Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Résumé By Itself Has No Meaning

There are many reasons why electronic recruiting doesn’t work efficiently.  Electronic recruiting means sending (or receiving) a résumé via email or text or a recruitment web site.  It does not work well because a résumé needs to be seen in context.  Let me explain.

I once bought the recruitment practice from a consulting firm; I was really interested in the 5,000 or so senior résumés that they had.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work and was an expensive mistake. Here is how I learned a valuable lesson which should be understood by all job hunters as well as anyone screening résumés.

What I got when I bought this firm’s records, was about 5,000 résumés of top advertising executives.  In addition to paying a lot for them, I also had to have a trucker bring them all to me.

When they arrived in several file boxes, I quickly became overwhelmed.  I decided to put each résumé into one of several piles: people I already knew, people whose names I recognized and wanted to meet and, finally, the largest pile, people I did not know. I then divided the did not know pile into two piles – people whose background was of interest and people whose backgrounds held no interest for me. I threw out those I had no interest in – which was the bulk of the files.

I quickly realized an important fact of recruiting.  Résumés are merely a piece of paper with some ink on them.  If I have interviewed someone, even if it was years ago, when I look at  their résumé it conjures up something, a sense of who they are.  If I have not met them, the résumé is merely words on a piece of paper and mean nothing, conjure nothing.  This is especially true if I have no idea of the salary of the person.  There is just no context.

I always made my notes on the back of résumés – salary, observations, thoughts about the candidate.  If I look at a CV where I have written notes, it has meaning.  I use those notes when introducing a candidate to a client.  But a résumé without notes is just a blank piece of paper.  And computers make it worse.  They are just words for me to look at.  And that is why electronic recruiting doesn’t work efficiently.  CV's received electronically can only be looked at as key words.  Sure, you can form an opinion based on where someone has worked and what they have accomplished (if it is on the résumé) but a résumé cannot tell you if someone is analytical, smart, has leadership skills or is exciting or boring. 

I receive many complaints from CEO’s and other senior company officers that they are not happy either with the people they are seeing or are actually hired.  The problem is that their companies are only doing online recruiting to avoid paying recruitment fees.  They may be saving money but they are probably not seeing the best candidates.

With few exceptions, the best candidates are probably not using the internet to search for job.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice article. Your observation is just repeating something many candidates, myself included, have felt for years when sending a resume online to a recruiter or to an agency: it’s like light to a black hole, it goes in but never comes out. So the question is, how does one provide “context” to a resume? You stated you were overwhelmed by the truck load of 5k resumes you purchased and you’re one person, I can only imagine how an agency’s HR dept. may feel or other recruiters. You can neither meet every candidate in person nor can you speak to all of them on Skype or on the phone.

    So how does a strong candidate’s resume get in front of the right people or how do the right people meet and properly evaluate a strong candidate and their resume? You present interesting questions but provide no answers. How is this broken process fixed? If the answer is “you have to know someone”, that also places restrictions on candidates too b/c as you know this discipline is a who you know practice where those who are not “in the know” are locked out and forced back into the black hole of submitting resumes online.

    1. Great question Brian. I wish I had a great answer. Until senior corporate management recognizes the deficiencies in electronic recruiting and decides to spend money on trusted recruiters, nothing much will happen. Since job specs are mostly poorly written and rarely contain actionable information, companies must rely on key words to screen resumes. It is impossible to guess what they are.

  3. You are simply highlighting the difference between ANALYTICS and informed JUDGMENT. In the end, in a talent industry, the latter prevails.


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