Are Your Resumes Valid?

We know the quality and accuracy of information in resumes is very suspect, often full of outright lies. So why is it that we put so much emphasis on the resume for evaluating candidates? The quality of information used for candidate evaluation has a direct relationship to the quality of a hiring decision.

Staffing professionals often inquire about the validity of an assessment before considering its use in a recruiting process. Why is it that the same question is not asked about using resumes in the recruiting process? A resume is a data source that’s used to make decisions about a candidate. Assessment results are a data source used to make decisions about a candidate. Which data is more reliable, more objective, and more accurate at predicting success on the job?

In the tradition of assessments, the candidate often completes the assessment under supervision, works without the assistance of others, and often performs with limited resources under time pressure. The outcome is an objective description of one or more characteristics about an individual. In the tradition of resumes, quite the opposite is true.

Present business culture encourages the use of assistance in drafting a resume. Paid professionals are engaged to craft the message in an oh-so-appropriate manner. The document is completed in an unsupervised setting and evolves over lengthy periods of time based upon receiving the editorial assistance from many.

And with the high probability of being scrutinized by a word-search engine, keywords carefully punctuate each work experience. After all this effort, who and what does the resume actually describe?

Resume-based candidate evaluation relies heavily upon a document that, by design, misrepresents the individual we seek to know. Assessment-based candidate evaluation, on the other hand, relies heavily upon obtaining data about an individual in a manner that reduces or eliminates misrepresentation.

Research Results

There’s 85-plus years of research documenting both best practices and the value assessments can bring to the recruiting process. Recent research from a variety of sources has documented the degree of inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and bold-faced lies individuals weave into their resumes.

Jude Werra of Jude M. Werra and Associates has been publishing a Liars Index for over 10 years, based upon his firm?s personal experience verifying resume assertions. Yet in spite of all this, the resume is still at the core of parsing candidates into yes and no piles. Why?

At a recent conference presentation on using assessments, a participant asked, “How do you tell a candidate that they didn’t advance because of their assessment results?” The presenter gave a sound response, yet it lacked a simple truth.

The answer should be the same as how you inform a candidate she or he did not advance due to their resume results.

“After a review of the information submitted by you and all of the other candidates, we advanced those candidates identified to be the most qualified for the job requirements.”

If there’s concern about openly discussing assessment results with a candidate, then the quality and job relevance of the assessment comes into question. Why do we feel squeamish about explaining the results of objective evaluation, yet have no qualms about dealing with the results of the subjective evaluation?

Request vs. Submission

An assessment is a standardized request for information from the candidate. The request is exactly the same for each candidate: fair, consistent, and reliable. You get what you ask for.

A resume is an unpredictable submission of information (some fact, some fiction) by the candidate: biased, inconsistent, and unreliable. You get what they want to share.

The use of assessments requires education, discipline, and process controls to achieve meaningful results. The use of resumes is implemented with few standards, little-to-no education or training, and typically produces variable evaluation results. The heavy reliance on candidate evaluation methods that require little discipline may be one of the reasons some people find it easy to hate HR.

Measurement Discipline

Validation is a measurement and analysis procedure that documents the relationships between evaluation methods, quality of hire, and the fairness of the hiring process. This disciplined and analytical process isn’t possible with resume-based decision-making. The return on investment from using objective candidate evaluation can be calculated. Only those who engage in the disciplined approach of measurement-based candidate evaluation, however, have the data to calculate ROI. A look at the evidence is compelling.

Article Continues Below

Six Sigma is a measurement discipline used to reduce variation in a process and increase yield. At its essence, assessment is a measurement system for a business process called staffing. Assessment can be implemented much like Six Sigma. The first step in considering the value of investing in a measurement discipline for your staffing process is to collect some data and examine the scope of your current variation and yield.

In other words, your current process hired your superstars and your bottom performers. A simple analysis will show you the impact that bottom performers have on your overall results.

Pareto Analysis

The 80/20 view of performance is a fast and effective method of exploring performance variation. Here are some suggestions to complete this analysis on one of your hiring populations.

Identify a job or job family with the following criteria:

  1. One of the largest job families in the company.
  2. Some form of objective performance data is available on people in the job (productivity, sales, accuracy, attendance, first-time repair, first-call resolution, safety, training results, etc.).

Obtain the performance data. Set up the data in a spreadsheet. Names are not needed. Place each performance metric into its own column and sort it into a top-down rank order.

Conduct the following calculations.

  • Calculate the average of each performance metric.
  • Calculate the average of the top 80% for each performance metric.
  • Calculate the average of the bottom 20% for each performance metric.

Examine the results and ask:

  • Is the variation between the top 80% and bottom 20% having a significant impact on overall productivity?
  • How would hiring more candidates like your top 80% impact the achievement of your performance objectives?
  • What part of your current candidate evaluation process should be preventing or minimizing the likelihood of hiring people like your bottom 20% performers?

Your response to these questions describes the variation, yield, and impact from your current candidate evaluation process. Your opportunity is to reduce low-end variation or to stop hiring candidates who become your bottom 20%. This can be done with more objective candidate evaluation methods.

Reducing the range of performance variation and improving the yield of your staffing process is one of the highest ROI projects you can initiate.

Begin by exploring your options for a method of predicting job performance that is backed up with a validation analysis. An excellent first step in this direction is to go to your nearest college or university that has a psychology department offering courses in tests and measures. Speak to the professor and consider taking a few of the courses.

Another option is to contract with or hire an I/O psychologist. Learn what a validation analysis really is and put yourself in a good position to say, “Our candidate evaluation method is valid.”

Joseph P. Murphy is a principal and vice president of Shaker Consulting Group, Inc. Shaker Consulting Group is a pioneer in on-line candidate evaluation and developers of the Virtual Job Tryout(TM). His work focuses on helping organization hire high caliber talent, improve the online candidate experience, and put clear useful tools into the hands of recruiters and hiring managers. His focus is increasing the objectivity of candidate evaluation practices and documenting performance gains through better use of metrics. Contact him at joe.murphy@shakercg.com, including about his SHRM White Paper: "Use of Objective Candidate Evaluation Methods."

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6 Comments on “Are Your Resumes Valid?

  1. Joe – great post as always. Why do resumes continue to be so popular and un-questioned (at least not seriously questioned)? Because they’re easy. They require no actual work on the part of the organization other than a review/fortune-telling exercise. Mention ‘test’ and people get all squirrely and expect the EEOC/DOJ to show up on their doorstep. Hopefully your post will serve to remind folks it’s all one big assessment, whether you want to call it that or not.

  2. A resume is a marketing document. I hope that any serious hiring manager would not take a resume at face value – they are useful for evaluating past experience and determining if it is appropriate for the current position.

    Look at other forms of marketing communication – an advertisement for a car. If you are looking for a large family car, viewing an advertisement gives you a general sense about the fitness of a particular model for your purpose.

    You still have to research reliability history, see if you ‘fit’, pour over the various features and options and determine if the vehicle is suitable.

    If I applied the thinking in this article, I would spend my time trying to test the validity of the images put forth in various car commercials on TV.

    ‘Yes Mr. Automobile Candidate, your marketing material suggests that you are able to ‘zoom zoom’ more than your competitors…we have been unable to verify this claim…’

    What I noticed is that this whole blog article is essentially marketing communication and very little ‘documentation’ is provided to support the claims:

    ‘We know the quality and accuracy of information in resumes is very suspect, often full of outright lies.’

    (Danger! – buy our product)

    ‘The quality of information used for candidate evaluation has a direct relationship to the quality of a hiring decision.’

    (Uncertainty! – buy our product)

    ‘…the candidate often completes the assessment under supervision, works without the assistance of others, and often performs with limited resources under time pressure. The outcome is an objective description of one or more characteristics about an individual.’

    (Security ahead – if you buy our product!)

    ‘Recent research from a variety of sources has documented the degree of inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and bold-faced lies individuals weave into their resumes.’

    (Research is always impartial and is so reliable it never need be cited – buy our product!)

    Oh, and lets not get into the massive FUD proffered by the author. The hiring process is fraught with peril! Your instincts, experience, training – heck, even the most fundamental tool used to screen applicants – none of it can be TRUSTED!

    (Buy our product)

    There is some preliminary research that suggests that many businesses will soon fail, people will lose their jobs and with in the next year, millions of people will DIE!.

    Unless you buy my product.

  3. Recruiters use resumes to put candidates into Yes and No piles. What is the probability two recruiters would sort the resumes the same way?

    A scorable questionnaire, (available on most ATS/CRMs) can obtain more job relevant information about a candidate, simplify the front end of the process for the candidate and treat each candidate in a fair and consistent manner.

    However, in a 2005 survey I conducted with SHRM shows only 13% of companies use scorable applications and a mere 23% use knock out questionnaires. Making better use of available in-house technology is critical to conduct objective process improvement, based upon data. According to the research conducted by Dr. Charles Handler and published here on ERE, 71% of companies with over 51 employees have an ATS, the rate of usage goes up to 100% of companies with more than 5,000 employees. (Maybe it?s a call to use the products already owned?)

    Resumes still provide data, however it comes in a form that can not support analytics. Without analytics, there is a strong reliance on subjective approaches and trial and error based process improvement. This is slow, costly and inconsistent. With a process based upon analytics, process improvement can be trial and success, supported with evidence and correlated to financial impact. Give me the later any day.

    Maybe it is a lesson from Ralph Nader. He was less concerned with how fast a car goes from 0 to 60 and more concerned with how fast it goes from 60 to zero. It easy to swayed by glossy data that might not be the most important criteria.

    Since there seems to be interest in sources and cites, here are a few to consider reading, and that support the assertions and recommendations in my article.

    The first cite (Ryes, Colbert, Brown) contains research on HR practitioner’s knowledge of known best practices. Participants in the survey scored below 50% correct on 7 of the 9 questions regarding recruiting practices. While the resume is not dead, the knowledge about alternatives that are more effective tools is still gravely lacking. (Maybe it?s a call to let go of old and less effective practices?)

    1. Ryes, Colbert, Brown (2002) HR Professionals Beliefs about Effective Human Resource Management Practices. Human Resource Management, 41, no 2 (2002): 149-174

    2. Schmidt, Frank L., Hunter, John E. ?The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings? Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol. 124, No. 2, 262-274

    3. Eichinger, Robert, W. Lombardo, Michael, M and Ulrich, Dave. 100 Things You Should Know: Best People Practices for Managers and HR; Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc. 2004

    4. Murphy, Joseph, P. ?The Use of Objective Candidate Evaluation Methods: SHRM White Paper, 2006. http://www.shrm.org

    5. Becker, Brian. Beatty, Richard. Huselid, Brian. The Workforce Scorecard; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2006

    6. Burkholder, Nicholas, Golas, Scott, Shapiro, Jeremy. Ultimate Performance: Measuring Human Resources at Work; Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, 2007

    7. Conway, Susan. The Think Factory; Managing Today?s Most Precious Resource ? People! Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, 2007

  4. I agree with the previous comments. This article is total spin..with the underlying premise being that resumes cannot be used as the exclusive tool to assess candidates for hire. Any first year recruiter knows that. A resume is a career marketing tool It is written for the audience…the recruiter…and its sole function is to get the candidate a phone screen or personal interview. If the resume is a bald- faced lie…everyone loses. The candidate is made out to be lying idiot and the recruiter wasts valuable recruiting time. Thus,resume, while they may be a stretch..are very seldom complete lies. As for assessment, it can have a place in the selection process if the tool and the process are not too costly, time consuming and administratively cumbersome. Most are. Recruiting moves quickly.

  5. ERE asked that I remove my cites. This is not a forum for academic exchange. But since there seems to be interest in source, below are a few to consider reading, and that support the assertions and recommendations in my article.

    1. Ryes, Colbert, Brown (2002) HR Professionals Beliefs about Effective Human Resource Management Practices. Human Resource Management, 41, no 2 (2002): 149-174

    2. Schmidt, Frank L., Hunter, John E. ?The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 85 Years of Research Findings? Psychological Bulletin 1998, Vol. 124, No. 2, 262-274

    3. Eichinger, Robert, W. Lombardo, Michael, M and Ulrich, Dave. 100 Things You Should Know: Best People Practices for Managers and HR; Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited, Inc. 2004

    4. Murphy, Joseph, P. ?The Use of Objective Candidate Evaluation Methods: SHRM White Paper, 2006. http://www.shrm.org

    5. Becker, Brian. Beatty, Richard. Huselid, Brian. The Workforce Scorecard; Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2006

    6. Burkholder, Nicholas, Golas, Scott, Shapiro, Jeremy. Ultimate Performance: Measuring Human Resources at Work; Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, 2007

    7. Conway, Susan. The Think Factory; Managing Today?s Most Precious Resource ? People! Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley and Sons, 2007

  6. Great article with insightful information by Joe, but I have to agree with some of the previous posters who acknowledge that a resume is in fact a sales tool used to pique the interest of a recruiter or hiring manager. Of course people lie on their resumes. Our research shows a 56% discrepancy ratio between what a candidate reports and what past employers and educational institutions reveal. Are they always bold faced lies? No. But the reviewer of the resume knows this going into it.

    Now, once the candidate has gotten your attention of course other factors should be considered. Assessments, employment and education verifications and background checks can all be helpful tools in evaluating candidates. The key here is that there are many options employers can use for thorough examination and assessments are just one of them.

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