Torture By Resume

Managers hate being presented with a “stack” of resumes. One of any manager’s worst nightmares is when a recruiter drops off a “stack” of resumes to be read “right away.” No matter how well intentioned managers may be, the reality is that they will postpone looking through the stack for days or even weeks.

Why Do Managers Hate Stacks of Resumes?

The answer is simple! Everyone hates “stacks” of resumes! Recruiters don’t like to sort through them any more than managers do. Some other reasons that managers hate piles of resumes include:

  • They are rarely sorted or ranked by their level of qualifications
  • The stack includes enough “bad” candidates to frustrate the reader
  • Resumes vary so much in format that they are difficult to compare with each other and a large number of resumes make direct comparisons between different individual resumes even more difficult
  • The total time it takes to get through the stack by itself initially inhibits the manager from even starting the task
  • The delay between actually reading the resumes and the time of hire is often so great that managers fail to see the direct return on investment (ROI) for going through resumes
  • Managers feel the need to see a large volume of resumes because they don’t trust a recruiters judgment
  • After about five resumes everyone gets bored

How to Increase the Likelihood That Managers will Review Your Resumes and Minimize the Chances of Torture by Resume!

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  • Have the resumes sorted against a fixed set of competencies (key word search) to ensure only the best are included
  • Have an experienced “sourcer/ sorter” sort and comment on the top candidates and cull out the bad ones
  • Attach a cover sheet giving an overview of the skill levels in the resumes and your specific recommended actions for the manager
  • Give them no more than 5 resumes (no exceptions)
  • Encourage applicants to “self select out” through the use of realistic job/company culture profiles in your ads and web sites
  • Put a due date on your resumes and have a person send out periodic reminders to the managers to ensure managers respond in a timely manner
  • Compare the competencies of these applicants to those of our currently employed top performers in order to validate our screening/sorting process
  • Publish metrics on the response time of managers to respond to resume
  • Show the managers the dollar costs and impact on losing the best candidates that comes from delays in reading resumes
  • Set an “expiration date” on requisitions to encourage rapid management response
  • Track the percentage of “unacceptable” candidates forwarded to managers and reward the recruiter for including zero “turkeys”
  • Reward managers for great/fast hiring

Conclusion – Stop the Torture!

Giving managers more than 5 resumes may so stifle their enthusiasm for the hiring process that they decide to postpone the hiring for an indefinite period. A better alternative is to focus on pre-qualifying resumes and sorting out all but the best. The lowered volume eases the pressure on the manager and allows for more side-by-side comparisons between resumes. Buy showing hiring managers that we are experts in identifying/sorting top candidates we build their trust and this in turn allows us to give them fewer and fewer resumes to read. As their trust builds we can get the number below the magic number of 5. Any more than 5 resumes inevitably leads to delays in the decision process.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



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