CVs or no CVs? That’s a good question…

April 14, 2023

If I had to take a guess I’d say that you use CVs as an integral part of your recruitment process, because that’s the way everybody does it. But just because it’s always been done that way, doesn’t mean it’s the best or only way to select suitable candidates.

Way back in 2001 Robertson and Smith carried out a major research study at UMIST School of Management and published it in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. The findings make interesting reading. It turns out that the most accurate predictor of an effective candidate is not the education, experience and past job history listed in their CV, but data gathered about their intelligence, personality and integrity from psychometric testing. Have a look at the chart below for a summary of the research.

This data therefore puts the whole selection process in a completely new light. By trawling through tens or hundreds of CVs and what they claim about candidates’ education, experience and past job history, you could certainly recruit somebody who theoretically ticks the right boxes.

On the other hand, you could also land yourself with an employee who is completely unsuitable for the job because they think they know best all the time, or they are stubborn and inflexible and can’t work as a team, or they are lazy and can’t be bothered. And no candidate in their right mind is going to write ‘Can’t work as a part of a team’ under ‘Qualifications and experience’.

In addition, it’s a well-known fact that CVs can often be a work of fiction. Even Alan Sugar —the great lord almighty of entrepreneurialism — has had his fair share of dodgy CVs to contend with on the “The Apprentice” TV programme, with potential partners being outed at interview stage by their errors, deliberate embellishments (that’s a kind word) and, in one famous case, a downright lie.

Perhaps it’s time to take a fresh approach, and move the focus onto personality, attitude and behaviour? Here’s a salutary tale from a business owner I met recently at a conference. We’ll call her Ms Smith. She was describing her career to date, and said that a pivotal moment was when she applied internally for a senior management job for which she had no previous experience and no formal qualifications. The job had been advertised in the traditional way, and CVs had already come pouring in from people with years of experience in similar posts and with impeccable qualifications. But it was also open to internal applicants.

Thankfully for her, the organisation was ahead of its time and because the HR department already had a CV that was really only relevant for her current post, they asked Ms Smith to describe why she thought she was right for the job – what she could bring to it that the other much-more-qualified-and-experienced applicants couldn’t. So Ms Smith thought about it and told them in the interview that the job would require excellent communication skills, tenacity, determination and energy – and the ability to keep going when things didn’t go well. It would require keeping cool and smiling when scream-inducing deadlines were imposed by clients. It would require rallying and encouraging the team to keep going and meet those deadlines when they were tired and wanted to give up. It would also require somebody who was responsible, who would be accountable and who would be willing to evaluate systems and procedures on an ongoing basis.

Because she had worked there already for a year, the interviewing panel knew all this to be true – Ms Smith had these traits and qualities – and they knew she would be perfect for the job. She got it. And just to underline the point, Ms Smith went on maternity leave twice, and on each occasion the organisation advertised for a temporary replacement the traditional CV-and-interview way. Guess what? After each maternity leave, Ms Smith returned to a team that was demotivated, disorganised and delighted to see her, because her temporary replacements looked good on paper but just didn’t get the job done.

And the moral of this tale? As a means of selecting a short-list, CVs are immensely time-consuming, often contain errors (at best) and lies (at worst) and they only give you a limited picture of the candidate. And because everyone’s CV is metaphorically shouting ‘look at me!’ you will probably be faced with a myriad of different formats and styles that make it hard to compare one candidate with another.

So, CVs or no CVs? My advice? No CVs. Forget them. Ditch them. Think instead about using a software system like e-Talent that will screen all applicants and identify the best and most suitable candidates using job-specific psychometric tests. These are unbiased, objective and — since the publication of Robertson and Smith’s report — now widely accepted as the most consistently accurate way of predicting superior performance in future employees.

To get and keep the right people, you need to use the right recruitment tools. You need to look at attitude, personality and behaviour as well as qualifications and experience. Get in touch for a free consultation about e-Talent software and how it can help you to recruit and keep the right people for your organisation.