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Job Search in Canada: Everything is wrong with the resumes.

Here are the 5 reasons why.

“You are not your resume, you are your work.”
~ Seth Godin

January 12, 2021.

The whole recruitment system is broken. You don’t have to be a genius to understand this, just 1 year in the industry is more than enough to start seeing all the problems that persist in the world of talent acquisition. There are so many things that can be better, but that for some reason are not. One day, I will sit down to make a holistic review of the modern recruitment system but today I just want to write down my thoughts about its central element — resumes.

If you are a millennial like me you know it — most of us were figuring out life on the fly. We entered the era when building a career was not so straightforward anymore. We didn’t graduate from universities to enter a company and stay in it for 30–40 years like our fathers. We developed a whole different philosophy — we work to live, we do not live to work. We understand that work is just another expression of life, not its sole purpose. We draw a lot of meaning from our occupations, but we do not treat them as the only source of meaning. And these days we have to deal with double trouble — current resume-centric system and COVID; not exactly the best era for job seekers.

I may sound like a broken record but as long as the status quo remains this is something I won’t get tired to repeat.

A resume is a poor predictor of future success.

Here are some of the major reasons why.

1. A resume is an indication of the past, not the future.

I have no emotions when people refer to my past as I care very little about it. Why? It’s simple — I don’t live there anymore. My past speaks for all the things that I’ve done. It says nothing about the things I am destined to do in the future, and if you agree with me, it is the future where the actual potential of the human being lies and this is the part that must be of interest to my employer.

The employers who win the war for talent understand this and hence are not very attached to what the candidate has done in the past. They understand that experience can be an indication of skills, but not always. Their main focus lies in what the candidate can do for them in the future. It is the combination of the brain (general cognitive ability) and the heart (personality) that will always outweigh the toolbox (the actual skill set). If the candidate has the first two, he will figure out most of the things needed for the job by himself, and acquire the skill set that he needs to perform the job.

The question is — what are the indications that the candidate will go above and beyond and produce positive ROI?

Grit, intense work ethic, mental resilience, resourcefulness, ambition — this is something you won’t find on the resume, or if it is there, you have to be actually trained to look for it and find it.

2. A resume is not reflecting the whole picture.

Have you seen the resume that is all over the place? “Oh, wow! This guy is a mess and has no idea what he wants to do with his life.” This would be a very natural response to a resume of a person whose track record spans over several roles and industries.

But what if we start thinking in terms of skills that a person needs to have to succeed in the role? How about openness to new experiences? Would you like to hire a person like that? A person who is adaptable, flexible, possesses high learnability and thrives in a fast-changing environment (read — today’s brave new world). I am sure you would agree that this quality is a good thing to have in a hire.

This is just one example. How many other foundational skills can be disguised as very commonly present experiences on the resume?

  • Extra-curricular activities = Leadership skills
  • Immigration = Openness to Change, Hunger of a Newcomer, Resilience, and Adaptability
  • Failed startup = Entrepreneurial Spirit

Learn how to read between the lines and you will see the true talents that people can’t express on 2 sheets of paper. But maybe, just maybe, if you allow yourself to see through what seems like a very entangled life journey, you will be able to see the diamonds that beg for discovery.

3. A resume is not explaining the gaps.

I had a client who had to put his career on pause and become a stay-at-home dad to take care of his children. I had a client who had to take a 1-year break to take care of her mother who had cancer. What would an HR bureaucrat see on their resumes? Just a gap without any explanation. For him, it is nothing but a red flag and he is not much interested in the backstory. And maybe the backstory is not very relevant to the job in question but it gives important context. It is a reminder that as much as we would want to have life our way, sometimes life has us its way. There are things that happen, things that are outside of our circle of control, things that force us to introduce adjustments to our career pathways.

The current resume-centric system eliminates “human” from “Human Resources”. This whole practice of resume screening is a dehumanized insult to people who have the desire, talent, and skills to work.

4. A resume must be ATS optimized.

In continuation to what we have just discussed, you know how a resume should be optimized for ATS, otherwise, the chances of it to be seen by a real human are approaching zero. Statistically, 75% of all submitted resumes are never seen by the HR professional, as they are filtered off using a set of keywords pre-programmed in the system by the said HR professional.

Writing a resume is a specific skill that requires an investment of time and effort, and that is what frustrates so many job seekers out there. You can be a great specialist, but if your resume is not written right you can be outcompeted by your peers who might be lacking the skills for the job but who got the resume writing part of job hunting right.

A resume is marketing material. Its sole purpose is to sell the candidate. But not everyone understands how sales and marketing work, and definitely not everyone has sales and marketing skills. It is clear, that the modern resume system creates additional and absolutely unnecessary barriers to employment.

5. A resume does not indicate all the things that make a great hire.

Let’s read through this list and ask ourselves: would I like to hire someone who has these?

  • Being a GSDer (a person who gets stuff done)
  • Sense of humor (tell me it is not important at work)
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Communication skills
  • Presentation
  • Systems Thinking
  • Writing Skills
  • Creativity
  • Desire to learn
  • Resourcefulness
  • Thinking outside of the box
  • Facilitation skills
  • Inspiring people
  • Problem-solving ability
  • Confidence
  • Enthusiasm
  • Energy
  • Patience
  • Disability and Diversity Awareness
  • Integrity
  • Work Ethic

Tell me where do I put those on the resume?

This is the main problem that I have with the whole resume system but I am glad that there are some indications that it is being resolved. More and more companies look for ways to leverage technology to improve their hiring process. Video-interviews, a practice that at this point in time causes disputes and undergoes thorough scrutiny, is becoming more and more widespread. The noise around video-interviews is understandable, people worry about additional grounds for bias and discrimination they can create. However, shouldn’t we be focusing on positives? If we give candidates a more robust method to express what a resume cannot, along with giving a better instrument to employers to detect and gain insight into what makes a great talent, shouldn’t we pursue it using all the resources we have?

This question will have to withstand the test of time. One thing is known for sure.

COVID gave us an invaluable window of opportunity to get the wrong things right. And we must use it.

If you are in a position of power, if you are a decision-maker, it is your duty to be a force of change that has to take place in the world of work. If moral values are not your greatest decision-drivers, maybe profitability will motivate you more.

Diversity and Inclusion are no longer some fancy words that we throw into our online posts to seem progressive. Multiple studies have shown that businesses that are more diverse and inclusive are also more profitable. The intelligent design of your company composition is not just moral business, it is a good business. That in turn, requires the intelligent design of your Talent Acquisition systems — expanding your talent pool, leveraging technology to drive innovative hiring processes, capitalizing on available analytics tools, and ensuring superb candidate experience.

The transformation that we long to see has already begun. Maybe we should start contributing to it by finding a viable substitute for resumes and killing already those damn useless cover letters.



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Chengeer Lee

Chengeer Lee


Talent Acquisition @ CaseWare | Life Coach | LinkedIn: @chengeer