Our search firm presents resumes to hiring managers almost every day. And hiring managers often glance at the resume for a few seconds and declare “I have no interest in seeing that candidate.” In that moment, all the hiring managers can envision is some unqualified person wasting an hour of their precious time. So rejecting the unusual resume seems like a time saver … except it’s not.

We only present candidates after we’ve already read a few hundred resumes, and talked to a few dozen people. We already know that the candidate most likely to be hired (and thrive in the job) is the very person whose resume the hiring manager wants to reject.

So why am I so sure that resumes are a terrible way to select the best candidate?

Actually the problem is not with the resume. The problem is that most hiring managers ask themselves the wrong question when they look at resumes. Managers ask resumes to answer the question “Has this person already proven that they are qualified?” But a resume cannot prove anything, it can only hint at it. Asking yourself the wrong question only narrows your focus, so you rule out too many qualified candidates. Rather than saving time, it actually costs you time by prolonging your job vacancy.

While managers are busy eliminating people simply because they arrived at the destination by a different path, we are asking a different question. We ask “Could this person be qualified?” We know that people from unexpected or nontraditional backgrounds often outperform the people with “good looking” resumes (because you learn different things when you travel on different paths). We find great people by broadening our focus (but hey, I freely admit, we also do this for a living every day).

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