“Change Who Recruits, Don’t Ban Resumes”

On February 21st, Lou Adler posted the following on Linked In. It generated a lot of interest, including my own comment at the end of this blog.

“On why we should ban resumes!”

see http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130221192310-15454-why-we-should-ban-resumes?trk=eml-mktg-condig-0108-p1

The idea of matching someone’s skills and experience on a resume to a job description consisting of an arbitrary list of skills and experiences seems rather archaic to me. Some people actually defend doing this faster as a major advance in modern HR practices.

In a recent post, I suggested that a better first step was a candidate being referred to a recruiter or hiring manager by someone already in the company, a vendor, a customer, or someone who can personally vouch for the job-seeker based on the person’s past performance. This is equivalent to using the company employee referral program to proactively seek out more top performers. Most companies recognize this as one of their best sources for new talent and the primary reason why referral programs are being expanded using tools like LinkedIn. Promoting people through internal mobility is also based on the tried and true concept that performance is more important than experience.

In my new book, I suggest that the process used for internal promotions represents a good model for finding and hiring people from the outside. Adopting this approach involves eliminating traditional skills-infested job descriptions, replacing them with performance profiles, and reconfiguring the box-checking first step.
Due to the “radical” nature of this proposal I asked David Goldstein a senior attorney with Littler Mendelson, a highly respected U.S. labor law firm, for his legal perspective. His white paper is now available. Here’s his opening statement:

Because the Performance-based Hiring system does differ from traditional recruiting and hiring processes, questions arise as to whether employers can adopt Performance-based Hiring and still comply with the complex array of statutes, regulations, and common law principals that regulate the workplace. The answer is yes.

In particular:
A properly prepared performance profile can identify and document the essential functions of a job better than traditional position descriptions, facilitating the reasonable accommodation of disabilities and making it easier to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.

In the book, I also suggested that the standard “submit resume and box-check skills” approach should be replaced by an initial matching process that didn’t inadvertently eliminate fully-qualified people. One idea was to have candidates submit a one-page summary of two accomplishments most comparable to the real requirements of the job. Since the job postings I recommend minimize skills and emphasize opportunities and challenges (sample), this is pretty straight-forward. For example, if you’re hiring a maintenance supervisor to minimize machine downtime and upgrade the team, ask all applicants to describe something they’ve done in each area as the first step. This will minimize the pool of unqualified people from applying and broaden the pool of the most qualified who might have a different mix of skills and experiences. David gave a legal thumbs-up to both the creative advertising idea and the alternate approach for applying.
Coincidently, in the past few days two different starts-up companies approached me to consider being on their advisory boards. Both had far different and unique ideas on how to broaden the pool of potential candidates by breaking the same nonsensical skills-matching process described here. The common idea: the best people aren’t interested in lateral transfers, the best people often have a different skill-set, and these same people aren’t interested in enduring the insensitive application process. Excluding the most talented people from consideration when hiring from the outside never made sense me. It’s exciting to see some technical advances being proposed to now do this at scale.

If you follow my posts, you know I’m on a quest to change the focus on finding and hiring people to one based on their actual performance – they’re ability to deliver comparable results. It’s what people have accomplished with their skills and experiences that matters, not their accumulation. This opens up the door to a whole new pool of more diverse, younger, older, military veterans, displaced workers and the physically challenged. We don’t have as big a skills gap as the national media contends, we have a bigger thinking gap.
Lou Adler (@LouA) is the Amazon best-selling author of Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007) and the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! His latest book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, is now available as an Amazon Kindle eBook.


My Response:

Change Who Recruits, Don’t Ban Resumes

Well, how intriguing, I am about to both somewhat agree and profoundly disagree with Lou Adler, a man whose writings I deeply respect.

I think that he probably used the word ban to provoke dialogue. He certainly succeeded – 411 comments at my last count. A quick scan of the comments – they seem to break into two camps – folks who agree and folks who don’t. But both groups seems to me to miss one of the key points.

Resumes are tools. Tools serve a purpose. But if you have only one tool in your took kit, then you then to see everything in terms of that tool. I don’t. I use a bunch of tools as a recruiter.. A resume is just one.

When I use a resume, I treat as a tool to make a crucial decision – will I choose to invest more time in getting to know this person well enough to make sound decisions about their status as a potential candidate. How I use the resume is all about me and my decision making process, not about the quality of the match between the candidate and the job.

I can make a first scan “no –I will not invest more time in this person – decision” in about 10 seconds. I have probably read 10,000 plus resumes during my career as a recruiter and as a hiring manager. Of these two, reading them as a hiring manager is of far more importance. A people manager, I have had to deal with the consequences of the hiring decisions that I made (hundreds plus) – including the bad hires that I made. Doing performance reviews at 3 months and 12 months point has shown me that I made more than 1 bad hire decision over the years – maybe about 10% of my total hires were “not the best” looking back. A few were outright disasters, for me, the person that I hired, and the organization for which I was working. That means that I read resumes with a very different set of eyes that 95% of the professional recruiters with whom I have, and do, work.

Here are some thoughts about how I use a resume as a tool in my recruiting – hiring decision making process.

1. If we could count on resumes as being written by the people whom they profile – i.e. as personal expressions – they would be a kind of performance piece. I still read them this way – how well does this person do at the job of presenting oneself in a world where it is tough to use this limited tool to stand out – to differentiate yourself?

Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, more and more (almost all now) of the resumes that I read are written by “resume writing professionals” or based on a “format” that is available in a book. I always ask the folks I invest more time in “Did you write this? Did you follow a format that something else recommended?” The answer is almost always yes. Given this fact, in my opinion, resume still work as a “first scan tool”, but that is about all.

2. Everyone practices resume inflation. A resume is a marketing document. You write it (or have it written) to make yourself look good. I read them now (in about 30 seconds) to answer ONLY three initial questions for myself.

• Has this person invested enough time into this resume (or cover letter) to indicate that the individual is motivated to want this job – to adapt the first way they present themselves to me in a way that reflects what I have communicated about the job, or is this a “one size fits all piece”?

• Are there enough facts in this resume here that indicate that this person has a hope of having some past experience that indicates that they either have relevant skills or RELEVANT POTENTIAL to be a person I want to invest more time in getting to know on this recruitment?

• If I should decide to invest more time in this person as a possible candidate, what “past accomplishment or performance” looks likely to be a good one that I could use to explore in depth through dialogue with the person to get a better sense of who this person was when she or her was doing this accomplishment?

That is what I use a resume for. I don’t use “key word matching” algorithms. The information they generate is about words on paper, not about people who can potentially do a job.

I don’t make hiring / candidate recommendation decisions on the basis of resumes. I make “explore deeper decisions”. I believe that resumes, even given the way they are generated today still serve a “good enough purpose” to do that, provided the recruiter AND hiring decision maker also has some or all the tools that Lou recommends in his performance based hiring writings (or similar tools) in his or her tool kit.

If I were to make one change in the recruiting process (and I do so in my own firm), it would have to do with recruiters, not resumes. I would never assign a person to a recruiting role until they have had experience with managing people on-the-job, high performers, average performers and poor performers.

You can teach people recruiting techniques, including skills which help them understand the performance requirements of the job, and deep interview skills in a reasonable period of time. But you can’t generate the mature people judgment capability you need in a high quality recruiter in a reasonable period. You can only search for, select and deploy it. I believe that this will make far more difference to the quality of recruiting that banning resumes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: