The Devalued Currency of Hiring: The Resume

Before an interview, a recruiter reviews a resume. An impression is created before the candidate even engages. I examine a spot-on resume, but when the candidate arrives, I fail to see the connection between paper and person. Did this candidate truly accomplish what’s stated, or did he oversell to get the interview? Did the candidate actually write the document, or did he buy it from a skilled resume writer?

During the discussion, I’m not buying that the resume truly represents the candidate. This leads me to wonder if I’ve overlooked viable candidates (maybe the best candidates) because their resumes did not stand out or appeal to me personally. Maybe they didn’t know how to accurately portray themselves on paper. Maybe they couldn’t afford to engage a resume writer. Maybe their lack of knowledge in this area left the best candidates out in the cold.

Here’s a true resume story:

My friend was seeking a career change. He engaged a professional resume writer who agreed to update his resume. He secured an interview with a top 10 international company. On the plane to the company headquarters, he discovered HIS NAME WAS MISSPELLED. With no time to correct the error and arrive on time, he arrived and presented his fatally flawed resume. He did not get the job.

Fast-forward 10 years. Through another entry point, my friend won the job with the same giant, international company. He secured a face-to-face interview with a local office and was hired into the same position he pursued previously. After five years of employment, he leads the West Coast Region as the company’s top revenue producer.

In both interviews, this candidate was extremely qualified for the job. His enthusiasm was unbridled. He had a track record as a proven producer. (These points are supported by his top-notch results.) And yet, the international company missed five years of production from this gifted employee because he had an error on his resume.

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The resume has always been the currency of hiring. Candidates painfully labor over their resumes or purchase professional versions to attract employers. Recruiters gather them like abundant crops. Hiring managers insist upon them and use them as their first line of defense to screen out. Since technology gives us the ability to gather resumes off the Internet by the thousands, their value has clearly decreased. The resume’s value has plummeted just like Confederate currency, which was so devalued that it was used to paper walls after the Civil War. But still, no one is willing to make a move in the hiring process without it.

Admittedly, throwing out resumes in the hiring process would be like getting rid of the U.S. dollar. I’m proposing we assign the true value of the tool and not give it over-inflated power. Having a conversation with the candidate is the only way to verify that the candidate matches the resume, or if he has hidden accomplishments and values that do not appear. As a recruiter, in my urgency to deliver swiftly, I may have interviewed the candidate, but I don’t have time to rewrite each resume. (I don’t necessarily want my passive candidate to perfect a resume.) When my screened candidate is rejected by the hiring manager solely on the basis of a resume review, what comes to mind?

5 Things a Resume Will Not Tell You

  1. Is the candidate being truthful? A Society for Human Resource Management study of 2.6 million applicants in 2003 found that 53% of their resumes contained omissions or misrepresentations. Bogus degrees and certifications, length of employment, and levels of positions held are all areas that are commonly embellished. Since a resume is not signed like an application, many candidates feel they are just stretching the truth and not breaking the law by doing this. Several states have put through legislation to punish candidates who misrepresent themselves in writing when seeking employment.
  2. Is the candidate motivated to do this job? Yes, the candidate is unquestionably qualified, but he simply doesn’t want to do the work. The candidate is seeking a new challenge.
  3. Is the candidate driven to excel? Many candidates neglect to list their accomplishments on a resume. They detail every employer, task, and duty they’ve performed. Either because of humility or lack of knowledge, they neglect to include how their efforts benefited their employers. What did they really accomplish? They can deliver the minimum expectations, but will they excel? Is this the best candidate for the position, or is it just a convenient fill?
  4. Does the candidate have good communication skills? Did he write his own resume or buy it? Does he have good, natural, or learned communication skills or did someone coach him through producing this resume (and will that coach hopefully be accompanying the candidate to the job daily)?
  5. Will the candidate fit the culture? It’s almost impossible to gauge from a resume whether a candidate will be a good fit culturally for the company and the department. In some cases, the cultural fit may be more important than the skill match.

We do need a starting point. As imperfect as resumes are, they can let us know if the candidate has basic, required qualifications (assuming the candidate is truthful). Why not use the resume to screen in instead of out? With talent pools rapidly depleting in certain areas, I need to broaden my perspective. I need to pick up the phone and screen as many qualified candidates as possible.

Once verified, I can’t let the resume speak for itself. It would benefit me and my hiring manager if I can verbally present the candidate and explain where he/she matches the position or may have to stretch. What the candidate has accomplished. How the candidate’s motivations will be satisfied in the position. How the candidate fits the culture. Why I am endorsing this candidate. I’ll push now to secure the interview. By doing this, my hiring manager gets the advantage of truly seeing the person represented by the paper. We are expediting the interview. And, the hiring manager doesn’t dismiss the very best candidates solely on the basis of their resumes.

Resumes are here to stay. You add the value to the resume. Don’t let the hiring manager discount your worth.

Sue Danbom has 16 years of recruiting experience and a B.A. from the University of Illinois. She trains executive recruiters for Volt Workforce Solutions. Sue lives in the Seattle area with her husband, Bob, daughter, Laura and her flat coated retriever, Taylor Edward.


17 Comments on “The Devalued Currency of Hiring: The Resume

  1. Sue, how do you know that your friend’s mis-spelled name was the reason he didn’t get hired by that firm the first time around. If he was a great a candidate and told the interviewer that his resume service made an error, do you really think a company would let him slip through their fingers for that?

  2. As an entry level technical recruiter, this is a great post. I actually write resumes for people on the side. Some of the most talented individuals out there have the worst resumes. Even as a recruiter, I find myself trashing resumes because of typos and what seems to be a lack of experience. When your reviewing over 50 resumes a day, its tough to not see the resume for what it is rather than call candidates with bad resumes and see if they have actually have the skills and culture fit to do the job. I think I’ll make this one of my goals for 2008. At the very least it will help my call volume numbers!

  3. It definitely was the resume error that sunk my friend. I know that for a fact, because he relayed how the resume error snow balled into what was probably one of the most disastrous series of interview incidents imaginable. Ah – but that is a story for another article.

    Sue D.

  4. Sue,

    Thank you for writing an article on a subject that is close to anyone involved in the hiring process. I agree that many hiring managers place far too much emphasis on a resume and it normally is used to weed out then move forward. We should look at the resume as a beginning tool in the process to determine does the individual match up with our requirements. There are the obvious if you are looking for a Nuclear Physicist, a resume indicating the person drives an ice cream truck is not likely going to be qualified, so resumes can determine quickly taking the obviously unqualified from consideration. It is the individuals who indicate qualities that might fit, that gain our attention and merit further qualification. Your friend who had his name misspelled may have been perceived as someone who lacks attention to detail. If importance to detail is a major factor in hiring, he would have to exhibit strong compensatory factors to offset this perceived weakness. His later success in the role indicates it likely wasn’t a major factor in performing the job, and it was a mistake on the employer (hiring manager’s) part in not recognizing this early in the process. This is a common mistake that many hiring managers don’t understand what characteristics and qualifications are actually important in the successful performance of the role they are looking to find. Worst of all, many think they do know what those characteristics are, and most of the time they are relying on what someone else has told them makes a successful person in that role. Few actually measure characterics of a successful person or group of people performing the role well. When they do know these factors, the resume can be a much more valuable tool.

    I enjoyed your article!

    Thank you

  5. As a recruiter with several years of agency and 2 years of corporate experience, I would have to say that the screening process should be matched to minimum qualifications of the position. If a candidate is minimally qualified then they should be phone screened with behavioral inteviewing techniques to determine the best qualified candidates for the position and the best match for the company’s environment. Of course, a really good liar would also be able to get through the phone screen. At my company we do mock phone screen training using behavioral techniques. The training consists of two phone screens. One where the candidate is qualified but a little nervous or not confident. The other where the candidate is a liar. The objective is to be able to pick the candidate who is best qualified for the position using behavioral techniques. This training really works. If you don’t guess who the liar is then, in the debreif, ways to have better assessed the candidates are discussed.

    Behavioral interviewing works. recently I was screening a recruiter applicant and on the cabndidates resume was a stament like, ‘ placed a candidate and in so doing generated the largest fee in the firm’s history $42,000.00.’ in interviewing the candidate he mentioned the figure exactly. I continued to question him. I asked him, what methods did you use to find the candidate and where did you find this candidate? niether of which he was able to answer.

    When I was on the agency side of the business I closed a hughe fee. I remember the biggest fee I ever received and all the details around the process. I think most recruiters would remeber their biggest deal in at least fairly good detail.Behavioral interviewing showed the truth.

    The last thing I will touch on which you mention in your article is communication. If a person can not communicate his or her ability and experience in a resume format will they pass muster on the comunication ability? Again the only way to determine if a candidate can communicate is to pick up the phone and call them. A recruiter will be able to asses if a candidate has good verbal communication skills very quickly.

  6. Unfortunately we do rely on the resume to guide us through a candidate?s career. It is our responsibility as professional recruiters to qualify and extract our candidate?s achievements, accomplishments, and characteristics that will solidify the offer. How can these winning attributes be represented on a piece of paper or two? Thanks for reminding us how shallow a resume really is.

  7. Sue makes some great points in her article. As someone who’s helped many people create better resume presentations of themselves though, I’d like to add that good resumes always are written in a way to get the person to the next stage of the interview and hire process.

    I’ve never seen anyone hired solely because of her/his resume, but people are passed over solely because it fails to grab attention for any number and types of reasons. Simply said, good resumes never lose value for good candidates.

    Using Sue’s Confederate dollar value example, I would add that it wasn’t the overwhelming numbers and types of printed and coin money that caused the Confederate currency to fail, rather it was the lack of substance whether that be gold or the ability of the Confederate government to back the value of the currencies that made them worthless. In interview terms, that means a strong resume presentation must be accompanied by a strong interview and in-person presentation.

    In addition, no candidate should ever accept a professionally written resume if he/she cannot speak to it as if it were self-written and the claims made are accurate. Think of hiring managers and interviews as investor’s in the currency – it’s their jobs to find out if their are underlying assets that back up the value that the resume/currency at first appear to have.

  8. Sue,

    Your article is so insightful. As a hiring manager I honestly did not care about the resume, it could be on a paper napkin! However, now as a Resume writer I realize that it is a tool for opening doors. I do spend a lot of time with candidates in developing the resume so that it not only accurately portrays their skills and abilities but their personality as well. If a candidate has a great resume and cannot ‘defend’ it in an interview then the time spent is wasted. I have had those who simply wanted a ‘killer resume’ which in their mind meant creative wordsmithing. I personally don’t work with those kinds of clients. I’m more interested in helping serious professionals honestly evaluate their options, develop a long term strategy for career management and help them find a perfect fit.

  9. I am not sure it is fair to say that the resume writer caused the person not to get the job 10 years ago. As a certified professional resume writer, I always go through the final product with my client to ensure that everything is correct and spelled right. I am human and make mistakes, but ultimately the person who owns the resume is responsible. It was his fault he didn’t get the job. If he knew how to interview, he could have easily explained the mistake.

    Believe me, ‘a big 10 international company’ is not going to let great talent (if that is truly what he posesses) slip through their fingers in this highly competitive business environment because his name was spelled wrong!!! If they did, I would hope their competitors eat them for lunch!

  10. Great points. While no one is predicting the death of the resume, it is becoming increasingly clear that recruitment must be supplemented by other screening methods. As companies are faced with the need to go farther and move faster to secure top talent, technology that allows an employer to quickly and accurately answer the 5 questions you posed will be a competitive advantage.

  11. And there are people who are certified to teach people how to drive and yet people still get into accidents…or certified recruiters who couldn’t recruit pigs to a barnyard buffet.

    Anyone who has been a recruiter sees resumes with spelling errors. Anyone who blithely discounts people because of spelling errors has spent far too much time on the high-and-mighty train; there are far too many stories by which to back this up…

    Bad recruiters denigrate use of Gen Y IM language, criticize fonts, resume layouts, anything that in their professional judgment ‘proves’ someone to be unworthy rather than spending the time required to truly vet a person. Lazy, lazy, lazy. omg, lmao…

    It is the recruiter’s job to know what the needs of the position are and read between the lines and drill down until they can’t drill down any more. It would be nice if candidates would write better resumes but all the resume writing books in all the book stores on Earth won’t help most people; but it IS the responsibility of the candidate to explain the when, what, who, why, and where of what they have done and can do. Sorry Sue but if your friend was such a great sales person and really wanted to work for the company, your friend would have found a way to make the sale.

    Recruiters – do the work; candidates – be prepared to sell yourself.

    Anything else is just whining.

  12. Thank you for the article, Sue. I definitely think it’s relevant to discuss how the role of the resume has changed in the recruiting process, and some of your points are right on target.

    That said, I’m shocked that anyone would advocate hiring a candidate if they fail to spell their own name correctly. That lack of attention to (basic!!) detail would turn me off immediately. Seriously – it’s his name.

    One additional statement from your article in particular stood out to me:

    ?When my screened candidate is rejected by the hiring manager solely on the basis of a resume review, what comes to mind??

    Just as the hair was really starting to stand up on my neck, you answered your own hypothetical ? ?I can’t let the resume speak for itself.? I could not agree with that statement more.

    Recruiters add real value to the hiring process by cutting through the written words on the resume and discovering whether or not the candidate is really a fit for the opportunity. Then they take that information and enthusiastically share it, helping the hiring manager to see the candidate the way the recruiter sees the candidate. Whether verbal or written, this communication doesn?t just create a ?benefit? to the process ? it is core to the process, and it is often and tragically overlooked in the ?urgency? to present a candidate fast (or at least faster than the next recruiter).

    Anyone who does less isn?t recruiting ? they are pushing paper. But I seriously doubt we?ll be seeing that job title on a resume any time soon?

  13. Both the r?sum? read and the typical interview enjoy way too much standing within most hiring processes, today.

    Those on both sides of the table know the corresponding dances quite well. Too bad that killer r?sum?s and exceptional interviewee skills do not predict job performance.

    Hiring managers need to know:

    Can the person do this job?

    Will the person do this job?

    And how will the person do this job?

    Formal job analyses should establish ?what it takes? to perform well in particular positions. Only then can hiring managers hope to gauge which applicants have ?what it takes?. Without a job analysis hiring managers and their recruiters are flying blind.

    Along with essential knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), job analyses will also identify the thinking and reasoning styles, behavioral traits and occupational interests that bolster performance in a given job.

    With a thorough job analysis in hand, r?sum? ?biggies?, like education, experience, stated career objective and the plethora of declarative, quantitative, achievement statements (e.g. ?Sold three gazillion widgets in first week.?), start to pale by comparison.

    Structured interview questions, workplace simulations and tests of requisite content and process knowledge can provide actionable KSA readings. Cognitive, behavioral and interest judgments require scientifically developed and validated assessments to objectively (and compliantly) measure these essential job-related qualities, in keeping with the job analysis.

    If the overriding mission of the r?sum? is to ?get the interview? (or other next step), then why not restructure screening and selection procedures, accordingly. Take the r?sum? for what it is ? a pitch piece. Acknowledge, too, that the most capable performer in the position of interest will rarely have the resume that appeals most to the recruiter or the hiring manager. Put the interview in its place, as well; keep it structured and objective; make sure poor interviewers do not corrupt the process or the results. Add assessments, tests and simulations that connect to job analyses, to increase the flow of objective, actionable information.

    Sure, most r?sum? content lacks reliability, validity and/or relevance. Yet employers continue to use r?sum? reads to decide who to interview (consider) for a position. In a talent-short environment no company can afford to use such a crude tool to narrow its options.

    In a January 2008 ERE article, Dr. Charles Handler cited ?Movement into Job-Search Process? as one of ?10 Screening and Assessment Trends for 2008?. He went on to say: ?An increasing number of job boards/career portals are discovering that adding assessment can provide much better search/match functions than do traditional methods, such as keyword search.?

    Building on Dr. Handler?s trend observation, hiring managers and recruiters could improve their communication and results by expanding their use of formal job analyses and best-in-class assessments.

    What if, instead of r?sum? reads, both the recruiter and the hiring manager could look at one page that clearly showed each applicant?s degree of match with the position of interest? They can.

    What if jobseekers could present themselves honestly, succinctly, objectively? They can. What if the results of a single jobseeker assessment could be compared (matched) with an unlimited number of job analyses. They can.

    Already debased, the devaluation of the r?sum? will come when jobseekers, recruiters and hiring managers start using better alternatives.

  14. I work as if there are two resumes in the process of getting to an interview with a hiring manager.

    The first is designed to get my attention. Candidates do better if they realize their resume is not going directly to the hiring manager, but to a corporate or agency recruiter first. Their audience should be the recruiter(s). The resume should be clear and comprehensive, representing their career.

    If the recruiter finds a match and confirms it through phone conversations and backup documentation, etc… The second resume should address the specific needs of the hiring manager. Remove anything that stands in the way of getting HM’s attention. If a misspelling gets to the hiring manager ? it is the recruiters? bad.

    About Spelling – When I was a programmer, the first rule I learned is the computer doesn?t care if you misspell a word as long as you misspell it consistently. Great programs are fraught with misspelled words – sometimes intentionally. Acronyms and jargon are so often thrown about in the life of a technical or engineering person they easily overlook the misspelling of a word. For example?why is Ajax not capitalized but COBOL is? Their eyes become trained to overlook such details.

    The second pair of eyes that is so common in the business world becomes the responsibility of the recruiters because the candidate is NOT going to ask anyone at work to look over their resume and thus sound the alert that they are actively looking for a new job.

    Grammar on the other hand is a deeper indication of verbal communications skills. Bad grammar will come out in the interview and can rarely be corrected.

  15. Let’s face reality, who is going to put things on their resume or voluntarily provide people for you to talk to, that says ‘don’t hire me’ or ‘be wary’? With the advancement of of Web 2.0 technologies and the ability to ‘search’, for both the recruiter and the recruited, both of these aspects of the recruiting process will become less and less significant as people will realize that the truth is out there somewhere.

    I would appreciate everyone’s comments on one question though…if you receive a referral from a ‘trusted’ source and you provided a good description of what you were looking for, do you even look past the person’s last job on their resume before talking to them?

  16. It really depends how ‘trusted’ my source is. I can’t say that I would ever completely look past prior experience but I can say that depending on the source, it may not have as much weight.


  17. The resume is a recurring conversation topic, and lately it has not been to say pleasant things: it’s dead, it’s obsolete, it’s pointless and useless!

    In the end it’s been years (decades?) that the death of the resume has been predicted, and it’s still here alive and kicking.

    So, it’s been a good surprise to read your article. With a title like ‘The Devalued Currency of Hiring: The Resume’, I was expecting another one on the same theme.

    As you point out: We do need a starting point. As imperfect as resumes are, they can let us know if the candidate has basic, required qualifications (assuming the candidate is truthful).

    This is the point: a resume is one source of data, typically the initial one. But it would be a mistake to consider it as the sole source of information about a candidate. A resume is not a behavioural assessment, nor a background check, nor a competency test, nor an interview. This would be the same as building a house using only a hammer! Good luck!

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