Kill the resume to create a more productive and equitable economy

crumpled up piece of paper with the word "resume" on it.

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There was a time when meaningful employment didn’t require a resume. Workers across America could raise families based on competency in the skills required to do their jobs.

In order to create more productive workforces, close the opportunity and skills gap, increase diversity and equity and build an economy that works for all, we must return to this notion. We must kill the resume.

Why resumes don’t work

For close to 200 years we didn’t need resumes to build the American Dream. Workers in an agrarian or industrial economy weren’t judged based on their education or employment backgrounds. Even early post-industrial employers, like IBM, would hire those with aptitude and train them to become top producers. This was a competitive advantage.

But, as a post-industrial economy transformed into a technology-based economy, this mindset changed. Aptitude and attitude were no longer good enough for employment. Workers displaced by globalization, automation or other causes could no longer rely on their abilities to land another family-sustaining career. Resumes, education, networking, prior job experience were now the criteria for employment.

These criteria are all biased towards those with pedigree. They exacerbate the growing economic inequality and create barriers for upward mobility.

Resumes are a poor tool for talent acquisition for several reasons. The first is that 85% of people lie on their resume. There is no way to accurately measure a candidate based on their own self assessment. The second reason resumes are poor hiring tools is the implicit biases of the person reviewing the resume. Affinity bias, confirmation bias and many other conscious and unconscious heuristics creep into the hiring process.

The third reason resumes don’t work is that they have no correlation to employee outcomes or performance. The proxies they measure – education, prior jobs, name, location, etc. – don’t do anything to determine how a person will perform in a certain role. They only showcase and reinforce what a person has done, which is a result of their level of pedigree and privilege, not aptitude and attitude.

What takes the resume’s place?

Once we kill the resume, what takes its place?

We can use technology, not just to screen resumes for keywords, but to replace them entirely. A post-resume labor market is one where employers use machine learning and AI to explicitly tie job performance outcomes to applicants’ abilities. This takes bias out of the hiring process, selecting applicants based on aptitude and attitude rather than pedigree and privilege. It allows employers to control for outcomes and know exactly what they’re looking for in the hiring process.

Using technology allows for objective measurement of performance and system refinement. Employers know exactly why they hired someone, can see how that person does in their role and then can refine the hiring model to select better candidates in the future.

Benefits of killing the resume

Resetting talent acquisition away from resume-based models and focusing on technology to screen for aptitude and attitude benefits three groups: employers, employees and society at large.

Benefits to employers

Killing the resume creates economic growth for employers. They can now, with a high degree of accuracy, hire employees who will be most productive in their positions. It delivers a better performing, more innovative and diverse workforce. It opens up new talent pools and reduces the costs of traditional talent recruitment and retention. All this helps solve the talent and skills gaps, two of the biggest issues employers currently face.

Benefits to employees

Employees finally get a fair chance at a family-sustaining career, regardless of their background or pedigree. They can be seen and evaluated on their proven abilities, not on arbitrary and biased proxies. By eliminating the resume, we can consistently, predictably and unbiasedly move people from the bottom quintile of the income ladder to the top quintile.

Benefits to society

The rise of the resume as the predominant factor is hiring correlates with a massive growth in income inequality. In 1980, the bottom 90% made close to 70% of income. Today, the total income of the bottom 90% is less than the top 10%. Killing the resume is a major step to reducing this economic inequality and solving the income gap. It equalizes access to high-quality employment for historically excluded groups. It creates a more competitive, innovative workforce that can compete on the international stage.

The path to kill the resume can seem daunting, filled with institutional roadblocks and the inertia of the innovator’s dilemma. But the longer you wait to do so, the longer you’re continuing to hire inferior talent, and the more likely the talent you need to grow is going to a competitor.

This column was first published through the World Trade Center Institute.

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