For as long as CVs dominate the first stages of a hiring exercise, we’ll continue to be in a post-truth recruitment era. If there was ever a single document responsible for misinformation and recruiting missteps, it has to be the CV.
Think about it. When you're recruiting at scale, how do you find the time to go through each CV you receive in detail? You don't. In fact, research shows that we spend an average of six seconds reviewing a CV before making a decision.
Ask yourself about what you're missing in such a brief inspection, as well as what kind of assumptions you're making to shortcut the decision-making process. We skim over pages looking for relevant information and familiar words. If we don't spot them immediately, we presume they aren't there.
Suitable candidates can easily fall through the cracks in favour of seasoned self-promoters.
Of course, it's also all too easy to become immune to the lure of ‘innovative’ ‘self-starting’ and ‘disciplined’ individuals; if not entirely cynical of them. ‘What’s the point of interviewing a technical candidate who excels at showcasing their ability and expertise if they can’t string a line of code together?’
It's not your fault. We're all to blame, but let's start with the candidates.
You probably expect that some people may occasionally play a little fast and loose with their CV, but it may come as a shock to you that statistically over half of the CVs that you see contain downright lies. Worryingly, it’s not just a case of candidates jazzing-up hobbies and interests (extreme sports, anyone?) to make themselves appear more interesting.
A survey of hiring managers by CareerBuilder found that the most common fibs relate to embellishing skills or capabilities (62%), followed by taking liberties with the scope of responsibilities (54%).
For those who resist the temptation to consciously weave fact with fiction, there is still plenty of grey area in which to get lost. What's wrong with a little 'truthful hyperbole' as Donald Trump calls it in The Art of the Deal, after all ‘innocent exaggeration’ is ‘…a very effective form of promotion’? It's all about context.
We're told to think of a CV as a sales pitch or a piece of slick marketing designed to present a candidate in the best possible light. We highlight the good, downplay or fail to mention the bad. It's the document that gets a candidate the interview, a chance for a person to spend an hour or so in front of you, as someone who has the ability to advance their career. It's all part of the art of the deal.
The trouble is that candidates tend to believe their own hype. Research has concluded that people are not very good at evaluating themselves. What's worse, those with the least ability are often the same people who are most likely to overrate their skills.
There's a name for this particular form of cognitive bias: The Dunning Kruger Effect.
In one study, software engineers in two companies were asked to rate their ability relative to their peers. The results, which weren’t unusual by the way, defied the laws of mathematics. 32% in Company A, and 42% in Company B placed themselves in the top 5% of performers at their organisation.
The Dunning Kruger Effect isn't just limited to candidates. It can permeate the entire recruitment process. Believing that they know best, key stakeholders can do their own thing and fail to follow a prescribed recruitment process which has some complexity or nuance.
HR and TA folk can fall victim to classic doublethink: they must accept that they are not an expert in the discipline of the candidate, yet believe that they can accurately (and reliably) identify and deselect candidates who are unsuitable.
All from a document that is rife with omissions, inaccuracies and then viewed through the lens of the reviewers own set of beliefs and biases. The headline here is that none of us are completely immune.
For technical or specialist roles, chances are you're going to make mistakes during a CV sift or phone screen unless you possess a high degree of skill and experience in the specific requirements of the vacancies.
On top of this there are just too many variables to contend with, and the old proxies for skill or ability, such as educational attainment and place of study, are increasingly irrelevant, particularly so in tech. You’re on a hiding to nothing… and you might just not know it yet.
Make hiring great again
How do we fix the problem?
- Look critically at each stage in your recruitment process to establish where hard data can take the place of instinct and assumption. Prioritise each data point according to the requirements of the role.
- Use an impartial, evidence-based screen, such as a skills assessment, as the first stage in your recruitment process.
- Test internally first. Set a benchmark, look to correlate scores with high performers in your business.
- Try using gated, discrete tests at various stages to build a set of data points over a short period of time. This may help keep candidates engaged and save unsuitable applicants from needlessly wasting their time.
- Consider introducing a 'blind recruitment' process to eliminate other forms of bias. Most good ATS systems and assessment platforms should be able to remove personally identifiable information from reviewers whilst still providing the candidate with a personalised experience.
Phil Brown is Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Technically Compatible, an online IT skills assessment provider based in the North East of England. Technically Compatible helps businesses to eliminate bias, highlight strong candidates, and dramatically shorten the recruitment process whilst mitigating the risk of making a bad hire. Phil is focussed on bringing a data driven approach to technical hiring and is currently working with occupational psychologists to develop a tech-based behavioural profiler to complement Technically Compatible’s current assessment platform.