Resumes considered harmful, or at least useless

In our recent hiring effort, I’ve noticed that I’ve approached all the resumes the same way: I don’t read them.

Sure, I go through the resume before the phone screen, marking passages for discussion. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst…

…Oh you know 11 programming languages? Great, let me ask you a deep technical question about number 9, Visual Basic. How do you get the length of a string in Visual Basic? No idea? Oh you’d look it up. So the extent of your knowledge is your bookmark to the “Visual Basic Functions” page in MSDN on-line. OK, so which of these can you actually answer questions about? Just Java? OK…

…It says here you were the team leader in developing a reporting system against an Oracle back end. Nice, so you know Oracle? Great! What does “SELECT” mean in SQL? You didn’t run into that bit of arcane knowledge? How did you write those reports? Oh a contractor set them up. But you did some data analysis? Oh a “team member” did that…

Am I alone in feeling that resumes are useless? That junior developers can’t be judged by resumes because they have nothing to say yet and that senior developers can’t be judged by resumes because after 10 years everyone can say the “right things” on paper?

Apparently not! Take it Seth:

Great jobs, world class jobs, jobs people kill for… those jobs don’t get filled by people emailing in resumes. Ever.

Chime in Joel:

The standard job application of cover letter plus resume is a phenomenally weak way to introduce a candidate. They give you only the faintest clues as to the quality of an applicant.

It’s everywhere. Almost a meme. What did Warren Buffet have to say in the latest Berkshire Hathaway annual report? (highlights)

Charlie and I are not big fans of resumes. Instead, we focus on brains, passion and integrity.

OK but wait, is this really fair? Maybe if you’re applying for some cool position but what about getting a regular job? Well yes, if you want a regular job it might work to approach things in a regular way. If that’s what you want. Is it?

What’s stopping you from having a completely different perspective on the resume-and-cover-letter strategy? Are you afraid the HR department will toss any resume that doesn’t match their acronym pattern? OK, with many companies you’re right. But do you really want to work for a company that rewards acronym-counts over interesting achievements? That values standards-compliance over unique accomplishments? That rewards professional conformity over personality and passion?

Seth sums it up wonderfully (my emphasis):

Having a resume begs for you to go into that big machine that looks for relevant keywords, and begs for you to get a job as a cog in a giant machine. Just more fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be fine for average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?


If you don’t have a resume, what do you have?

How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects?
Or a sophisticated project they can see or touch?
Or a reputation that precedes you?
Or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up?

Some say, “well, that’s fine, but I don’t have those.”

Yeah, that’s my point. If you don’t have those, why do you think you are remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular? It sounds to me like if you don’t have those, you’ve been brainwashed into acting like you’re sort of ordinary.

2 responses to “Resumes considered harmful, or at least useless”

  1. Jason,
    I read this and couldn’t help putting a shameless plug in.

    I have felt your pain — anyone that’s ever staffed a project, department, or company certainly has. I wrote an ebook that discusses specifically why resumes are such awful tools for candidate evaluation. The ebook also discusses how you can better evaluate candidates without resumes.

    The ebook is free and is available here or by cutting and pasting the link below. Would love your thoughts (and the thoughts of any other readers).
    .-= Richard Wilner’s latest blog post: IE6? More like IE666 =-.

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