We are told we need CVs to see what experience, skills and knowledge an individual has, to help understand whether they will be able to deal with the role’s requirements. But how effective are CVs in identifying the most suitable person to join your team or organisation? 


Last month Lee Lam, GCologist and Founder of Lee Lam Consulting, joined us to discuss why she thinks it is time for recruiters to ditch the CV. Here she tells us more.


The CV was born as a consequence of the Industrial Revolution, the point in history where manual jobs were taken over by huge machines with even bigger engines to run them.  The production line mentality of the factory translated over into all manual and non-manual work, with the concept of having a machine that ran with a particular set of cogs (roles) that were shaped in a particular way.


If a cog broke (or resigned), you simply tried to locate another one that looked and performed exactly the same – maybe if you were feeling ‘innovative’ you would select someone who had slightly ‘more’ experience, or even better, had been that cog at one of your competitors, and they could tell you how they had run their machine.


Now engineering and technology has moved on – we now have tiny machines running huge production lines, and robots taking over the roles that many humans once did.  Yet our concept of how to hire for the humans we do still need hasn’t updated along with it.  We still look for the cog that fits.  We use the CV as our way of assessing whether they can do the same job they did for someone else, but do it for us in the way our particular machine works.


You’ve Done The Job Before So You Can Do It Here

In a risk adverse organisation, hiring people who have done that role before for another business provides a sense of security – I can hire them, because someone else hired them before.  And, to make it even safer, they stipulate a minimum required years’ of experience – the logic again being, if they have had that amount of time doing the role, they will be more able to do the job here.

But the use of experience has a couple of problematic issues:


1. Experience and Performance are Separate Things

It is dangerous to assume that because someone has been able to do a job for a while (many hiring managers look for candidates with minimum 1 year in every role) that we believe them to have performed that role competently.  Equally, we cannot assume that someone who worked for 3-6 months in an organisation didn’t make a massive contribution in the short time they were there.


Assuming that you must be a good performer because you didn’t get fired is a slippery slope.  In many large organisations, performance management is a long, drawn out process – if it is initiated at all.  Sometimes the industry job market is so fluid that it is more likely that the person will choose to leave and then you avoid a stressful performance management process.  If it is launched, then the process can go on for months, being stressful for everyone involved. Either way, a year can pass easily before the situation resolves itself.


The absolute maximum you can gauge from the details provided on a CV is that they worked in that role, for that organisation, for that length of time. The challenge in the interview stage is to determine their performance during that time – were all of the activities listed performed by them and did they perform them well?  And many organisations now require screening to be done on the information provided as well, as part of the onboarding process, to make sure that what was put down was accurate.  So even when a CV lists experience, we still can’t fully trust it.


2. Lots of Experience Loses Out to Recent Experience

Everyone knows that there should be no gaps on a CV.  We are told this by recruiters and agents, and as a hiring manager I certainly took gaps into consideration when I was reading CVs.  A gap is an issue for a couple of reasons – it maybe shows something of the ’employability’ of the person (if they were good, wouldn’t they be employed all of the time?) or it suggests that you may have lost touch with the industry you are in, as it is assumed that only relevant skills and knowledge collected during employment counts.


It’s the second one that makes it so difficult for women to return to work after children and compounds a challenge they faced earlier in their career:


  • Before children – “You need to have at least x years’ experience to get this role / get promoted / get a pay rise” – yet no-one is prepared to give you the role in order to start amassing the experience.
  • After children, even with experience – “Your experience is too old, and the lack of recent experience means you can’t do the job / get promoted / get a pay rise.”


Which one is it?

Either you need years of experience (with the logical assumption that somewhere in those years will be knowledge and skills that you can call on) or you need recent experience (with the logical assumption that you can’t retain anything of any use if you get distracted by something else for a short while).


Instead, we have this confusing scenario which says – you have to have the recent experience, backed up by years of experience – which inevitably locks many talented people out of being able to continue in their career unimpeded.


Having the ability to call on years of working a particular role or in a particular industry is incredibly powerful – but if that is all we are looking at, we are stopping any future high performers getting a chance based on an unhelpful technicality.  And make no mistake – if experience is one of the key aspects of your pre-screening search criteria, you are going to miss lots of amazing people who could be the future of your company.


So if we don’t use CVs, what then?

If we agree that the CV is no longer a suitable method of selecting people for roles, that it endorses a lack of diversity within our organisations and that it has no ties in with talent management once in the organisation, what is the alternative?


It is a fundamental shift in culture and thinking away from a process-driven recruitment process to a more holistic approach.  This approach will not fit in neatly to the machine. It’s not a bolt-on that allows you carry on as before but with recruitment 2.0 – and it is a change that will impact not just recruitment but performance and talent management, project management, how people get managed by their line manager – everything.


But, it will encourage personal accountability, higher levels of employee engagement, improved loyalty and commitment to the organisation (as part of the enhanced psychological contract between employer and employee). It will also help organisations identify the people who they need to take their organisation into the next decade and beyond – not based on what they have done before but what they can envision for the future and the energy and vitality they are prepared to use to make it happen.

To hear more take a look at Lee’s recent webinar.

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