Predicting the future of nonprofit recruitment: The end of the resume?

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In 1482, the ruling Medicis sent Leonardo da Vinci to secure peace with the Duke of Milan. Leonardo brought with him a letter that listed his accomplishments and mentioned that he could also paint. This letter is often credited as the world’s first resume.

If Leonardo had lived today, however, we can imagine all the many different ways his talent would come to the attention of potential employers — and yet, we still rely on the resume as a way of finding and hiring new talent. Leonardo, whose fertile, creative mind conceived of many possibilities that even exceeded the technology of his times, would probably be disappointed to recognize that nonprofits and for-profits alike are stuck in the Middle Ages when it comes to relying on resumes for hiring.

Ineffectiveness of the resume

While resumes have been a necessity in a job search since the 1950s, the resume has evolved over time: no longer are applicants required to list their height, weight and marital status, for instance, but relevant outside interests, hobbies and volunteer experience are often now included, in addition to work experience. Changes in technology have moved us from simple typewritten pages to digital curriculum vitae.

Unfortunately, one key fact that has been lost amidst all these changes is the actual effectiveness of the resume as a screening tool.

Edwin Jansen, head of marketing for recruiting software company Fitzii, notes that numerous studies and meta-studies of nineteen different employee selection methods (including resumes, behavioural interviews, evaluating work samples, etc) found that “resume screening has a 0.18 correlation with predicting success in a role — not much better than random selection. A resume is a poor predictor of success.” He notes that we continue to use resumes because the more validated methods are often seen as too expensive or too time-consuming.

A further challenge to the effectiveness of this screening practice is the fact that a surprising number of candidates will lie or include misleading information on their resumes. A 2012 study showed 53% of resumes and job applications contained falsifications, 78% of resumes included misleading information, and 46% of employment, education and/or credential reference checks conducted revealed discrepancies between what the applicant provided and what the source reported.

According to Ian Yates, managing director of Fitzii, “Determining which candidates have stretched the truth is almost impossible, so this leaves you comparing a large number of self-described ‘innovative, driven and effective experts with a proven track-record in a dynamic environment.’” He adds, “The resume is created by the applicant for the purpose of getting an interview — of course they will show themselves in an idealized light.”

Stuck in the weeds

Complicating the issue is the fact that hiring managers don’t have a lot of time to spend on looking closely at the resumes they receive. According to a 2014 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Resumes, Cover Letters and Interviews Survey, a hiring manager spends less than five minutes reviewing a resume before deciding whether a job candidate will proceed to the next step in the hiring process.

“Faced with a large pile of resumes to review, the reviewer needs a reason to reject applicants to get the pool to a manageable number. Applicants can end up in the ‘no’ pile for other reasons that have no bearing on their suitability for the role, like a career gap, working in another country, or attending an unrecognized school,” says Yates.

Many organizations attempt to automate this process and to eliminate subjectivity by using programs and filters to find the ideal candidates by searching resumes for specific terms. Unfortunately, as Cella Consulting points out, “Job seekers have become very good at loading up their resumes with key words to make it past the technology gatekeeper resulting in a volume of candidates without a clear way to differentiate which candidate is truly best fit for the job.”

What are the alternatives?

For people who agree that resumes are stifling or not the best representation of a potential employee’s skills, today’s hiring climate can be exciting. Recruiters and hiring managers can take advantage of emerging technology to help them discover and hone in on the best candidates — rather than simply depending on a one-page summary.

Follow the breadcrumbs

One alternative to a reliance on resumes is a simple Google name search of potential employees. In a recent article, Doug Gross suggests many hiring managers no longer rely on a resume, but instead browse Google and LinkedIn to find out more — good and bad — about candidates.

In fact, a 2014 survey showed that 45% of employers use search engines such as Google to research potential job candidates, with 20% saying they do so frequently or always. Another 43% of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates.

A candidate’s web presence can help an employer understand a lot about an individual’s personal brand and behaviour. Paul Nazareth, vice-president of engagement for Canada Helps says, “Organizations are looking for individuals who are a good fit. We can do this by meeting a candidate in person, but we can also find out lots about their personality online.”

Both Nazareth and career consultant Stephen C Murphy believe that LinkedIn is one of the key pieces of a potential employee’s online brand. Nazareth says, “LinkedIn is a digital handshake and a profile all in one. It allows a hiring manager to know who a candidate is, what they do, and how to find them — a thorough and updated profile helps a candidate stand out from a pile of applicants.”

Murphy adds that a robust profile with experiences, goals and personality gives employers a much clearer look at a potential employee’s qualifications. Other social media platforms can give employers insight into a potential employee’s character and personality, says Nazareth. Candidates with blogs or personal websites offer potential employers samples of their work and thinking, and their engagement in the field.

Network, network, network

Dave Wilkin is a serial entrepreneur with a passion for connecting youth to opportunities. The founder of Toronto-based Ten Thousand Coffees (an organization that connects millennials to established professionals for coffee meet-ups) talks about the common experience of young applicants whose passion, intelligence and abilities are not conveyed by their thin resumes. Wilkin has found that coffee conversations are a better way for younger people to find meaningful work. The reverse is also true: organizations looking for young talented staff can often find them through intentional conversations.

Use predictive technology

As Yates explains, “Most resumes are bad at predicting performance because they describe what work was done and for how long – not how well it was done. Other critical elements that help determine performance are absent from resumes, like attitude, working style, motivations, and working environment preferences. Along with a person’s track record performing similar tasks, these are the factors that will predict future success – not whether they've had a similar job title or x years’ experience.” Yates co-founded Fitzii after seeing qualified immigrants struggling to integrate into the Canadian workforce—and believing there had to be a better way to predict a good fit for available jobs.

In addition to collecting the resume of all applicants, Fitzii’s structured assessment “evaluates the elements that actually do predict success and fit in a role”— every candidate is assessed and scored on three elements: whether they can do the job (do they have the specific skills and experience determined as necessary for the particular job?), whether they will do the job (using a personality test, each candidate’s profile will be compared with others who have performed well in such a job), and whether they will thrive in the job (comparing the working environment to the candidates preferences).

The future of hiring

As Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” The resume may not be technically dead but it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Nazareth agrees. “We’ve lost the context for resumes. They are still required — almost as a kind of captcha code that helps hiring managers and human resources staff weed out unqualified applicants, but relying only on a resume is like going to a job interview and using old phrases like ‘milk run’ and soon ‘mailman’ — it just shows you’re out of touch. Resumes will always be needed but a digital profile is the calling card of the 21st century professional.”

Today’s hiring managers looking to find the best staff have the opportunity to be as innovative as Leonardo himself by making use of emerging technology that gives them the tools to better assess the skills and qualifications of prospective hires, and by building relationships with prospective candidates.

Susan Fish is a writer/editor at Storywell, a company that helps individuals and organization tell their story well. She has written for the nonprofit sector for almost two decades and loves a good story.

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