Keith has 20 years of experience in sales and leadership positions including roles as a Sales Person, Sales Manager, Director of Sales, VP of Sales, Director of Field Readiness, and CEO at multiple hardware and software companies.Follow
On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup speaks to Keith from SmartRank about how resumes and job descriptions are worthless.
Some Conversation Highlights:
Listening time: 26 minutes
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Here’s your host, William Tincup.
William Tincup (00:34):
Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today we have Keith on from SmartRank, and our topic today is “Resumes and Job Descriptions Are WORTHLESS.” Worthless is in all caps. I’m not screaming because I don’t want to scream into anyone’s ear, but they’re worthless. This is going to be a lot of fun.
Keith, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and SmartRank?
Keith Hulen (01:03):
Yeah, happy to. My name’s Keith Hulen. I’m the CEO and co-founder of SmartRank. We’re a talent acquisition solution, a productivity tool, plus an ATS that allows organizations to stack rank and filter job applicants, coincidentally, without using a resume in any way, shape, or form.
William Tincup (01:26):
I can’t remember if it was you or someone else telling me the history of the resume goes all the way back to the Renaissance or Leonardo or something like that. Let’s tackle the history of resumes for just a moment.
Keith Hulen (01:39):
Yeah. I think that was a conversation we were having. In learning about our journey here, I had to do research on the resume, so I did. I went back and I’m like, “How old is this thing?” Because it’s been around my entire career, 100%.
William Tincup (01:54):
Right, me too.
Keith Hulen (01:56):
I started doing some research and there’s a lot of articles out there, and one of them I found was an article about how the person that is credited with creating the first resume, now obviously, I’m sure there were variations of this even before but, is Leonardo da Vinci, which I thought was so cool.
It actually exists. You can go online and find his resume that he put together for the Duke of Milan or something like that, and he talked about all the different skills that he has. And what I found-
William Tincup (02:27):
Like Leonardo has to talk about the things that he’s great at.
Keith Hulen (02:31):
He did then. If he had a resume today, it would just be his name would get him the interview. But back then, you had to.
William Tincup (02:37):
That’s a good point.
Keith Hulen (02:39):
So he puts together this thing. You know what was interesting, William, that got me thinking about this is that there’s other things I’m sure that we’ve… We used the wheel 540 years ago. But the resume was something that I realized it’s one of the only things I can think of that we use in the exact same way today that we did 540 years ago.
We had a printing press that was created roughly around the same timeframe, but it’s changed dramatically. We don’t use it the exact same way. It’s totally changed at this point. The resume is one of those things that I feel like still is used in the exact same 100% way that it was 500 years ago. It’s crazy.
William Tincup (03:30):
Outside of the age and the antiquity part of resumes, what also makes them worthless?
Keith Hulen (03:42):
I’m not sure that I-
William Tincup (03:43):
Outside they’ve been around for a long time.
Keith Hulen (03:45):
I’m not sure I have to convince anybody that has either reviewed them as a practitioner or reviewed them as a hiring manager or had to submit them as an applicant. If you got together a group of a hundred people that are hiring managers and recruiters and applicants, and you asked everybody who thinks that this whole resume thing is a good idea, how many people would actually raise their hands? It’s a terrible thing. So what are these things? Number one, it lacks context, specificity, objectivity, and accuracy. So why don’t we break those down?
It lacks context. You don’t know what the background is. You’re getting what the applicant wants you to know about them, and that’s it. You’re getting a one sided story. You’re missing the real, what I like to call the sweet stuff. The good stuff is the context that you’re always going to miss.
The specificity is also what was missed. So things like if somebody says, “I sold $2 million dollars at Oracle.” Okay, so what? You had a team of 15 people that actually did most of the selling around you. Somebody set the meetings, somebody did the demos, somebody did the negotiations, what did you actually do in the process? You got credit for $2 million, but did you actually sell it? For this job, I need somebody to do demos and actually prospect and sell.
It’s missing those pieces. You’re getting their point of view on it. And then sometimes it’s just not accurate. But really, what does any of that stuff on the resume mean? What does it mean that somebody says, “I am highly proficient in Microsoft Excel.” Okay, awesome. What does that mean? Does anybody know what that means? The only person that knows what that means is the applicant.
William Tincup (05:42):
Therein lies the subjectivity, where a hiring manager might be thinking pivot tables, a recruiter might be thinking, maybe not pivot tables, but something more intermediate, etc. And the applicant, the candidate might be thinking basic Excel. I know how to open up the application and build tables, which is fantastic. I know how to change the colors on columns. Okay, I’m proficient.
You’re getting to agreeing on standards and agreeing on terms. Instead of doing that, you’re basically saying the resume and even LinkedIn’s profile is subjective in nature because it’s their perspective of themselves, which is usually inflated. I think some people are really brutally honest with themselves, probably too much, too brutal. But more often than not, most human beings will err on the side that they’re better at something than they truly are. Okay, fair enough.
One of the things I wanted to ask you about is, years ago there was lots of discussion around fraud and resumes and how to detect fraud and how to suss it out with either testing or otherwise, but how to get rid of fraud. So resumes weren’t the problem, it was fraud that was within the resumes that was the problem. First of all, what do you think about that concept?
Keith Hulen (07:17):
Well, I read a number of articles about this. There’s stats all over the place. There’s a stat I remember reading at one point about 80% of people that have been hired admit to lying on their resume about one thing or another. But there’s a deeper question to be asked here, which is, what is lying?
If I put I’m proficient in Excel, we’re using that example, that’s an easy one everybody understands. If I say I’m proficient in Excel, and then you hire me and you never defined what proficiency means, and then you hire me and then you’re like, “Hey man, I need you to put together this pivot table and do some conditional formatting and I need you to do some data validation with some macros.” And they’re like, “I don’t even know what you just said,” then, is that lying?
It’s up for interpretation, is it not? Unless somebody defines it. So I think therein lies the real issue is that you’re dealing with documents that are vague at best.
William Tincup (08:28):
It’s marketing documents. The job description is the other thing we’re going to tackle as we tackle this. The job description’s a marketing document created with probably just as much… riddled with just as much objectivity/subjectivity problems. And the resume is a marketing document as well. Marketing is great. Actually, I love marketing. I’m a recovering marketer. I love marketing. However, this isn’t a great way to hire is by using two different marketing documents and bridging the gap between two different marketing documents.
Keith Hulen (09:06):
In this case, two negatives don’t make a positive. They make a really, really, really bad negative. You’re right, job descriptions are no better. It’s the same thing. Vague at best. Every job description. I don’t care what industry, the size of the company. You can go pull up a job description for salesforce.com or Amazon or down to a five person company. They’re all structured with the same language. They’re going to have things like experience with, familiarity with, knowledge of, expertise. I love the ones… My favorites are the ones that are like, “Proficiency with, high proficiency with, extreme high proficiency with.” All right. How do you define the difference between those three things?
William Tincup (09:58):
Yeah, you need to be the tallest midget. Okay, great. Fantastic. That doesn’t help me.
Keith Hulen (10:06):
It doesn’t mean anything. And the applicant, as you know, they’re going to just interpret whatever they want that to mean when they’re reading it. They’re applying to a job for a reason. They want to get a job. So when they read that, they’re going to interpret what they want to think by that.
Although there is another negative that I think a lot of people don’t look at, which is, and there’s a Harvard Business Review article out there about this, there’s a LinkedIn article, there’s a number of these articles out there that say that statistically females will only apply to a job that they’re a hundred percent qualified for. Meaning that if there’s 10 bullet points, they have to say, I can do all 10 of those. Men on the other hand, we’re 60%, William, which frankly is probably high.
William Tincup (10:54):
That’s extremely high.
Keith Hulen (10:55):
It’s probably lower than that. We’re like, “Oh, we’ll figure it out.”
William Tincup (11:00):
We popped out of the womb automatically assuming that we could figure it out.
I haven’t dropped a transmission. I’m sure there’s a YouTube channel. Got it, done.
Keith Hulen (11:13):
That’s exactly right. And it sucks because you’ve got really, really smart, highly qualified females. They’re not even applying. So there’s a thing, you can also look this up, it’s called the ambiguity effect. This a real documented thing that happens. What happens is the more ambiguous it is, the more scary it is. So if you have an ambiguous job description, which by the nature of job descriptions are all ambiguous. When a female looks at it, if she’s going to be like, “Well, I’m not sure what they mean by that,” there’s a high likelihood based on the ambiguity effect that she’s going to not assume that it’s something that she is qualified for. It’s going to be something that she is not qualified for. “Oh, they’re probably looking for X, Y, and Z, which is just not me. That’s probably what they meant by expertise in. If they didn’t say expertise in, they would’ve just said familiarity with.”
That’s what happens. It’s a really bad problem. You got to think about this, and you know this just as well as anybody, William, if you really get down into it, what is a job description? Because there’s a job posting and you have a job description. A job description is a legal document. You have this legal document and that outlines all your duties and what you’re going to need to do for your job. Then it has a number of things of what they’re looking for in there. And that’s so that if somebody comes in to be a office administrator and now they have him doing sales, they’re going to be like, “This is not in the job description.” That’s what they were built for.
Job postings should be more marketing documents. Here’s why you want to work here. And this is what’s exciting. But unfortunately, because a lot of times talent acquisition people just don’t have the time. So the two get conflated, and now they are one. They are just one. If you go to any job description out there, you’ve got both of those things combined. That’s a problem, frankly. They really should be separated and it should be up to the company to figure out if they’re qualified or not.
William Tincup (13:28):
The interesting thing is where job descriptions come from, internally. I’ve made this mistake, probably everyone listening to this podcast has made the mistake of going into a job board, CareerBuilder, Indeed, wherever, grabbing another job description, bringing it into Word, and then changing a little bit of it and then saying, “Yep, that’s it.”
Now, okay, we all know we shouldn’t do that, but also we should also recycle more. So got it. Stated and covered. I’m interested in terms of where do they come from. Outside of the mistakes we’ve made. Internally, are they cooked by recruiters, by sourcers, by hiring managers, by if they’re large enough companies, by the organizational development folks and competency frameworks and compensation people? Who’s making the chili is what I’m curious about. I know you talk to a ton of hiring managers. Who is making the job descriptions?
Keith Hulen (14:37):
What a great question. I’ll point to go to any semi fairly large organization, and you’re going to see that it’s pretty obvious that there is no consistency in that because you see a lack of consistency in the job descriptions themselves. They’re formatted differently. Some of them have certain sections, other ones don’t. That tells you that it’s whatever we can put together to throw out there to people.
I’ll talk to hiring managers all the time, and they’ve been hiring for a role for years. And then I’ll jump on a call with them and we’re talking, and I pull up their current job description for a role, and they’re like, “Yeah, I’ve never seen this thing before,” or, “I haven’t looked at this in years.”
And you’re like, “Wait, what? You’re the one that has to actually ultimately hire this person. You’re the one that has to manage this person. Potentially even performance manage this person out of the organization if they don’t have what you’re looking for. And you’ve never even looked at this thing?”
Oh man, that’s a scary thought. But it happens. It totally happens. And again, you flip that over to is a recruiter expected to write a job description for a role they’ve literally never done? Is that a fair expectation? I think not. I think that’s not even remotely fair. There has to be involvement from multiple parties for sure.
William Tincup (16:06):
We’re underlining and all capping worthless so that the audience gets the bit. Resumes are worthless. If you could sum that up. Resumes are worthless because of…
Keith Hulen (16:23):
Because of their lack of context, specificity, objectivity, accuracy sometimes. Yeah, I’d say that that’s a big one. And-
William Tincup (16:30):
Keith Hulen (16:31):
Oh, yeah. Go ahead.
William Tincup (16:31):
Go ahead. No, no, finish your thought.
Keith Hulen (16:33):
Oh, I was just going to say, you exacerbate the issue then when you combine two documents, and as you know, a lot of the process for talent acquisition and screening is just comparing keywords between the two. So now you’re doubling down on these two documents that don’t mean anything. They don’t mean anything to the applicants. They don’t really mean much to the talent acquisition professionals that are screening.
They’re looking for keywords that exist on both documents. But you’re losing the best stuff, the best stuff, the most detailed stuff that you want to get, is missed.
You got to ask yourself the question of what is the purpose? Why are we putting this out there? What is the reason that we want this to be out there? I think if you ask a lot of people, they’re hoping that applicants are going to self-select out because they’re going to read the qualifications. No, they’re not. They’re going to interpret that to fit the narrative in their head of what that means, because they want to apply to that job. So they’re going to say, “Hey, thank you for having this be very vague. Now I feel justified that I can apply for this.”
William Tincup (17:40):
One of the things with job descriptions is it… Can we just say the exact same things that job descriptions are also worthless because they’re subjective, they lack context? Is it essentially both of them have the exact same problems? They’re just being used by different people for different reasons.
Keith Hulen (18:05):
Yeah, they do have the same problems. I really mean this, you’re doubling down when you use both of them. Honestly, they don’t get a lot of attention. I’ve been at multiple organizations, big and small. I’ve been asked to review job descriptions, I’ve written job descriptions from scratch that I thought were not there. But we’ve all been trained in this mindset because these are the tools that we use. This is it. This is what everybody focuses on.
For all those years, I was trained in this mindset of, “Oh, I’m looking for this, I’m looking for this.” It wasn’t until I really started to investigate this and really realize none of this means anything. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody. Actually, the only person it means anything to is me. But all of the real meat and potato information in there is in my head. It’s not in the job description. The specificity is totally lacking. All that specificity’s in my head. It’s not on this piece of paper. So yeah, it’s just what everybody has been trained for. When I jump on with our clients, I’ll be like, “Hey, what does this mean?” And everyone smiles, like, “Great question, why have we not asked ourselves that?”
William Tincup (19:31):
I don’t know. What does it mean? You almost can play the telephone game from sourcers to recruiters to hiring managers to candidates. What does it mean? And that’s every single qualification can be subjective.
Keith Hulen (19:48):
Every one of them. And the stat out there is that recruiters are looking at resumes on average for about six seconds. Think about this for a second at a high level. You have somebody that there’s a 99% chance they’ve never done that role. They have a job description that could have been written five years ago that’s out there, and now they’re looking at a resume for six seconds to look and try and identify qualifications for a person that they’re going to pay $150,000 to. That’s all happening in six seconds. They’re going to do…
You’d have to be crazy to not think something’s wrong with that. If you really think about it, that process seems insane. But that’s exactly what happens at every company in the United States.
William Tincup (20:47):
What I love about this podcast is now it’s going to create conversations for recruiters, hiring managers, sourcers, etc. Now they’re going to be basically saying, “Okay, well how do we agree on terms? How do we agree on proficiency using words like that? How do we do that?” Can you see them fixing this themselves, squeezing out the subjectivity of either of those documents?
Keith Hulen (21:13):
You’re not going to get it from the resumes because you can only control-
William Tincup (21:18):
Oh, that’s a good point.
Keith Hulen (21:18):
… one side of this, which is the job descriptions. The resumes are still going to be what they’re going to be. Yeah, you can get more specific for sure, but you’re still going to have a breakdown when you go to compare that highly specific job description that you’ve put a lot of work into now. And I’ve seen some that have tried to do that. They get it. Everything we’re talking about, they get. But now they’re still comparing that to this vague, ambiguous, generic lack of objectivity, context laden resume. That’s where you’re still going to have a breakdown. So even if you fix one side of the fence, you still have the problem on the other side.
William Tincup (21:58):
Drops, mic. Walks off stage. Worthless. Worthless people, worthless.
Keith Hulen (22:05):
We didn’t even talk about this, William. We didn’t even mention the DE&I aspect. Resumes are the single largest source of unconscious bias. The number one thing. If you go to any medium to large size organization and go to their careers page, what is the top thing you see everywhere? “We love and encourage DE&I.” And blah, blah, blah.
Are you using a resume? Because if you are, then at least maybe your company’s doing some great things, and I hope they are from a DE&I perspective, but from a screening perspective, from the very genesis of the people you bring into the organization, it’s not happening. We’re kidding ourselves if we say that we can train ourselves out of not having bias. We’re kidding ourselves. That’s not going to exist. By the nature of our species, we have bias.
That’s always going to creep in and it creeps in no more so than when people look at a resume. That’s why it takes six seconds. There’s bias that’s immediately creeping in. That’s even if you get to the resume. Sometimes you just look at the name and you’re like, “Yep, probably going to need a visa or something.” And you jump to some conclusion and that’s not the case.
William Tincup (23:24):
Which again gets back to that subjectivity that we don’t even know the unconscious bias part of it. I love the way you unpacked that because we don’t even know what subconsciously that we’re thinking about. We don’t have a feeling for it. Again, we can go through training and all that stuff and we should. Great, fantastic. Done deal. It’s still not going to… You’re a human being. You’re a sum of your experiences, some of which are good, some of which are bad.
Keith Hulen (23:55):
It’s called unconscious for a reason. That means that you don’t know you’re doing it. And so everyone’s like, “Oh no. I don’t look at things like what year they graduated college and I don’t look at their [inaudible 00:24:09].”
No, no, no. Let’s talk about what if that person’s name is an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend of yours that really, really did a number on you. That triggers something that subconsciously, not consciously, subconsciously, you’re like, “I’m going to pass on this person.” For no other reason than they have the same name as your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend.
William Tincup (24:32):
Keith Hulen (24:33):
That’s the point of what we’re talking about here.
William Tincup (24:34):
When we were naming our two boys. We bought the book that probably every couple buys, it’s the Baby Names book. You go out to dinner and you’re going through these names and it’s like, “I dated a girl…. No, I can’t. I had a bad experience, I had a great experience.”
You can’t go through any of that stuff. My wife and I, we settled on family names because-
Keith Hulen (25:03):
Safe bet, safe bet.
William Tincup (25:05):
… at that point, we’re not going to be able to find names we agree on.
This has been absolutely fantastic, Keith. Thank you so much for your time and wisdom.
Keith Hulen (25:15):
William, this was a lot of fun, man. Let’s do it again.
William Tincup (25:18):
Absolutely. And thanks everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
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William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.
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