Is It Time to Kill the Resume?

The resume is a formality in the job-seeking process that is best loved by hucksters. It’s a chance for a little-accomplished person to make himself sound much greater than his true size. I know, of course, because, like most in the job market, I’ve played that game before.

I would add a year or two (or three) to the tag line at the top of resume, saying, for instance, “an editor with a dozen years of experience,” when, in reality, I may have had just 10, or would write of my technological “expertise” in online content management, when, in reality, my skills didn’t go further than copying and pasting existing HTML code into the right places.

You don’t need to be a savvy Human Resources executive, or hiring manager, to know that everyone truly does lie on their resume—that’s not an exaggeration. So, why do we keep using resumes as the gateway to a job interview and new job? Is there a better way?

That’s a question that was posed in New York Magazine in a piece from last year, “Kill the Cover Letter and Resume” by Jesse Singal, who notes the ineffectiveness of resumes, along with the biased way they are interpreted. She points out, for instance, that studies have shown that if the resume has a “black-sounding” name at the top of it, it has less chance of resulting in a call to the applicant, than resumes with “white-sounding” names.

Other snap judgments are made, too. Singal says those who did not attend a famous or prestigious university also often are passed over for another resume with a fancier-sounding school listed. As a person who came out of college applying for jobs in New York City with the University of Alabama listed as her school, I can sympathize. I wondered at the time why I wasn’t receiving that many calls. I suspected my college had something to do with it. So now I know it probably wasn’t my imagination.

In addition, there are other silly things that can throw off a company from calling in a great applicant. Here’s another one that probably gave me more trouble than I knew: my e-mail address after graduate school. When I had no luck finding the kind of job I wanted after college, I decided promptly to attend graduate school at the University of Florida. The school, I suppose, is slightly more prestigious than the University of Alabama, and it may have been to my credit that I had a graduate degree, if I hadn’t decided to call myself “Moonsense1” on AOL.

My logic was that anyone can have common sense, but that it took a truly special person to have moonsense. I forgot that, in addition to being beautiful and mystical, the moon also has long been associated with lunacy (actually, that’s where the word, “lunatic,” comes from). How many hiring managers saw at the top of my resume, under my address and phone number, and decided they would take a pass? Would you give Moonsense a chance?

Lesson learned, I now have a run-of-the-mill gmail address. Not nearly as creative, but also not hiring manager repellent, either. What kinds of quick judgments have you made after scanning an applicant’s resume? Is there a specific method or protocol that trainers could teach managers to use in reviewing resumes?

With all the online technology available today, we could get rid of the resume entirely, and request instead that applicants just audition or try out for the job. For instance, when I applied to my current job as a manager of a health trade publication Website, I was asked to review the old site and give my recommendations for making it better. Initially, the hiring manager just wanted my resume and an in-person interview. It wasn’t until the end of that interview that he asked me if I’d prepare a review of the site with suggestions for improvement. What if, instead of asking for my resume at all, he just asked for the Website review? He could have asked every applicant for the Website review right off the bat, rather than having each person submit a resume, and then having some come in for an interview.

Doing it that way instead would ensure only those very interested in the position would apply, and that the people with the best ideas—rather than the best resumes—were asked for an interview. It would reverse the decision-making process, so that first ability and ideas would be ascertained, and then, second, personality and background. It’s essential to feel you are hiring someone you like, but you don’t want to be lulled into hiring a person with a great personality, but few technical skills or substance. Having applicants first send in a sample piece of work, rather than a resume, would trim the pool of applicants you ask into your office to only those you already know for sure can do the work.

How can your company change its use of resumes so the best pool of applicants—rather than the ones with the best resumes—ends up on your payroll?

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