Resumes Make Hiring Harder; Ignore Them

Resumes do a lot of things well. They pack a surprising amount of information into a concise and structured format. They are a normalized way for people to express a broad employment history without completely eliminating self expression.

But for all their good, resumes have one glaring problem: me. Well, not me specifically, but interviewers who review resumes. Because from the moment we see a resume, we are building a persona of the candidate who wrote it. And this persona almost always stands to do more harm than good to the candidate behind the paper.

Everyone's a critic

Don't believe me? Here is a list of some of the criticisms i've had of resumes in the last couple of years:

  • Why is the layout so poor?
  • Why are there typos in this resume?
  • Why did they list their languages alphabetically instead of by proficiency?
  • Why do they have their pizza delivery job listed?
  • No, your "relevant courses" section is not relevant.
  • Why is this resume nearly as many pages as years they have been working?

Sound familiar? These issues are very real criticisms of resumes. They also tell us absolutely nothing about a candidates ability to do the job; unless you are hiring a resume writer. Some may argue that you can extrapolate these errors to indicate shortcomings about someones professional abilities. Bullshit. Hire a few of these folks and tell me how well those extrapolations hold.

Persona or strawman

But critiques aside, the real issue is with the personas we build from resumes. These personas are based on the limited information we get via a resume and early emails. There is very little evidence to suggest the personas are accurate. But, as humans, we enjoy being right.

During interviews, we look for a candidate to do things that confirm this persona. We don't hold ourselves to rigorously challenge it because the persona is our own creation. We add more weight to it once we feel one or two things have confirm an aspect of it. The number of times interviewers have coined me "detail oriented" is an amusing example of this. I am not. Perhaps it was because my resume didn't have typos.

On the other side of this issue is the very real possibility that the persona is wildly inaccurate from the start. In this case, it is unusual for an interviewer to come back and say, "wow, that candidate was not what i expected, but was great." Instead, even if the candidate demonstrates strong abilities, the response is often that they didn't live up to expectations. Think about it: if you enter an interview expecting someone to be a front-end developer because of their resume, but they end up demonstrating strong Ruby prowess, the focus is rarely on the Ruby abilities. Instead, we think "why does someone with so much front end experience not know about flex boxes?" The candidate, through no fault of their own, is discarded.

Hire the person not the paper

I've stopped looking at resumes because i don't trust myself to stay free of these traps. When i see a bad resume layout i assume someone is bad at design. When i see typos i assume detail orientation issues. After all, i'm not detail oriented and even i don't have resume typos. how bad are they?

I suppose if coding is an art, then consistently hiring well approaches something akin to magic.

But just as magic is a game of tricks, so too is hiring. Trick number one needs to be introspection. We will each have our own quirks we over or under value when interviewing candidates. It is essential for everyone involved that we identify these shortcomings and find ways to improve them over time.

In my case, those tricks involve no longer looking at resumes.

tl;dr: Resumes make it easy for us to imagine candidates as wildly inaccurate personas. This is a dangerous habit that turns away qualified candidates.

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Written by Ben
Ben is the co-founder of Skyward. He has spent the last 10 years building products and working with startups.