Stop Using Resumes as a Barrier to Entry


When was the last time you updated your resume?

If you’ve been holding the same position for many years, it may have been quite a while since you dusted off your trusty old Resume.doc. Then again, if you’ve been grinding your teeth every day that you’ve held this position, then your resume might be very up to date indeed.

For as long as you’ve been applying to jobs, you’ve been using a resume. For as long as you’ve been making hires, you’ve been sifting through mountains of resumes to find the best person for the job. But, just because you’ve always done something in a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the right way to get things done.

We use resumes in combination with cover letters and work samples to evaluate candidates, but the resume has always been the trusted, abridged version of a candidate’s history: a road map to an applicant’s career, but not one that can be relied upon to tell the whole story.

The resume, traditionally, is a document that’s supposed to be easy to skim. Look up any of the thousands of resume writing guides out there and you’ll pretty much get the same advice: keep it succinct, skim-able and completely error free. You’ll probably also hear something about adapting your resume to the job you’re applying to and something about summarizing your entire career on a single page.

So, to recap, the resume is supposed to be a complete record of one’s career, but it shouldn’t be too detailed and it shouldn’t go over a single page?

Sounds kind of fishy.

The resume can be an excellent reference for walking through a candidate’s history, and definitely helps hiring decision makers to do this during the interview. However, the resume’s restrictive format can force candidates to exclude relevant experience in order to stick to the document’s traditional one page limit. Additionally, the fact that many hiring managers routinely judge a resume in 30 seconds or less, has raised the stakes for job seekers who are desperate to impress.

This pressure to stand out from the crowd has contributed to a rise in the levels of resume fraud in recent years. According to a survey from CareerBuilder, Fifty-eight percent of hiring managers said they’ve caught a lie on a resume and one-third (33 percent) of these employers have seen an increase in resume embellishments post-recession. To make the accuracy of resumes even more questionable, applicant surveys have revealed that 53% of resumes contain falsifications and that 78% of resumes are “misleading.” The most common falsifications that candidates use are: inflated salary claims (40%), inaccurate job descriptions (33%), altered employment dates (29%) and falsified references (27%).

Remember that applicant who looked great on paper, but completely failed after you hired them? According to these stats, they were one of many dishonest applicants who tried their luck with your open job.

So, what are you going to do? Are you going to start throwing every other resume in the trash? Are you going to start requiring a polygraph test with every interview? Are you going to start a one person company so you don’t have to read another resume for the rest of your days?

While you’re welcome to follow any of these “terrific” ideas, we suggest that you don’t throw out the resume entirely. Using resumes to evaluate candidates is part of the picture, but you should never use this document alone to evaluate the skills and experience of a candidate. The resume definitely has an important place in the grand scheme of good hiring, but it should not retain its status as the last word on a candidate’s professional abilities. Though the resume can still be used to screen out under-qualified applicants and to guide discussions about a candidate’s history, they should not remain as the main barrier to entry for your company.

Resumes as a Barrier to Entry

How many candidates have you passed on for a simple spelling error?

Since the dawn of the resume, conventional wisdom has said something like, “If a candidate makes a mistake on their resume, they’re clearly too rushed, lazy or incompetent for my open job.”

While written communication skills are essential for most jobs, if not all jobs, there’s a great chance that this practice has caused you to screen out skilled candidates over the years.

Yes, mistakes on a resume can definitely be a red flag, but does it mean that someone automatically unfit for your company? That’s up to you, but remember that typos happen and that spelling is not the strong suit of many tech-minded professionals.

When we use resumes as one of the main barriers to entry in hiring, we are elevating the importance of formatting and spelling to that of a job’s actual hard skill competencies. If spelling and formatting are essential to your open job, then, by all means, screen away. If, however, these skills aren’t essential to the job, you should hold off on your judgement until you’ve reviewed some of the work that the candidate has done. If the work they’ve done for other companies is mediocre or contains similar errors, then they’re probably a bad hire. If, however, the work they’ve done is relevant and impressive, then it’s a good idea to ignore the typos on their resume and invite them in for an interview anyway.

Even if a candidate has made a formatting error, you should consider them for an interview if:

  • They have the right skills and the right experience for your open job,

            But mostly if

  • They have relevant, impressive examples of work that prove they can do your open job.

Instead of trusting the abridged, potentially misleading version of events, look to the actual work that your applicants have done. Most job openings require the submission of relevant work samples, so why are these the last things that hiring managers typically look at? Yes, the cover letter introduces the candidate and yes, the resume shows you what their career has looked like, supposedly, but the real proof is in the pudding.

Above all, you want to know that a candidate can perform well in your open job. Though the resume can give you a general idea of a candidate’s experience, it’s always better to evaluate candidates based on the actual work they’ve done, not the way they’re presenting this information. Presentation is a big part of professionalism, but a few formal errors shouldn’t be enough to entirely discount an otherwise highly-skilled candidate.

Think about it this way. Most companies aren’t hiring resume writers, so why do most companies use resume writing as the initial barrier to entry for their open jobs?

Like we said, the resume is very useful for summarizing, but you can’t read the book jacket and claim you’ve read the novel. Assuming that the resume you’re reading is entirely free of fibs and falsifications, it will only ever point you to the real information you’re looking for: examples of relevant experience and examples of relevant work. The resume is fantastic at this, but the resume itself doesn’t actually prove anything beyond a candidate’s resume writing ability.

Given the rise in resume fraud and the dependence of new jobs on specific technology competencies, the resume can no longer be trusted as the main gate keeper for your hiring function. While the resume will remain a key part of your hiring tool-kit, the document itself should be used to guide your evaluation of candidates, not be the thing that you’re evaluating.

The quality of a resume cannot be trusted to be the last word on a candidate’s competency. Instead of using the resume as a barrier to entry, use it to help in your evaluation of the work that your applicants are submitting. No matter how impressive a candidate’s resume is, you should always check it against the actual work they’ve submitted. Further, evaluating work samples before you’ve seen the resume will ensure that your decision isn’t influenced by potentially misleading information. You want to make a hire who can do some great work for your company, so evaluate the work that your applicants have done, not just the way they catalogue this work.

Using relevant work samples as your company’s main, initial barrier to entry, will ensure your hiring decisions are based on who does the best work, not who can write the best resume.


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