that resumes are going to disappear as a hiring tool, nor should they.  Resumes provide a necessary summary of a candidate’s previous experience and skills. But it pays to understand the weaknesses of resumes, and in the future it’s likely that they’ll start to take a backseat to more objective, predictive hiring criteria.

Emily Peirce

Written by Emily Peirce

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