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Future of Work

The Resume Is Dead — You Need a New Hiring Playbook

Employers need to rethink, or at least question, every single thing about hiring and retention, starting with (gulp) the resume.

resumes
Experts say resumes, and even experience, are overrated as indicators of how well a job candidate will perform. [zhazhin_sergey / Getty]

Do we still need resumes? Is experience overrated? Are your job descriptions accurate? 

Attracting and retaining workers in this highly competitive, extraordinarily tight labor market is harder than ever, and a key priority for businesses. Nearly 60% of HR pros said building critical skills and competencies is their top priority this year. All this should drive employers to rethink, or at least question, everything about hiring and retention. 

That was the conclusion among experts at a recent Wharton Business School conference on the future of work. 

“Your old culture is no more. It’s time to invent a new culture,” said Tsedal Neeley, Harvard Business School Professor and author of Remote Work Revolution.

That means challenging foundational assumptions and long-held practices around hiring, training, and retaining workers. Doing so, experts said, can help organizations build a bigger, more diverse, more skilled, and more motivated workforce.

The death of the resume

“It’s time to throw out the resume. Nothing it tells me is of any use,” said Malcolm Gladwell, author and co-founder of the audio production company Pushkin. 

That might be a bit hyperbolic, but he was making a point about the importance of focusing on what a candidate could do, what they are capable of, and questioning the relative importance of experience as an indicator of how well a candidate will perform in the future. 

“Experience has almost no predictive value in the vast majority of work roles,” said Adam Grant, noted Wharton professor, author, and host of the conference. 

Ticking off one’s time at various employers on a piece of paper, then, may not be the most effective way to recruit. So, how can you evaluate skills? 

“Instead of showing me your resume, show me the work you’ve done, things you’ve built. It’s the portfolio model,” said Chike Aguh, chief innovation officer at the U.S. Department of Labor. “If you’re not hiring based on skills and the capacity to learn, you are missing out on talent.” 

So, in an age of LinkedIn profiles, has the resume’s time passed? One age-old element of recruitment, the cover letter, already appears on its way out. In a sign of the shift in power dynamics between employees and employers, a survey by ResumeLab found only 38% of job candidates included a cover letter with an application, even when one was requested. 

“In this market,” said Aguh, “talent is the buyer.” 

The job description

If you look back at the job description for your current role, how closely would it match what you are doing in your day-to-day work? Did it require skills you didn’t have, but ultimately acquired, or did it overestimate the skills required to do the job well? 

Many organizations don’t give nearly enough thought to the job description, often overestimating what it will take to be successful, and not being exact about what the job entails. The result is either a drawn-out hiring process, or a talent mismatch when the wrong person is hired. These days, organizations can afford neither. 

“Organizations need to do the hard work and ask themselves what it takes to do a job,” said Aguh. “They overestimate their knowledge of the role and lack clarity about what is really required. As the labor market tightens, you need to be very precise. And if no one is buying your job, you need to change the job to what the market needs.” 

Gladwell said he is interested in running an experiment at his own company to see if there are more people qualified to do a particular job than seems apparent at first blush. 

“You may think you need someone with this credential and that skill, but what if you threw a random smart person in there? In fluid, creative work, it’s worth asking if you’re overvaluing work experience when it comes to choosing people for specific roles.” 

The evolution of workforce development

Hiring the right person is only half the battle. The other half is keeping them engaged, challenged, satisfied, and otherwise happy. That requires investment in learning and development programs, and vigilance in taking the temperature of workers. For example, instead of the typical exit interview when someone leaves, why not conduct “stay interviews” to see where people’s heads are at? Are they a flight risk? What would keep them loyal to the company?

At the same time, leading organizations that have struggled to hire the talent they need are looking beyond degrees and lack of experience and putting greater weight on the ability to adapt and learn on the job. Okta, IBM, and CVS Health are among the organizations investing in so-called “new collar” training programs that help them close the gap. 

However, this requires hiring managers to overcome the natural inclination to hire people who mirror themselves, and avoid relying on personal referrals, said Aguh. In addition to identifying a deeper pool of talent, this is essential for building a diverse workforce. 

“Workforce development is about giving someone skills,” he said. “They might come with good skills but your job is to maximize them, put them to good use.” 

He also suggested companies invest in apprenticeship programs, where people’s skills are assessed, they get paid, on-the-job training, and are eventually hired full time. Momentum for apprenticeships has already picked up, particularly in tech companies, as a means for obtaining entry-level talent. 

Many companies are in the thick of a digital and data transformation that requires new skills, and a lot more talent. The supply is jobs, and the demand is workers, a situation that is likely to persist. This earthquake in workplace dynamics should force companies, if they want to be competitive, to rethink everything they thought they understood. 

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