Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

How to Distinguish Potential From Pedigree When Reviewing Resumes

Research shows companies with diverse teams are more successful but over-reliance on resumes results in homogenous hiring.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

We’ve all been on at least one side of the table: either endlessly perfecting your resume, or scanning through a pile of seemingly identical resumes. Despite our efforts to stand out as applicants, or be equitable in our hiring practices as employers, we inevitably have biases throughout our decision making. How do we combat unconscious bias to change this? How useful are resumes actually? What are the ramifications of relying on them?

PeopleImages | Getty Images

Related: 5 Attributes to Look for in High-Performing Employees

Resumes don't predict job success.

Resumes are often filtered based on school prestige, GPA and test scores. However, the validity of using these factors to screen candidates is being called into question. Many talented people do not go to top schools for a host of reasons (including socioeconomic ones), and many qualified applicants might not have a high GPA or test scores. The brain doesn’t finish developing until age 25, and not every 18-year-old is as disciplined as s/he needs to be to achieve a consistent 3.9 college GPA.

Additionally, learning differences impact GPAs and test scores -- dyslexia and ADHD to name but two. All of these variables point to a significant gap in how companies  measure, analyze and engage talent. Prominent organizations are catching onto this. Google recognized that even for recent college grads, test scores and GPAs are “worthless as criteria for hiring,” suggesting a more holistic hiring practice needs to be implemented.

Resumes should be useful in evaluating experience; however, a recent survey of hiring managers revealed that 49 percent of applicants lied on their resumes. Though outright lying is likely not an applicant’s intention, with the volume of resources about how to “optimize” one’s resume, it is commonplace to alter a resume in order to match a job’s desired characteristics. This process has normalized resume manipulation to such an extent that job seekers do not realize they are misrepresenting themselves to potential employers. The combination of competition and resume optimization has created an environment of misinformation, which dilutes resumes as stable predictors for job seekers’ success.

Related: 9 Common Resume Mistakes Every Job Hunter Should Avoid

How we review resumes undermines diversity goals.

In addition to poorly predicting job success, resumes are also hindering workforce diversity. When resumes and demographic information are brought into the application process, minorities and women often end up at a distinct disadvantage.

This bias is shown in various settings. Studies demonstrate that resumes with traditionally African-American names are less likely to be called for an interview than those with traditionally Caucasian names. Women experience a similar bias when applying for STEM jobs; applications with the name “John” were more highly rated across “competence,” “hireability,” and “mentoring” compared to the exact same application with the name “Jennifer.” Finally, men who listed “privileged” activities on their resume (i.e. sailing or polo) are given a distinct advantage in the hiring process, whereas women with privileged activities on their resume were given a distinct disadvantage.

As these studies show, factors on a resume that are unrelated to job success (i.e. race, gender, wealth) are driving statistically significant differences in job applicants’ success. This demonstrates that organizations are missing out on an incredible amount of talent while simultaneously undermining their financial stability. One study shows ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to yield financial returns above industry medians. Relying solely on resumes is a direct threat to an organization's growth, which makes addressing diversity with inclusive recruiting and hiring practices a business critical priority.

Related: The Do's and Don'ts of the Modern Resumé (Infographic)

Looking Ahead

Since the resume often perpetuates unconscious bias and is an unreliable resource for predicting job success, what should we be relying on instead? Meaningful improvement for building inclusive organizations begins with an understanding that diversity goes beyond hiring, it includes retention, to build a company where people are able to be themselves.

The first step is understanding that we need to look beyond legacy hiring practices, like the resume. It’s important to approach hiring holistically; to stop evaluating candidates based on a quick scan, and leverage outside resources to reframe our thinking and encourage inclusive hiring.

Thankfully, technological advances provide many opportunities for us to look beyond resume and support long-term growth. Unitive enables blind resume review by removing bias from job descriptions and anonymizing applicants. Jopwell is a career advancement platform for Black, Hispanic, and Native American professionals. At pymetrics, we enable job seekers to communicate their skills and demonstrate their potential based on how they think, not where they’ve been. Companies like Project Include and Glassbreakers help organizations manage talent once they are already in house. The technological solutions to support inclusion exist, it’s just about implementing them.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks