Question

I’m afraid I disagree with your objections to using a traditional type of resume. [See Resume Blasphemy.] Here is the basis for my misgivings. I am a hiring manager at a Fortune 50 company. If I want to fill a slot I must complete a job requisition. On the req I have to list the base requirements for the job (e.g., degree, years of experience). When the recruiting starts and resumes begin to arrive, the first person to see them is an HR clerk who screens the listed skills against the req. If you don’t match, I never see your resume. No resume, no interview! Keep in mind that I am a manager and hire highly trained professionals. These aren’t entry level people. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

Nick’s Reply

recruitingIf you’re a manager and you hire specialized professionals, what does it say about you (and your company) when an HR clerk has the power to decide who you should interview and who you should skip? What qualifies HR to judge and filter candidates?

Who should do the recruiting?

I know managers who skirt the HR department every day. They don’t use req’s, and HR doesn’t touch their candidates. The reason is simple and compelling (if it’s no longer obvious in HR-heavy corporate structures). Managers know their business better than HR clerks do. Keywords on resumes are an abysmal way to filter job candidates.

These managers find their own candidates. Sometimes they turn to specialized headhunters; sometimes they use their professional connections.

I believe that any manager who isn’t devoting a couple of days a week to recruiting isn’t doing their job. To rely on HR to source executives is like relying on your mother to find you a date – she’s good at a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them. (See Recruiting: How to get your hands dirty and hire.)

Resume solicitation is not recruiting

Managers with good relationships in their professional community are scarfing up the best candidates in this competitive market because they go out and find them, leaving you with candidates who come along. Please think about this. When you interview only candidates who submit resumes, you’re dealing with a very limited field. Resume solicitation is not recruiting! Can you really live with that? Should you?

(Before you accuse me of pitching headhunters as the solution, I’m not. You don’t need headhunters. You can do it yourself. There is nothing mysterious or magical about what good headhunters do. They go out and actively search for the best candidates.)

The risk of false negatives in recruiting

Consider how many great candidates you may have lost because a clerk rejected their resumes. For example, some of the best candidates I find for my clients lack one or more of the specified keywords (skills, “experience,” credentials, degrees). This means HR would likely reject them, then pay me a handsome fee when I demonstrate why they’d be a great hire anyway. In probabilistic decision-making this is called a false negative — a costly rejection error. Beyond a handful of keywords, what does your HR clerk know about the right candidate for a job you need to fill?

By the way, what I’m suggesting doesn’t just apply to filling highly skilled jobs. If you were a manufacturing manager looking for production workers or a finance manager looking for cost accountants, I’d tell you the same thing.

Send your team to identify potential candidates

I’ll offer you a suggestion. Send one or more members of your work team to a relevant professional or industry event, with the instruction to attend the presentations and return with business cards or other contact information from notable presenters and attendees. No resumes. (Even just names and company affiliation will do!)  There is no reason to even intimate there are jobs to be filled. Just get the contact information. That’s more valuable to you than any resume, and you’ll get more for your recruiting buck than if your clerk posts a job to gather resumes.

Now your job is to call those people yourself — the people whose cards you’ve got. Ask them who they might recommend highly for one of the jobs you need to fill — if they’re not potential candidates themselves. At the very least, those people know far more about your business than your clerks do. Such referrals are what a good headhunter would bring you for a huge fee. Without a resume.

Why don’t managers take a more direct role in recruiting? If you’re a job seeker, how could you use what I’m suggesting to get a job without relying on a resume?

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17 Comments
  1. I was a manager in healthcare and HR was “filtering” my candidates and I had them stop. I asked them to give me access to the job application platform, and I was the one who selected who to interview after reviewing all candidates. All applicants are not equal, even with job requirements met/not met. The HR department has no idea the nuances of my profession, that only someone in the profession and role would understand.

    • @Mary Fran: HR’s role in “sorting” incoming resumes and applications is so patently illogical, unprofessional, wrong and stupid that it has become institutionalized beyond the common sense of the board of directors.

      Why?

      Because employers get TOO MANY applicants, which is because they SOLICIT TOO MANY. Now the ATS and job board companies can market the NECESSITY of “processing” all that bilge before hiring managers can possibly handle it.

      It’s like needing diabetes medication because junk food manufacturers convinced you loading up on Snickers bars and Vente Frappe Lattes with Caramel and Sprinkles is just the way to start your day.

      Junk recruiting kills companies but they love the trip to hell because, well, they want to be part of the dominant culture.

      If employers RECRUITED the right candidates to start, they wouldn’t need to consume thousands of applicants per job or need automated meat grinders to process them — and managers everywhere could get back to their #1 job: hiring good workers.

  2. I would be exceptionally cautious on your last point of approaching people at professional or industry events. A lot of the people who approach are either headhunters or sales robots. Either way, giving them your information is going to lead to nothing but pitches, and most of us don’t have time for that. Make sure if you do pursue that avenue you send someone who’s also in the field and that they make it clear it’s NOT a sales pitch.

    • @David: Point taken. But nowadays, the “headhunting” world is so driven by junk databases and dialing-for-dollars that very few real headhunters venture into real events to recruit. Their very presence likely signals they’re worth talking with.

  3. The way it used to be for the IT division, an HR clerk was reviewing resumes and determining if the candidate met the minimum requirements. The hiring manager (or interview team) was concerned they weren’t seeing all the candidates. For one position, they knew some one who had applied that definitely met all the minimums and most of the preferreds. This was very concerning to one of the managers and he let HR know he wanted to see all the possible candidates – and they refused.

    The manager made a deal – that for the next set of resumes, they would review them together. Resumes for excellent candidates were being rejected. The HR clerk was only looking for certain words because they had no clue what things meant.

    The process changed, and now (at least for IT), all resumes are forwarded and reviewed – even if it means there are over 50.

    • @Tom – You hit on two interesting points here, one intentional, and one maybe not so intentional.

      The first point is the obvious one you intended to make. HR hasn’t a clue. I suspect that not only did they filter out qualified candidates, but they also sent over unqualified candidates that were able to game the keyword system.

      The second point, however, is also interesting. You said the process changed and they sent all resumes, even if there were more than 50. What if there were more than 200? Either way, you’re still only filtering through the candidates that HAPPENED TO APPLY. What about the candidates that don’t even know you’re looking? What about the ones that THINK they’re happy where they are, but could actually benefit from the move? How do you find them? THIS is why Nick says that managers need to constantly be looking and connecting to the professional/industry networks. The VERY BEST candidate is likely NOT included in the bunch of folks that applied. If you have the right network and actively cultivate it, that 50 resumes could easily become 2 or 3 connections. I’d rather have to make a hard choice between 2 or 3 AMAZING candidates than have to filter out 50 resumes to come down to the 2 or 3 SUFFICIENT candidates.

      It’s not easy, to be sure, but it’s worth the effort.

  4. I’m reminded of one of my “life sayings,” “Nothing is simple, and it always takes longer.”

    And this article also got me immediately wondering about the “good old days” (and I do mean old) where “who do you know?” was the way to go, vs. today’s emphasis on EEOC-monitored hiring methods compliance.

  5. I went from being a gas station cashier (and odd-job guy) to a database admin and policy expert. If my employer had judged me based on keywords from my past employment, I wouldn’t have been hired. Now I’m going into my 11th year and I’m highly respected at my organization. Keyword searches are for new toasters or a movie to watch, not new employees.

    • @Al: I wonder how much money your employers made because they skipped the keywords and hired your potential?

  6. At a large medical device company I recruited for, we had two levels of recruiters. The first level helped the hiring managers find, screen and interview candidates. Recruiters were generally assigned 40 jobs at a time so there was little time to locate candidates who hadn’t applied (to your point). The second level of recruiters were assigned the jobs that the first level was unable to fill within a specified time. The second level were seasoned recruiters usually with 10 years or more of recruiting and industry training. They headhunted and cold called only candidates who hadn’t applied and weren’t aware of the openings. All the hiring managers had training on the ATS and were free to look at the resumes of all the applicants. What worries me is that more jobs will be filled in the future using AI, thus leading to even less of the human factor to hiring. Interviews may be conducted by chat bots. Scary thoughts.

  7. Really? Your clerk does your job for you? Must be a very talented and highly paid employee.

  8. Agree with what you say, but I will add one thing.

    If you let HR filter the resumes, you will get candidates that fit their needs, not yours.

    They have a requirement to keep the average salary down, not to increase production. Not only will they forward unqualified candidates, and block the qualified, they will also only forward those that fit their goals, i.e, cheaper and younger. Their job is to make their lives easier, not yours.

    If you are responsible for something, you need to control it, don’t let someone else undermine you.

    • I call that hiring to reduce costs, rather than hiring to increase profits. One is an investment. The other is not.

  9. I worked in the news industry, where there are LOTS of annual contests. As a volunteer judge I got to see a big batch of entries. I’d note the good examples at competitive organizations, and forward those names to the hiring editor.

    • @Brian: THAT is cutting-edge recruiting!

      • You’d think it’s obvious, but only in the totally broken hiring process used today. I a pitcher wins the Cy Young Award, I’m sure other teams that need a good pitcher look at pursuing his contract.

  10. Years and years ago, several jobs ago, one of my bosses handed me a thick pile of CVs and told me to go through them, and sort out the ones that matched the faculty job description for that particular vacancy. Faculty CVs are long, and since I’d never done this before, I remember asking him what he was looking for, and he couldn’t answer. Then I asked him what I should eliminate, and he couldn’t answer that either. At that point, I told him that I was the last person who should be making the first cuts for these job applicants because I knew nothing about what the faculty hiring committee wanted, and that I would likely eliminate the best candidates. This was more than 20 years ago, and the hiring process is even more broken because many employers have entirely eliminated humans from the process.

    I get why the project was dumped on me: the ad in a professional journal brought in so many CVs that the faculty didn’t want to deal with them. Winnowing them down to a more manageable number made sense, but what didn’t make sense was turning over the task to me, or later, to the dept. secretary, who had even less expertise in what the new faculty member should have re background, publications, getting grants, education, etc. than I did. That’s the part that never made sense: who you hire is very important, and getting someone with the right qualifications, etc. should be handled by those best able to determine who that will be (and that isn’t the dept. secretary or the program coordinator).

    Today, they use ATses and computer systems to do this task, which is even worse than having human beings reading CVs.

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