The Myth of Sisyphus: Some Thoughts on Why We Never Change

There is an ancient Greek myth about the god Sisyphus. He betrayed the other gods and was condemned to endlessly push a rock to the top of a mountain. At the top, the rock would fall back down and Sisyphus had to push it to the top again. The Gods knew that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor. I often wonder if this isn’t what has happened to recruiting. We seem to do the same tasks over and over again, often knowing that these tasks are not very productive or even very useful. Despite new tools, creative ideas, and a surplus of candidates, most recruiters are locked into the practices of the past. One of the strongest and most change resistant recruiting practices and tasks is the resume and the review of the resume. I recently spent some time with a person who is developing digital portfolios or, in simple language, more comprehensive and specific ways to electronically capture and communicate candidate information. Portfolios can include data from a variety of tests, extensive work histories with verification criteria, examples of past work, testimonials, and other information that make it easier to evaluate a candidate upfront rather than through a serious or time-consuming and expensive interviews. There are several companies that offer some type of portfolio designed for recruiters, but according to most reports recruiters are resistant to using them. My contact mentioned meeting with numerous recruiters and with a few third-party agencies only to be rebuffed and even scoffed. Most of them felt the portfolios were too long, that no one would read them, that the candidates wouldn’t compete them, and that their applicant tracking system could not handle them. The resume is still king, it seems, hard as that is to believe. Let’s take a look at the resume for a moment and examine why it is so popular. There are four reasons that come to my mind.

  1. It is familiar to everyone?? candidates, recruiters, and hiring managers. This means we all feel “qualified” to examine a resume and draw conclusions about the candidate from it, even though experience and psychologists can show how poorly we do in evaluating people from them.
  2. It is relatively easy to put together. Just gather your education facts and your work history, throw in a dash or two of extras, and it’s done. They can be slapped together in a matter or minutes, or labored over for days or weeks for little return. Most resumes are never carefully examined or read and many are simply tossed away. The number of interviews gained from mailing out resumes is extremely low. From a candidate perspective they are wasteful; from a recruiter perspective they are often dreaded, unwanted, and irrelevant.
  3. It is accepted by the EEOC and other regulatory bodies, so the resume is risk-free from that perspective. While following the law and being legally compliant is an important aspect of any recruiter’s professional life, many recruiters focus too much on that side of the situation. And portfolios are just as legal and compliant?? perhaps even more so.
  4. It tells no one much of anything. And that is most likely why the resume is popular with candidates and recruiters. The recruiter can’t be held responsible for what’s in it (or not in it). And it offers endless freedom to fudge, distort, and plain lie about one’s background. Few recruiters ever pick up on resume distortions and the majority of firms do not do background checks. Yet, as an example, I know a firm that does extensive background checks on every candidate and finds that over 38% of the resumes contain serious factual errors or outright lies. And this is after the candidates are warned in writing and orally that the facts on their resume will be checked. Imagine what the figure might be had they not been warned.

A digital portfolio requires more thought on the part of the candidate, as well as verification of facts and ways to confirm what it written. A particularly complete example and discussion of these portfolios can be found at Digital Discoveries. I can see a number of positives for portfolios.

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  • They give everyone a very complete look a candidate from a variety of perspectives. They can give you a sense of how competent a candidate is from a skills test or from testimonials and detailed work histories. The samples of work that can be included can reveal talents and capabilities that interviews would never show. Portfolios are commonly used already in the entertainment and art world, but have not had success in other professions.
  • They eliminate the resume that is broadcast to hundreds of employers without thought by a push of the key on the computer. By asking candidates to complete a portfolio, you are getting only those candidates who are really serious about your organization. None of the portfolios are necessarily difficult to complete nor do they have to take a lot of time. What they do is focus the candidate to provide the information you need to make a good decision.
  • They eliminate needless interviews with unqualified candidates. Used properly, they could free up one or two recruiters to do more sourcing or to focus on branding. Both of these will be growing needs as we move into 2003. If you are not leveraging technology, you may find yourself shorthanded and even more overworked than you were before this recession.
  • They can be amended and added to as a candidate works in your organization, so that the information is readily available to managers looking for internal candidates to promote or transfer. They are also useful for identifying career development needs. That is the area where resumes are generally recognized as useless.

Candidates will adapt to whatever is required and only wait to see what you want. By refusing or being reluctant to accept digital portfolios you are making your own job more difficult. You are not using the technologies that have evolved over the past decade that could make you more productive and lower overall costs. Rather than endlessly push the rock up the hill, as Sisyphus did, you can leave the rock at the top by choosing to adopt new technologies that make sense?? even if only in an experimental way at first.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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