The Problem With Resume Screening — and How You Can Fix It

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Through countless rewrites, keyword-stuffing, and sweating over the exact alignment of bulleted lists, candidates struggle to create the ultimate resume that will catch the reader’s attention and keep them from landing in the hiring manager’s wastebasket.

In my opinion, they needn’t bother. In fact, I believe every resume belongs in the bin.

Why? Because resumes don’t predict job performance.

What exactly do you learn from a resume? Candidates use these highly formulaic documents to outline their education, employment history, skill set, and statistics to boast of their achievements. Relying on resumes in your recruitment process requires you to make several dangerous assumptions, including:

  1. If the candidate has attended a prestigious university, they will be great at the job I need them to do.
  2. If the candidate has worked for Company X, they will perform well at my company.
  3. If the candidate has achieved X in the past, they will be able to do Y at my company.
  4. The resume is well-written, so the candidate has great communication skills.
  5. The candidate is telling the truth.

Ultimately, resumes only provide background, and background isn’t enough to make a good decision when the cost of replacing a bad hire can be as much as twice the employee’s annual salary.

Resumes Perpetuate Bias

Unfortunately, most resumes contain several pieces of information that can perpetuate bias in the reader : The candidate is female. Her name looks difficult to pronounce. If she finished her degree 25 years ago, she must be a certain age. She lives in a rough neighborhood. I’ve never heard of that university.

We know that it’s much harder for students from lower-income households to access elite colleges and universities. Favoring applicants from top tertiary institutions means your organization, intentionally or not, hires for privilege. Other research shows employers tend, intentionally or not, to favor privileged male applicants over their female counterparts.

Ideally, readers of resumes should ignore or discount details that could cloud their judgment like this, but doing so is not that simple. Bias can happen even when you approach a resume with the best of intentions. It’s human to carry preconceived notions based on past experiences, but that doesn’t mean those notions are helping you hire great talent.

The easiest way to remove bias from the recruiting process is also infinitely more effective than trying to train away human nature: remove all potentially biasing information from the screening process. Yes, that could mean removing resumes altogether.

Automated Resume Screening Often Passes Over Top Candidates

Automated resume screening is used in high-volume situations where companies deal with hundreds or even thousands of applications. Typically, resumes are scanned by software that searches for relevant keywords. Resumes that contain those keywords make it to the next round, while the rest are discarded.

The problem with this approach is that it screens people out rather than screening them in. As a result, many highly skilled candidates are overlooked because they didn’t include a keyword or two. Worse yet, the screening software may have simply misread their resume. The screening software’s sorting algorithm may even be based on false assumptions, such as that academic background is an effective predictor of future job performance.

Replace Resume Screening With Skills Testing

You wouldn’t hire a chef for your five-star restaurant without first asking them to cook a meal. You wouldn’t draft a new quarterback for your football team without first seeing them play on the field. You certainly wouldn’t hire a chef or quarterback simply because they said they were great at the role in the past. Why do so companies hire candidates without first testing their skills?

Resumes have had their day. If you want to remove bias from the equation and hire based on performance, not background, then it’s time to bin the resume in favor of skills testing.

Skills testing makes just about every detail listed on a typical resume irrelevant. Where did the candidate study? It doesn’t matter. What companies have they worked for in the past? Irrelevant. All that matters is how well they can utilize a specific set of skills required for the role. This could include job-specific skills like graphic design and coding or soft skills like communication and attention to detail.

In high-volume hiring, skills testing will help you quickly surface the most qualified candidates based on how they perform challenges specific to your business. This means that if you receive 1000 applications, they will be ranked from 1 to 1000 without anyone being screened out. From there, the hiring manager can short-list the top performers with confidence.

And skills testing can also eliminate bias from the early stages of the screening process. Skills tests should rank candidates based only on performance, with no regard for background factors such as name, gender, or employment history. Bias may creep into the face-to-face interview stage, but by that point, the interviewer will know with confidence that they are speaking to the most qualified performer of the job, even if they are unconsciously surprised by their appearance.

Omer Molad is the cofounder and CEO at Vervoe.

By Omer Molad