Screening vs. Resumes: What Will Be the Weakest Link?

The other day I was thinking about the evolution of the online job searching and hiring process, and the thought occurred to me that the efficiency to be gained from any such system is only as strong as its weakest link. I am sure that many of us who are currently working in various aspects of the online hiring process (i.e., recruiting, candidate management, HRIS integration, online screening and assessment) have identified our own personal weakest link and are working to strengthen it. This article is dedicated to discussing my personal opinion of the weakest link in the online hiring process: the use of the resume as the primary currency in the online transaction between job seeker and employer. The Evolution of the Online Hiring Process The present state of evolution in the online hiring process can be viewed as having three major phases. I like to refer to these phases as the “providing” phase, the “processing” phase, and the “prediction” phase. A quick summary of each of these phases will help to provide a clear understanding of why I feel the resume is the weakest link in the online hiring process.

  1. The providing phase. The evolution of online hiring began with the idea of using the web as a talent marketplace. During this early phase of evolution the focus was on using the web as a tool for providing information about candidates. The focus of the entire industry was on the new found ability to provide hiring managers and recruiters with viable job candidates from responses to online job postings and from the process of harvesting resumes from the web. In this phase all metrics of success seemed to focus on the sheer number of resumes collected. All that seemed to matter was the establishment of a resume pipeline. This mentality soon caused problems though, because the tools for processing the raw materials flowing through these pipelines were insufficient.
  2. The processing phase. As the idea of the online job board started to catch on another trend soon became clear: information overload. The resume collection frenzy resulted in the second major evolutionary phase, the need to develop new systems that were capable of processing the data that was being collected. This phase of evolution began with the creation of systems devoted to ensuring that all the information pouring in from the web was dealt with in a way that rendered it useful. The main problem with processing systems is that, while they may do an excellent job at getting information to the right place, they don’t provide users with an effective tool for deciding which of the 20 candidates in front of them is the best one for the job. This is where prediction comes in.
  3. The prediction phase. The continued evolution of online hiring process requires us to enter into a third stage of evolution, one focused on prediction. This phase focuses on providing the information needed to make effective choices between applicants. The importance of this phase cannot be underestimated, because making effective choices is what will ultimately define the success of all upstream hiring processes. A million dollar, state-of-the-art website linked to the greatest ATS system ever built is worthless unless it provides you with the information you need to make the right choices when it comes to hiring the best applicants for the job. The good news is that there are many possible tools and strategies for prediction that can help to make these important choices. The bad news is that the most commonly used tool, the resume, is not one of them.

Evolutionary Barriers: The Resume The weakest link in the online hiring process is its reliance on the resume as a major source of information for making decisions about applicants. In hiring systems, the decision-making process begins the first time the applicant pool is narrowed down and continues until a final pool of acceptable candidates is identified. In most cases, the online portion of decisions used to narrow and applicant pool are made using a process that involves the review of some basic qualifying information (i.e., salary desired, willingness to relocate, minimum educational requirements) and a resume review. While all of this information is important to the hiring process, it does not provide the right tools for making choices among applicants, and thus is not a strong enough link to support the rest of the process. This means that online hiring systems will never be able to evolve to new levels of efficiency and effectiveness until the resume is replaced as the central piece of predictive information used in the process. Why Is the Resume a Weak Link? No matter what tool you use ó tea leaves, tarot cards, resumes, ability tests, etc. ó the primary purpose of all selection tools is to make predictions about how well someone can do a job. Certain tools are inherently better predictors than others, and making accurate predictions requires the use of the right tools for the job. But when it comes to accurately predicting job performance, research and practice have both shown that the best tools are those that:

  • Are based on a clear, objective definition of performance for the job in question
  • Provide an objective way to measure traits related to this definition
  • Ensure that all candidates are evaluated in a standardized manner
  • Provide an objective scoring system that ensures candidates can be compared to one another using the exact same information

When you compare the resume review process to the list of qualities required for making good predictions, the shortcomings of the resume are clear. There are several reasons why the resume is a poor foundation for matching people with jobs. For instance:

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  • Resume evaluation is a highly subjective process, and resumes offer no clear, objective process for linking the information they contain directly to job performance.
  • Resumes do not measure traits, that is. they don’t get under the surface to provide hard data about a candidate’s ability to do a job.
  • It is almost impossible to translate the information found on a resume into the kind of quantifiable, measurable data needed for accurate prediction.
  • There is no standardization among resumes to ensures that candidates are compared to one another in a systematic, objective manner.

Resumes Are Not All Bad I want to make it clear that I am not advocating that resumes be completely removed from the hiring process. They do serve a purpose, and the information they contain can be useful. I also understand that hiring decisions are not made based only on the information found on resumes. All I am saying is that resumes are just too subjective to be used for making important predictions about an applicant’s ability to do a job. I think that resumes are better suited for providing contextual information that can be used to fill in the blanks once a more objective screening process has identified a smaller group of qualified applicants. If Not Resumes, Then What? There are a lot of options for developing online screening processes that do not rely on a resume review as a central source of information. I don’t pretend to have all the answers here, but I also don’t want to criticize without offering some alternatives. That said, here are a few ideas that when combined with a state-of-the-art system may help wean us off our reliance on resumes:

  1. Dissect the resume. One way to replace the resume as a decision-making tool is through the development of job searching and screening tools that provide a way to tease apart the information that is usually found on the resume and evaluate it in a standardized manner. The core idea here is to dissect the resume into meaningful chunks of information that can be evaluated using data-driven matching algorithms. Instead of trying to fish for relevant information using keyword searches or sophisticated parsing techniques, this type of system would ask applicants to provide relevant information in small chunks using drop-down menus and fields where they can enter important job-related information (i.e., detailed information about job-related skills, experiences, and qualifications). At the same time, those posting jobs can go through a process that allows them to choose the skills experiences and qualifications required for the job in question. The end result of this type of system is a filtration process that provides a data-driven, standardized way to compare applicant qualifications with job requirements. Such a system would be an excellent tool for automatically making high-level screening decisions using a process that does not require any subjective evaluation.
  2. Anchor screening systems to a database of job requirements. The foundation of any predictive system is a precise definition of the requirements of the job in question. Failing to anchor a selection tool to quality information will severely limit its effectiveness and legal defensibility. There is a need to focus on developing databases and taxonomies of information about critical knowledge, skills, abilities, and other qualifications to serve as an anchor for online screening functions. Such information can be used to develop systems that allow users to clearly define job requirements as part of the process of setting up a job requisition. Automated processes for identifying job requirements are an essential part of any system that will end up replacing the resume review process. This is because the definition of a set of objective standards that can be systematically applied to the evaluation of candidate information is a critical component of good prediction.
  3. Use scientific screening. The predictive ability of the screening process can be greatly improved by using scientific screening earlier in the employee selection process. The key here is to provide a standardized way to collect and analyze meaningful, objective data that can be automatically compared to a set of clearly defined job-performance criteria. This type of system could be used to provide the information needed to narrow the initial applicant pool by measuring critical traits at the initial point of contact with an applicant. Decisions do not have to be made using only data from scientific screening; rather, this information can be combined with other types of objective information to provide an overall index of candidate suitability. It is the clean integration of this type of functionality into processing systems that will really foster the evolution of online hiring.

Conclusion The benefits of increased efficiency and ROI to be reaped from the continued evolution in the online job search process simply cannot be realized using the resume as a major link in the hiring chain. The continued evolution of these systems requires us to forge links that provide strength through their ability to predict job performance using objective, data-driven methods.

Dr. Charles Handler is a thought leader, analyst, and practitioner in the talent assessment and human capital space. Throughout his career Dr. Handler has specialized in developing effective, legally defensible employee selection systems. 

Since 2001 Dr. Handler has served as the president and founder of Rocket-Hire, a vendor neutral consultancy dedicated to creating and driving innovation in talent assessment.  Dr. Handler has helped companies such as Intuit, Wells Fargo, KPMG, Scotia Bank, Hilton Worldwide, and Humana to design, implement, and measure impactful employee selection processes.

Through his prolific writing for media outlets such as, his work as a pre-hire assessment analyst for Bersin by Deloitte, and worldwide public speaking, Dr. Handler is a highly visible futurist and evangelist for the talent assessment space. Throughout his career, Dr. Handler has been on the forefront of innovation in the talent assessment space, applying his sound foundation in psychometrics to helping drive innovation in assessments through the use of gaming, social media, big data, and other advanced technologies.

Dr. Handler holds a M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Louisiana State University.







4 Comments on “Screening vs. Resumes: What Will Be the Weakest Link?

  1. I am reading several of your articles on the WEB and somehow I am getting impression that even though you are referring to resumes as ‘weak link’ in the screening process, even you ‘struggle’ with the idea of ‘resume elimination’. If we imagine from this very second that all resumes are ‘deleted’ by some magic DEL button, and that we have detailed profiles around us I would argue that ‘as a whole’ we will have ‘less’ information in our hands.

    I know this is might be a big claim, but my analogy is similar to that of Audio industry: analogue (resume) versus digital (profiles)……we all agree that digital ‘sounds’ better…but if played on high-end gear we all agree that ‘analogue’ is ‘the sound’……….

    I think that true win is in combination of digital and analogue – the ‘beauty’ of resume is in its unstructurness and infinite number of tacit (unstated) combinations it can produce……while profiles are crisp and clear but somehow have ‘gaps’ in-between…… no sound at all……..I am sure you are getting the point…..

    Hence, I agree with you that advancement of AI is the right and only direction for better and let me call it ‘super-human’ understanding of resume (billions of tacit combinations), while profiles can very well play thew role of increased ‘dynamic’ in the whole ‘performance’ of candidate screening……(main issue with analogue sound signal is lack of dynamics)

    Maybe our issue is not in the source (resume), rather in our own human and our existing tools inability to process a lot of tacit (unstated) combinations………

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