The Resume is Not Dead!

Much has been said about a shift to profile-based recruiting. How this has been defined has varied according to whom you talk with, and particularly who is trying to sell an applicant tracking system to you. Regardless of the definition, this shift is supposed to signal the death of the traditional way of receiving information from a candidate ó that is, submitting a resume complete with skills, experience and education. But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the resume’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. What Is A Profile? A profile is not necessarily a complicated thing. In Webster’s dictionary, it’s defined as:

  • A side view of the human head
  • A biographical essay presenting the subject’s most noteworthy characteristics and achievements
  • A formal summary or analysis of data, often in the form of a graph or table, representing distinctive features or characteristics (e.g., a psychological profile of a job applicant)

As it relates to recruiting technology, it’s safe to say that we can rule out “a side view of the human head” and “a biographical essay” as the working definition of profile. Which leaves us with a formal summary or analysis of data representing distinctive features and characteristics. In an applicant tracking system, a profile can be defined as a more structured form of data than a resume. In other words, you’re not leaving the collection of a candidate’s information as open-ended as it traditionally has been. No longer are you receiving 100 different formats to communicate the same basic types of information ó education, work experience, location, and how the candidate’s qualifications meet the requirements for the job. Your job as a recruiter becomes much easier, as one standard format for information means you are spending less time interpreting information and can more easily search and sort through the thousands of resumes you receive. How you get to this point varies greatly from vendor to vendor. How Profiles Are Built Most applicant tracking systems available today allow candidates to build basic profiles that they can come back and update later. Most of them will also keep a record of the candidate’s application history and updates to their information. Some of these systems allow multiple records to be stored in the system, while others use one candidate record that gets updated over time. The major point of divergence in how these profiles are built revolve around the data collection methods with which profiles are built. There are a few major ways in which this happens within an ATS. Given the large numbers of vendors in the ATS space, there are of course varying degrees of how applicant tracking systems fall into these categories, but this hits the highlights:

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  • Profiles built using data extraction technologies provide the easiest candidate experience. Data extraction functionality is usually provided by a niche vendor, such as Burning Glass or Resume Mirror. Candidates can cut and paste their traditional resumes into a text field. By hitting the “next” button, their information automatically populates the structured data fields that will go into the applicant database. Candidates have the opportunity to change the pre-populated data or leave it intact, perhaps answer a few pre-screening questions, and then submit their resume for consideration. On the back end, some vendors provide artificial intelligence (AI) searches that help define different ways of saying the same thing. For example, Univ. is a common abbreviation for University, IA for Iowa, and so on.
  • The traditional online application, in which a user fills out each field individually, requires a bit more work by candidates. The typical user pattern includes cutting and pasting snippets of information from the resume and copying them into each individual field.
  • The most structured way to collect data also takes the most time for a candidate. Online applications within applicant tracking systems are sometimes built almost exclusively using drop-down fields. To a recruiter, this ensures that most of the data they search on is structured in a way that they can accurately search, including education, location, and even past employers. To a candidate, this can mean anywhere from a 6- to 12-page online application.

This raises some interesting questions.

  • Is it possible to have too much structure? How can you really anticipate every piece of data a candidate will want to enter?
  • We all know that recruiting does not happen in a vacuum. So what happens if you receive unstructured resumes and information from candidates at a job fair, from a job board, from an executive, etc.?
  • What will your drop-off rate be among the candidates you really want to recruit, i.e. the passive candidates? Won’t passive candidates be willing to spend the least amount of time filling out a profile?
  • And, last but not least, does creating such a structured profile pass on too much pain to the candidate?

Long Live the Resume Much-publicized statistics have shown that most candidates are willing to take the time to fill out a longer profile versus just submitting a resume, as well as answering pre-screening questions. In the words of one of my favorite philosophers, Homer J. Simpson: “Oh, people can come up with statistics to prove anything, Kent. Fourteen percent of people know that.” The underlying problem with the statistic is that it does not take into account the qualitative nature of recruiting. If top-performing passive candidates are not willing to spend the time to fill out a more structured profile, then these statistics become completely meaningless for a recruiter. In recruiting, surveying a random pool of job seekers proves very little. The bottom line is that candidates all still have resumes. That will probably never change unless one system becomes the standard for all career website recruiting as we know it and allows reuse among employers ó a highly unlikely scenario. So do we in the recruiting technology industry want to make it harder for candidates to use the information we know they already have? Creating too much structure for candidates and too many obstacles to applying is, in my opinion, recruiting technology gone bad. It is up to us as an industry to create a win-win technology scenario that simultaneously eases the burden for recruiters and candidates.

Dave Lefkow is currently the CEO of talentspark (, a consulting firm that helps companies use technology to gain a competitive advantage for talent, and a regular contributor to ERE on human capital, technology, and branding related subjects. He is also an international speaker on human capital trends and best practices, having spoken in countries as close as Canada and as far away as Malaysia and Australia. His consulting work has spanned a wide variety of industries and recruiting challenges with companies like Starbucks, Boeing, HP, Microsoft, Expedia, Washington Mutual, Nike and Swedish Medical Center.


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