The Biggest Mistake In Hiring: Why Resumes Don’t Work

In Part I of this “Why is Hiring Broken?” series, I examined the myth of “hiring as an art,” in Part II, I discussed the myth of expert prediction, in Part III, I outlined the myth of work experience, and in this Part IV, I detail the limitations of the resume.no_resume

Imagine the typical job application process: You find a job listing that looks promising, you customize your resume (and usually a cover letter) for the role, hit “apply,” and pray to the hiring gods for the best.

Even when you find a job opening through someone you know, the first thing the person usually says is, “Send me your resume.”

When hiring has a 46% failure rate (approximately the same as flipping a coin), it’s hard to justify why the resume is so central to the hiring process.

Why resumes are bad at predicting job performance

Too many job applications

When a job listing receives 250 applications on average, most of the resumes received are inevitably going to be ignored. According to one survey, “only 19% of hiring managers at small companies looked at a majority of the resumes they receive, and 47% say they review just a few.” If the best candidate ends up in that ignored pile, no one will ever know.

Not enough attention paid

Research has revealed that a recruiter spends, on average, 6 seconds scanning a resume. Within that limited time span, how can someone accurately assess a job candidate’s skills and knowledge, personality traits, and culture fitThey can’t.

Attention paid to the wrong information

The same study found that within those 6 seconds that a recruiter looked at a resume, 80% of the time was spend on the job candidate’s name, current title/company, and previous title/company. Even ignoring the research on the hiring biases associated with job candidates’ names, we already know that work experience is an unreliable predictor of job performance.

Inaccurate or misleading information

A survey of hiring managers found that 49% of job candidates lied on their resumes. Arguably, it’s not entirely the candidate’s fault: The countless articles on how to “game” the applicant tracking system sets up the mindset that you need to trick someone in order to get a job.

If resumes are so bad why does everyone use them?

Everyone else uses them and because they don’t know what to use instead. But in this day and age of social recruitment and technological improvements, relying on an outdated medium that doesn’t adequately capture what a person is capable of and how he or she will fit into your company just doesn’t make sense.

What we should be using to hire instead

What we need is a hiring system that can quickly and accurately collect data on a job candidate’s work-related characteristics, objectively assess the data of every job candidate that applies to a role, and use that data to make a prediction on how well that job candidate will perform in a particular role.

Read my post on why I believe candidate-job matching based on psychometric assessment is the future of hiring.

This is Part IV of a 5-part series on “Why is Hiring Broken?” In Part V, I explain why the typical interview fails so spectacularly.

Got a question? Or have a hiring story to share? Let me know in the comments or tweet @ideal.

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Ji-A Min

Ji-A Min

Head Data Scientist at Ideal
Ji-A Min is the Head Data Scientist at Ideal. With a Master’s in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Ji-A promotes best practices in data-based recruitment. She writes about research and trends in talent acquisition, recruitment tech, and people analytics.
Ji-A Min


  • Rebecca Sherrill

    At SAP, we reversed a history of poor hiring/managing decisions in Inside Sales by utilizing the Predictive Index assessment tool to create a meaningful job profile, and then recruit, interview and hire. Results: lowered attrition, increased revenue/productivity, managers armed with information to coach to. Recruiters and hiring managers who still rely exclusively on the resume are underserving their company and the job applicants. Properly used, predictive analytics create a win/win scenario almost every time!

    • Hi Rebecca,

      Hearing how predictive analytics improved your hiring/managing outcomes is so rewarding. You summed it up perfectly: When used properly, it’s a win-win situation!

  • Ji-A, I love this series, thank you so much for sharing your research and insights. I heartily agree with you that the resume is broken, and like the idea of a more quantitative assessment process on the hiring side, but have you given any thought on how the resume itself can be redesigned to better showcase actual skills in a more objective manner?

    • Hi Karin, thanks for your kind feedback!

      Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in the resume as a tool to showcase skills because it’s become too entrenched to use it mainly for learning a candidate’s name, educational background, and work history. I think an interactive social profile such as LinkedIn is the superior alternative for job candidates to better showcase their skills and knowledge.

  • Hervé Dematte

    100% agree, but I wonder how long will it take until recruitment reaches that step.

    • These long-standing practices will be difficult to change but with the growing adoption of data analytics in more and more business functions including HR, as well as the mounting frustration with the poor ROI of traditional recruiting practices, using a data-based system of hiring will become increasingly common.

      In fact, Google’s Laszlo Bock recently wrote a LinkedIn post where he stated that the best way to recruit and hire is “by looking at large sets of data and inferring relationships, similarities, and predictors of success and failure.”

      • Hervé Dematte

        Thanks for introducing this article. Let’s hope for the best then:)