The Devalued Currency of Hiring: The Resume

Feb 11, 2008

Before an interview, a recruiter reviews a resume. An impression is created before the candidate even engages. I examine a spot-on resume, but when the candidate arrives, I fail to see the connection between paper and person. Did this candidate truly accomplish what’s stated, or did he oversell to get the interview? Did the candidate actually write the document, or did he buy it from a skilled resume writer?

During the discussion, I’m not buying that the resume truly represents the candidate. This leads me to wonder if I’ve overlooked viable candidates (maybe the best candidates) because their resumes did not stand out or appeal to me personally. Maybe they didn’t know how to accurately portray themselves on paper. Maybe they couldn’t afford to engage a resume writer. Maybe their lack of knowledge in this area left the best candidates out in the cold.

Here’s a true resume story:

My friend was seeking a career change. He engaged a professional resume writer who agreed to update his resume. He secured an interview with a top 10 international company. On the plane to the company headquarters, he discovered HIS NAME WAS MISSPELLED. With no time to correct the error and arrive on time, he arrived and presented his fatally flawed resume. He did not get the job.

Fast-forward 10 years. Through another entry point, my friend won the job with the same giant, international company. He secured a face-to-face interview with a local office and was hired into the same position he pursued previously. After five years of employment, he leads the West Coast Region as the company’s top revenue producer.

In both interviews, this candidate was extremely qualified for the job. His enthusiasm was unbridled. He had a track record as a proven producer. (These points are supported by his top-notch results.) And yet, the international company missed five years of production from this gifted employee because he had an error on his resume.

The resume has always been the currency of hiring. Candidates painfully labor over their resumes or purchase professional versions to attract employers. Recruiters gather them like abundant crops. Hiring managers insist upon them and use them as their first line of defense to screen out. Since technology gives us the ability to gather resumes off the Internet by the thousands, their value has clearly decreased. The resume’s value has plummeted just like Confederate currency, which was so devalued that it was used to paper walls after the Civil War. But still, no one is willing to make a move in the hiring process without it.

Admittedly, throwing out resumes in the hiring process would be like getting rid of the U.S. dollar. I’m proposing we assign the true value of the tool and not give it over-inflated power. Having a conversation with the candidate is the only way to verify that the candidate matches the resume, or if he has hidden accomplishments and values that do not appear. As a recruiter, in my urgency to deliver swiftly, I may have interviewed the candidate, but I don’t have time to rewrite each resume. (I don’t necessarily want my passive candidate to perfect a resume.) When my screened candidate is rejected by the hiring manager solely on the basis of a resume review, what comes to mind?

5 Things a Resume Will Not Tell You

  1. Is the candidate being truthful? A Society for Human Resource Management study of 2.6 million applicants in 2003 found that 53% of their resumes contained omissions or misrepresentations. Bogus degrees and certifications, length of employment, and levels of positions held are all areas that are commonly embellished. Since a resume is not signed like an application, many candidates feel they are just stretching the truth and not breaking the law by doing this. Several states have put through legislation to punish candidates who misrepresent themselves in writing when seeking employment.
  2. Is the candidate motivated to do this job? Yes, the candidate is unquestionably qualified, but he simply doesn’t want to do the work. The candidate is seeking a new challenge.
  3. Is the candidate driven to excel? Many candidates neglect to list their accomplishments on a resume. They detail every employer, task, and duty they’ve performed. Either because of humility or lack of knowledge, they neglect to include how their efforts benefited their employers. What did they really accomplish? They can deliver the minimum expectations, but will they excel? Is this the best candidate for the position, or is it just a convenient fill?
  4. Does the candidate have good communication skills? Did he write his own resume or buy it? Does he have good, natural, or learned communication skills or did someone coach him through producing this resume (and will that coach hopefully be accompanying the candidate to the job daily)?
  5. Will the candidate fit the culture? It’s almost impossible to gauge from a resume whether a candidate will be a good fit culturally for the company and the department. In some cases, the cultural fit may be more important than the skill match.

We do need a starting point. As imperfect as resumes are, they can let us know if the candidate has basic, required qualifications (assuming the candidate is truthful). Why not use the resume to screen in instead of out? With talent pools rapidly depleting in certain areas, I need to broaden my perspective. I need to pick up the phone and screen as many qualified candidates as possible.

Once verified, I can’t let the resume speak for itself. It would benefit me and my hiring manager if I can verbally present the candidate and explain where he/she matches the position or may have to stretch. What the candidate has accomplished. How the candidate’s motivations will be satisfied in the position. How the candidate fits the culture. Why I am endorsing this candidate. I’ll push now to secure the interview. By doing this, my hiring manager gets the advantage of truly seeing the person represented by the paper. We are expediting the interview. And, the hiring manager doesn’t dismiss the very best candidates solely on the basis of their resumes.

Resumes are here to stay. You add the value to the resume. Don’t let the hiring manager discount your worth.

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