Resumés are Unreliable

In the past week, we got another high profile reminder of just how widespread the problem of “resumé-enhancement” has become. Yahoo’s latest CEO Scott Thompson is now under fire because his resumé incorrectly states that he holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, when in fact his degree is in Accounting. This disclosure is only the latest instance of a high profile executive being damaged by inaccuracies or exaggerations in his or her resumé.

The remarkable part of this latest episode of resumé padding is that it went undiscovered for so long. Not only did the search committee at Yahoo not notice the mistake, but apparently neither did his previous employers (including PayPal).  While it’s hard to imagine how a company could fail to verify the basic facts of a prospective CEO’s biography, the underlying issue with this story is that it highlights just how problematic resumés are as information-gathering devices for employers.

This is because resumés are pieces of content generated by candidates to present themselves in the best possible light. When a candidate crosses the line from embellishment to prevarication, the misinformation usually goes uncorrected because it’s difficult for a company to verify every detail in a resumé. Because reviewing a resumé for a candidate usually happens near the top of the hiring funnel, it’s impractical and time-consuming to follow up on every fact in every resumé that a company receives.

Given how unreliable resumés are (and how ineffective they are as predictors of job performance, as many studies have shown) it’s surprising how much attention they still receive. But thankfully this is an area where pre-employment testing can help; by gathering objective, verifiable data on candidates early in the hiring process, tests can help hiring managers filter through large applicant pools, and allow them to spend more time reviewing (and verifying) resumé information for the candidates who seem to be the best fit.