Résumés are nonsense (and we all know it)

Sterling Grey works as Delivery Lead Consultant out of Chemistry’s New York office. Here he blogs on why résumés are total nonsense (and we all know it) and, worse still, on how they’re actually a danger to society…

Deep down, we all know that the résumé is total nonsense. Please sum up the entirety of your professional career and every important thing you’ve ever done at work onto one page. Your livelihood pretty much depends on it. Go!

Seriously, do this for me: ask yourself if this is the best way to marry people to employment. I bet it took you exactly 2/10ths of a second to answer, ‘No, of course not.’ Yet we all continue to use them as the primary source for job recruitment. Does no-one else think this is asinine?

What’s worse is that there exists diplomatic evidence that suggests résumés, as a form of selection, serve to amplify bias and in turn reinforce the gulch between those with privilege and those with less. The horrific irony being that those with less may be those with the greatest need for gainful employment. In plain terms, résumés are not only bad for business, they are harmful and dangerous to society. 

First: THEY ARE FULL OF LIES! Or, at the very least, severely embellished versions of only the best things we’ve ever done. Every résumé is, in some form, proclaiming its writer is a rock-star. At their worst, these things are just plain fiction. Able to rapidly synthesize anything you want and deliver exceptional results. Really? REALLY? What does that even mean?

Second: there’s a new app that is the Tinder for resumes. Okay, there isn’t really – that was a joke. However, there might as well be because that’s about as much attention as any resume ever gets. A quick glance, may be a skim over the description, but then in most cases it’s a hard swipe left.

I’m not kidding. Ladders has research showing that recruiters only spend an average of 6.25 seconds looking at a applicant’s résumé before deciding whether he or she is a fit for a job. The study also shows that recruiters spend 80% of that six seconds looking at just six things:

Current title/company
Previous title/company
Previous position, plus start/end dates
Current position, plus start/end dates

It’s in Forbes, it must be true. → Check it out.

Third…and here is where things get really scary. Like, lessen your faith in civilization scary. A field experiment on Labor Market Discrimination conducted by Faculty Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of the National Bureau of Economic research, revealed that resumes with Caucasian sounding names like Emily Walsh or Greg Baker were 50% more likely to get a callback than the identical resume with an African American sounding name such as Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones. Their research also indicated that a white name yielded as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of work experience.

‘While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African-American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data,’ the authors write. ‘Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability.’ [1]

W.T.F? To be fair this isn’t just an America problem. In October of 2015, the then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron declared the issue of bias against ‘ethnic sounding names’ as part of his agenda for the NHS in a Civil Service announcement. He went as far as declaring that name-blind recruitment processes were to be adopted by 2020. He stole this one from orchestras that began auditioning musicians from behind a curtain. Weirdly, it turned out the historically male-dominated community favored female musicians.

Let’s not stop there. The same goes for gender bias. Another Fortune Magazine gem. Erin McKelvey was getting zero responses to her résumé after graduating college. She straight up changed her name to Mack McKelvey and got a 70% response rate. [2]

Anecdotal, I know, so here’s a more data driven example. Research firm Insync Surveys asked over 1,000 hiring managers in Australia and New Zealand to evaluate two résumés with the exact same qualifications save for one difference. You guessed it, one was from Simon Cook, the other from Susan Campbell. Even among female recruiters, Simon was the favorite.

Let’s bullet point this insanity.

• Your resume is likely to be scanned for little more than 6 seconds
• If you don’t have a ‘white’ sounding name, you’re 50% less likely to get a callback
• If you’re a woman, you’re also less likely to get a callback
• If you’re a woman with an ‘ethnic’ sounding name, do you even register as a person to recruiters?

I’ve brought these insights up during dinner conversations or over drinks with people I genuinely believe to be thoughtful and intelligent. The overwhelming response I get is accompanied with an apathetic shoulder shrug and some version of ‘Well, what else can we do?’ Um, well, since we’ve figured out how to do things like split atoms, edit genes (educate yourself on CRISPR here), and thanks to Mr. Musk we may be traveling from NYC to LA in under an hour (you must check out the Hyperloop here), I really, really want to believe that we can come up with some improved, more ethical way of predicting people performance than résumés.


[1] Employers’ Replies to Racial Names. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 May 2017.
[2] This Woman Exec Changed Her Name to a Man’s to Get a Job. Should You? | Fortune.com. Fortune, 08 June 2016. Web. 21 May 2017.

Jul, 17, 2017