April 8, 2016

To Hire the Best, Companies Need to Move Beyond the Resume


A lot of us know this already, and yet, people are still using resumes – largely because nobody’s too clear on what should replace them. Social mediaVideosContests? All of these have been mentioned as substitutes, but they’re all kind of half-baked and only tell a partial story.

Instead, I suggest that companies rely more on third-party feedback – in essence, the candidate’s online reputation – and focus on hiring doers, not tellers.

The Problems With Resumes

If your company still relies on resumes to screen people, you’re almost certainly overlooking some of the best candidates whose resumes, for whatever reason, aren’t quite right. Maybe they didn’t put the right keyword in. Maybe they didn’t go to the right college or take the right major, but they’ve still got the skills you need.

If you rely on resumes, you’re also making yourself vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous people who lie on their resumes – or simply stretch the truth a bit.

Resumes say what a candidate can do, but “saying” isn’t the same as “showing.” Furthermore, saying something self-promotional is definitely not the same as having a validated third party – someone who knows the candidate’s work – vouch for the candidate’s skills. For these reasons, resumes are increasingly unimportant, and the sooner you move beyond them, the better.

Instead, you should focus on what really matters: What people can actually do and their reputations based on feedback from others who have worked with them, particularly when they are available online and are based on real, paid work.

Evaluating Candidate Reputations

Here’s a simple example of how online reputations are changing hiring approaches today. If you’re looking for a plumber, you probably aren’t going to request their C.V. You’re going to look on a site like Angi, where you can read reviews from actual customers.

CrumpledSimilarly, if you’re looking to hire a developer, their resume is less important than their work history. You can see a lot of a developer’s work history on code repositories like GitHub and Stack Overflow. But sometimes developers do a lot of work for personal projects or open-source projects, filling up their GitHub profiles with large volumes of work that isn’t actually vetted (and may not even be used by anyone).

Instead, you want to see what kind of work they’ve done for paying clients or employers and how well that work was received.

There’s another problem with the public repositories like GitHub and StackOverflow: They are incredibly unfair to people who can’t afford the luxury of spending a lot of time on unpaid side projects. If you have to work for a living, you may not be able to spend hours contributing to the Linux kernel or an open-source emoji-sharing platform. Your paid work needs to speak for itself.

Just as startups shouldn’t spend too much time perfecting business plans or making their websites pretty before they’ve made minimum viable products and found some people actually willing to pay for them, individuals shouldn’t spend too much time gussying up their work histories. Instead, they should identify the talents and skills they have that employers or clients want and then prove that they have those skills in the marketplace by getting someone to pay for it.

For recent college graduates, validated references and portfolios of work can help offset the age-old problem of the resume with nothing on it. In fact, universities could even help their students build portfolios of paid work by offering credit to students who undertake educational but practical projects, get paid for them, and get positive feedback from real clients.

Instead of an internship of dubious quality, what if an aspiring software engineer spent 100 hours doing paid coding work and got real, meaningful feedback on it?

Recommendations matter, particularly if they come from people you know. Some social networks are able to do this: Yelp, for instance, highlights restaurant reviews from people you’re connected to, which are way more valuable than reviews from random strangers who, for all you know, never even visited the restaurants they’re reviewing.

Paper AirplaneSimilarly, LinkedIn’s professional skill endorsements carry little weight. It’s not very meaningful when someone sees an automated suggestion and clicks a button to “endorse” a person for a random skill. The fact that a candidate has 57 “endorsements” on LinkedIn for a particular skill from people you don’t know is pretty close to worthless. But a written recommendation on LinkedIn from someone you know and trust is incredibly valuable, because it comes from a legitimate human being who took the trouble to write a few words in favor of a candidate.

Interviews Need to Go, Too

Once you’ve gone past the screening phase, there’s another part of the hiring process I’d like to phase out: The interview. Like resumes, interviews favor candidates who are good at telling their own stories. If you ask candidates to describe a challenge they faced and how they solved the problem, you’ll probably wind up hiring those who tell the best tales. In my experience, that doesn’t always correlate with doing good work.

Instead, give the most promising people an actual assignment and see how they do when they’re performing real work for an hour, a day, a week, or a month. You can pay them for the test project, especially if it requires any significant amount of time. There’s no better way to find out if someone is a good fit for your organization than by putting them to work and asking them to contribute.

In short, it’s time to stop hiring people based on what they say they can do. You should be hiring doers, not tellers. Moving beyond the resume is a critical first step in doing so.

Read more in Resume

As CEO of Upwork, Stephane Kasriel is driving the company’s vision of connecting businesses with talent faster than ever. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., with offices in San Francisco and Oslo, Norway.