Why Résumés and Traditional Interviews are Worthless

Yes, that is quite a bold statement, but that has been my opinion for quite some time, and from what I’ve been reading lately it’s dead on. It appears that neuroscience yet again supports my opinion, which makes me smile 🙂

Let us begin with the résumé. I’ve always been bothered by the fact that a résumé serves as the primary gatekeeper for job interviews. Why? Because a résumé is often a work of creative fiction. Sure, they are usually grounded in some sort of reality, but they are written by the job seeker, making for a highly biased representation of a job candidate.

Of course, any hiring manager or HR person worth their salt will do some checking, but usually not until after someone has been in for an interview and they are actually being considered for the position. At that point, so long as they haven’t lied outright, they may well get the job regardless. The vetting process is far from perfect.

I’ve been on something of a neuroscience kick lately, and I’ve read a number of books that deal with the science behind why we make the decisions that we do (Sway, Blink, All Marketers are Liars, Brain Rules, etc). In many of the books I’ve read, I’ve come across sections detailing why traditional job interviews are largely useless. The consensus comes down to a term used in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, called “thin-slicing”.

You see, subconsciously, we form opinions about the people we meet in a matter of seconds. Once an opinion has been formed, logical or not, it is very hard to un-form, as we start to subconsciously twist things to support our newly formed point of view. So, in the first few moments of the interview, if the interviewer thin-slices a positive opinion of the applicant, for whatever reason (looks, hygiene, timbre of voice, sex, etc), the hard part of the interview for the applicant is essentially over. First impressions are more powerful than many people realize.

Sure, the applicant could still ruin that first impression, but assuming that they don’t, they’ve got a pretty good chance of getting the job. Unfortunately, neither first impressions nor a carefully crafted résumé can really tell you what a person is capable of, nor do they tell you how that person will respond in various situations outside of an interview setting. Like the résumé, the responses in an interview are often creative fiction, and the questions themselves are largely worthless in terms of actually identifying the best person for the job.

So how then do you find and hire high-quality employees? My solution is to ask for a portfolio, and to then use non-traditional interviewing techniques. A résumé tells me where you have worked, in what positions, and if you went to school, but not how well you did at your last job, if you are punctual or reliable, or any of a dozen other things that are actually relevant to your future performance. A portfolio, on the other hand, gives me something to evaluate.

Having a portfolio can tell me that you take pride in your work, that you pay attention to detail, that you prepare in advance, and a host of other tidbits that vary from portfolio to portfolio. It also often identifies other people and/or businesses that I can contact to ask further questions about the applicant’s experience. Sure, you could use references for that, but they aren’t going to put a reference down who isn’t going to say nice things, are they? 🙂 And as for talking to former employers, they are quite limited in what they can say, which really isn’t all that useful.

As for the non-traditional interviewing techniques, I’ve found that creativity is key. Asking someone how they handled a difficult situation in the past is just begging for a self-serving answer, not to mention impossible to verify. A better option would be to present the job candidate with a real situation you have personally encountered, and see how they would have responded to it. The way they answer will tell you a lot about their personality and the way they think.

It can also be beneficial to have an applicant take a personality test, such as the Wonderlic Personnel test. It consists of thinking questions, and doesn’t allow the taker to represent themselves in a biased, positive light. It helps you to understand how they think, and can tell you a bit about how they would function in various settings. It also happens to be the test that Mensa administers as part of their application process, so it can tell you just how smart a candidate is as well.

At the end of the day, where someone has worked, what positions they have held, where they went to school, how well they write a résumé, or how they do in a traditional interview doesn’t necessarily tell you anything about how they will do in the future, at your company, in the position you are hiring for.

Evidence from the past is often an inaccurate predictor of the future, as we are all constantly learning, growing, adapting and changing. In many instances I would put raw talent and a desire to learn ahead of prestigious degrees or fancy titles. It is easier to fill an empty glass than to have to empty, clean and re-fill a glass already full.

When it comes to hiring, think outside the box. Superstar talent often comes with a portfolio, but may have little or no work experience or college education. You wouldn’t want to miss the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg simply because their résumé wasn’t perfect, would you?

When you set aside antiquated traditions, you become free to see things as they really are, and as they yet may be. Don’t be closed-minded in your hiring tactics…without risk there can be no reward!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this one as well: Degree Discrimination: Degree vs. Experience

One reply on “Why Résumés and Traditional Interviews are Worthless”

  1. Excellent piece. My faith of landing a job was close to nil as I was turned down a couple of times due to the lack of colour in my resume(no previous jobs).

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