I’ll Say It Again: We Need to Get Rid of Resumes and Job Descriptions

As some of you may know, I think the continued use of traditional, skills-infested job descriptions prevents companies from hiring the best talent available.

By default, they wind up hiring the best person who applies.

That’s the same reason I’m against the indiscriminate use of assessment tests. While these tests are good confirming indicators of on-the-job performance, they’re poor predictors of it (square the correlation coefficient to get a sense of any test’s predictive value).

Worse, they filter out everyone who isn’t willing to apply without first talking with someone about the worthiness of the position.

Resumes are dangerous, too

I was blathering on like this recently when I not only advocated for the scuttling of traditional job descriptions and pre-assessment tests, but also made the claim that traditional skills-intensive resumes were equally dangerous, since they also filter out some really good people who might be more competent, but possess a slightly different mix of skills.

If the best person who applies for a job is equal to the best person who is available, this is not a problem. However, you need to consider the 80 percent of fully qualified passive candidates who didn’t apply — diverse candidates of different shapes and sizes, returning military vets, and high-potential candidates who are light on the skills listed when making this quality of hire assessment.

As many of you know (since you might have attended a recent webcast) as part of my new book I asked a senior attorney at Littler Mendelson (the top U.S. labor law firm) to validate the legal implications of using performance-based job descriptions instead of traditional skills-infested job descriptions.

He documented his views in a white paper stating that performance profiles were far superior from an objectivity standpoint, and more than fully compliant.

Of course, if we banish both job descriptions, pre-assessment tests and resumes, what are we left with? (Which even I consider a fair question)

A candidate search worth remembering

For the answer, I’ll go back to the first time I proposed the idea to a client more than 30 years ago.

The hiring manager was the VP/Controller of a Los Angeles-based public company. He had given me the search assignment to find a GM for one of its electronic parts distribution divisions.

Preparing the performance-based job description was easy, since I have always prepared these for every search I conducted. I just got the hiring team together and asked “what does success look like?”

For this position, it was increase gross margins in their core business by 20 percent, lead the upgrade of the distribution technology, rebuild the national sales team, and set the company up on a course to grow at least 15-20 percent per year for the next few years.

Then I asked the hiring team for some relief on the “10-15 years direct industry experience, at least five years of direct P&L responsibility, an MBA, deep knowledge of electronics at the component level, strong leadership skills, deep values, strong verbal and written skills, and great interpersonal skills,” if I could find someone who could meet all of the performance objectives.

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They tepidly agreed, but asked a fair question: how would I assess the person if we didn’t use a resume?

What if we don’t use a resume?

I responded that, of course, we’ll use a resume, but we need to read between the lines, focusing more on what the person accomplished with their skills and experiences rather than the absolute level of them.

I then put five S’s on the whiteboard standing for Scope, Scale, Sophistication, Systems, and Staff. The idea was that if a person’s accomplishments were comparable on these five measures then he or she was a viable candidate.

The person ultimately hired had managed a team of 200 people, was using state-of-the-art technology to manage his business, was working for a well-known manufacturing and distribution company, and had full P&L responsibility for a profitable and growing business, although a little smaller, but one he turned around. The person didn’t have 10-15 years of direct industry experience, didn’t have an MBA, had limited knowledge of electronics, and I don’t have a clue if his written communications were any better than C+.

The person hired was extremely successful, and after a few years, become the Group VP/GM. None of this would have happened if we used a traditional job description and screened the resume on a list of skills and experience that filter out the best people. This is pretty much the same story on the subsequent 1,000 or so placements my firm made over the next 20 years.

Hiring based on performance

Matching skills and experience written in a poorly thought-out job description to what’s written on a resume never seemed like a great way to start the talent acquisition process. Adding some type of pre-assessment test to further weed out the weak in an attempt to add some level of legitimacy to a flawed process seemed even more incomprehensible.

Since we promote people based on their performance, why don’t we hire them the same way? That’s why we should ban descriptions, pre-assessment tests, and resumes whenever the supply of top talent is less than the demand.

Which, just might be always.


Lou Adler is the CEO and founder of The Adler Group – a training and search firm helping companies implement Performance-based Hiring℠. Adler is the author of the Amazon top-10 best-seller, Hire With Your Head (John Wiley & Sons, 3rd Edition, 2007). His most recent book has just been published, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired (Workbench, 2013). He is also the author of the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! Using Performance-based Hiring to Build Great Teams (2007).


8 Comments on “I’ll Say It Again: We Need to Get Rid of Resumes and Job Descriptions

  1. The limitations of relying on outdated and objective ways to access fit, has dual implications. I often urge “high potentials” to communicate their value without referring to their resume or the last project they lead. What will distinguish a candidate is the “how” they bring their skills to the table, the “why”, and the pain points they have been able to solve for others. A long list of degrees, certifications, and job titles tells me nothing about your attributes, how you handle uncertainty, tolerate stress, innovate, relate, respond or influence.

  2. I agree with you Lou.
    1) Need performance-based descriptions
    2) Don’t need assessment testing — 99% have no validity regardless of what consultants who sell them say
    3) Probe for actual accomplishments in interviews
    One that is not new —- have would-be candidates focus on accomplishments on their resumes and put those on the top half of the first page for the recruiter to see first as he/she only gives each resume about 30 seconds of time before moving on to the next one. They don’t want to read about accomplishments under listed under each job the person has held. Put them up front on the top half of the first page!

  3. This is informative and basic. I like it. Now if we can only create job opportunities for those whom have served prison time and have a record to follow all of their lives now. Even former criminals deserve a 2nd chance.

  4. I think many firms miss out on individuals who would make profitable and excellent additions to their companies, pure and simply because of how resumes are viewed – is it perceptions that need to change within our societies?

  5. Totally agree. Too many job descriptions and list of qualifications are so intimidating, it almost discourages all but the CEO of the company himself to apply! Unless the job is running a large department or managing the company itself, no job should *require* “more than a decade of direct industry management experience” or a masters degree. If people like that apply, then all the better. But companies today believe they can be so picky amid the current labor market that they are only hurting themselves by not allowing real talent to rise to the top.

  6. Lou,

    Thanks for another inspiring article. It’s another call for recruiters to become Lou Adler-type Diagnosticians.

    In my view those involved in the Diagnostic Process need to be at least the Hiring Manager and the Final Decision Maker (usually the Hiring Manager’s boss). This avoids “Final Decision Maker Ambush” at Hiring Decision time. Others can be involved in the Diagnostic Process so long as they have deep knowledge of Attributes that an exemplary candidate will bring to the job. Avoid ‘Group Think’ during diagnosis by precluding collaboration.

    This delivers a tight Job Profile of say 15 Key Attributes in rank order.

    Now that we have certainty sourcing and selection becomes relatively easy.

    No need for Job Descriptions. Resumes tell us how to contact candidates. We can design an incisive Skill & Background Profile Form for completion by candidates who proceed past a focused telephone interview. The rest of the selection process is based on professional diagnosis and is so much quicker.

  7. I agree with virtually all of Mr. Adler’s comments in this article. There is a danger to defining job requirements too tightly, as well as job descriptions being out-of-date. Despite being a big advocate of carefully constructed job descriptions with valid competency models, there is a lot of merit to the strengths-based philosophy that people leverage their own skill-set to get the job done. An extended history of strong performance in differing situations and differing tasks is still the best predictor of future performance, not necessarily the degree of competency match between a candidate and job specs.
    Passive job candidates is always a challenge, which is why a large, permanent, external talent pool, carefully maintained, is probably one of the best way to be able to possibly interest passive candidates.
    Finally, maybe it is time to stop fitting square pegs in round holes, that is finding a person for a unchanging job description, and instead let job descriptions evolve to fit the strengths of the talent we select.

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