Where Do Resumes Come From, and Should We Still Use Them? (Part 1 of 3)

attract more candidates

Hiring is hard, and unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a silver bullet – a single tool that makes hiring simple. Despite that fact, many recruiters and staffing professionals see resumes as something close to it.

Resumes can tend to be regarded as holy texts within the industry – omnipotent pieces of paper that tell us everything we need to know about a candidate, and which grant us the power to make instant and sweeping judgments across our talent pool.

In this three-part series, we’ll be investigating exactly what a resume is and isn’t capable of, and where it fits into the modern hiring process, if indeed it fits at all.

But before we look at where we are, how exactly did we get here?

Where do resumes come from?

The resume, or curriculum vitae (CV), has a long and storied history and has morphed a great deal over the years.

  • 1482: Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing the first professional resume at age 30 (and the translation is more than worth a read.)
  • 1930-1940: Resumes were functional formalities that included height, weight, age, and religion. They were often used by employers to identify those who weren’t physically able to tackle hard labor, and they tended to facilitate bias in the hiring process.
  • 1950-1960: Resumes became an expected document for a jobseeker to submit, and began to paint a more detailed picture of the potential hire, including their interests beyond work.
  • 1970: Thanks to the invention of the word processor, resumes became more professional and far easier to produce.
  • Mid-90s: As personal computers hit the mainstream and the internet was made publicly available, Microsoft Office and platforms like Monster and CareerBuilder begin to digitize resumes and the hiring process.
  • Mid-00s: As internet connections became faster, video resumes began to be introduced, adding further color to the picture a jobseeker could paint of themselves.
  • Late-00s: Through LinkedIn and other social media platforms, jobseekers began to develop online footprints and personal brands. As a consequence, employers began to screen candidates using Google.
  • Today: Fast-forward to today, and jobseekers now know that their online presence can do much of the talking for them. Resumes are shorter, and as they’re rarely printed out, many now include multimedia.

From a 15th century letter written on a whim, through a pragmatic description of your physical state, to a holistic, impactful, and fun description of what you can bring to a company, the resume has evolved a lot over the years.

The same can be said of the hiring process, and its evolution is part of the reason why resumes perhaps aren’t the be-all and end-all that they once were.

Resumes alone cannot determine hiring potential

In the early 20th century, when America was a manufacturing economy, the overwhelming majority of jobs were physical, low-skilled, and low paid. It made sense that you’d want to know the height, weight, and age of jobseekers, as working in the factory, on the production line, or out in the oil fields was hard toil.

As we have developed from a manufacturing economy into a service economy, our standard of living and working has increased. In these days of employer branding, flexible working, and company culture, most employers are looking for a deeper understanding of potential employees. Unfortunately, many employers and staffing professionals haven’t evolved their hiring process in step with the new demands of the job landscape.

“You’re not hiring a piece of paper, you’re hiring a person,” says Kelly Boykin, Senior Vice President of Global Alliances. “Most people aren’t very good at writing resumes. They’re not great at telling their own story, highlighting their own successes, their own strengths and weaknesses.”

The fact is, it’s difficult to capture a complex human on a piece of paper in a way that does them justice. How do describe their grit, their motivation, their personality, and potential on a single sheet of A4?

In most cases, resumes are relied upon too heavily, with a wealth of potential candidates screened out for reasons that aren’t particularly related to the job at hand.

Most staffing professionals are in the people business because we love dealing with people. It feels a little ironic that we struggle to look beyond this piece of paper, and through to the human that hands it to us.

Maximum effort, minimum reward

On the jobseeker side, it’s incredible how much time and effort can be poured into such a short document. While it might only be a page or two long, most candidates will have spent hours and hours wordsmithing, beautifying, and refining their resume, in the hope that a cleverly chosen term or impactful design choice will help them to stand out from the crowd.

And then the resume gets into the hands of an employer or recruiter, who, according to research by Indeed, will spend an average of six to seven seconds looking at it. All those hours scouring the thesaurus for the most impressive synonyms, and 80% of the time the recruiter or employer will focus exclusively on your name, your academic information, and your previous title.

The situation is made worse by the fact that these little tidbits of information don’t have much to do with a candidate’s potential success in a role, and suggest more than a little unconscious bias. Candidates with Asian surnames – long described as America’s ‘model minority’, for better or worse – were found to be 28% less likely to get an interview call back when compared to candidates with Anglo-Saxon names.

While the look of resumes has changed a lot since the 1930s, the way they are used may not be all that different.

What does a world without resumes look like?

Imagine it: a world in which the word ‘resume’ simply means to continue after a pause or interruption. For Amelia Nickerson, CEO of First Step Staffing, no imagination is needed, as her non-profit organization has a strict no resume policy.

“More than 70 million Americans have a criminal background – that’s over a third of our population. A large portion of them are excellent workers, but their past forms a barrier to employment. In our business we actively recruit from homeless shelters, we work with probation officers, I speak to people coming out of prison.

“If we required resumes, we would lose the vast majority of those individuals; they wouldn’t know how to write it, they wouldn’t have information to put on it, and there would be a certain level of shame attached to these failures. In our case, resumes aren’t helpful and aren’t needed, and that’s the case for a lot of jobs in a lot of industries.”

Nickerson clarifies that she is in a rather unique situation. “We’re hiring for entry-level and middle-skilled positions – we’re not looking for an MBA graduate,” she explains. It’s also true that First Step Staffing’s clients understand that resumes aren’t a part of the process from the outset, so there’s no client-side pressure to supply them.

So, if there are no resumes, how do First Step Staffing and its clients get a sense of who they want to employ?

“Our hiring process involves an in-person orientation that takes about two hours, so we can see a candidate’s willingness and readiness to work. Many have been out of the workforce for a substantial period of time, often through no fault of their own. The in-person conversations are a chance to understand their motivation, their willingness to learn, the challenges they might face, and where their head is at. We glean a lot from these conversations that you can’t get from a piece of paper.”

It’s undoubtedly a unique situation, but the results are quite stunning. Candidates tend to start working within 48-72 hours of connecting with the company, and despite their often troubled pasts, over three-quarters are still at work after 90 days.

What are resumes good for?

Between the potential bias that resumes seem to facilitate and the no-resume success of organizations like First Step Staffing, it might be tempting to think that our collective future is 100% CV-free.

But in part two of this three-part series, we’ll be talking about why resumes still have an important role to play in the hiring process; it’s just a matter of knowing exactly what that role is.

Subscribe to our Staffing Blog to stay tuned for part two!

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