Seven reason why sifting CVs for recruitment is bad for your health

April 14, 2023

At a recent networking event, I met a senior HR manager and, noticing that I was from e‑talent, he asked me what I did. “We’ve developed some software that helps companies select the best people for a variety of front-line jobs”, I said. “Ah, one of those devilishly clever “CV reading” systems, eh?”, he guessed. I was about to tell him all about our psychometric testing. But there was no stopping him, so he went on…

“Yes, these systems can save a huge amount of time by weeding out the CVs of clearly unsuitable people. A friend of mine has just invested thousands is just such a system and he tells me he that he simply doesn’t know how he ever managed without it. He’s the recruitment manager of a large retail chain and gets literally tens of thousands of applications every year mostly, he says, from people who have had no previous retail experience. Why people apply for jobs for which they simply aren’t qualified beats me! It clearly says in the adverts that the successful applicant will have at least 3 years retail sales experience.”

“Ah, yes”, I replied, “previous sales experience must be very important then?” “No, not really, they get full training during the induction period. It’s just my friend’s way of cutting down the number of applicants down to a manageable size”, he grinned. “Between you and me, he says that it’s often not very successful because people with previous experience sometimes come with bad habits and a poor attitude!”

“So, let me get this right” I said. “Previous experience is not really important, but a good attitude is. And your friend is still screening CVs to select the best people for interview. That sounds a bit back to front to me, don’t you think?”

“Well, when you put it that way, it does seem a bit odd. But how else could he deal with 30,000 applicants each year? He’s got to be able to cut the numbers down to a manageable figure in some way. And, in any case, there’s a lot more useful information on a CV to be able to base a decision on than just retail sales experience”

And that’s where we left it. But then it hit me. There must be a huge number of companies out there to this day, still using CVs to select people for interview, simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it”, without stopping to think that they are doing their recruitment back to front.

If attitude is what’s important, then why is selection driven primarily by education, experience and past job history? They’re doing the recruitment equivalent of looking for girls with blond hair by asking for their shoe size!

So, let’s look at 7 reasons why screening CVs is not a good idea.

1. A very time consuming process

It stands to reason that, even if you do use one of the fancy “CV reading” systems, to identify “suitable candidates”, having to read the often lengthy and inconsistently presented CVs of several applicants to compare them is going to be a very lengthy and frustrating process.

2. Contains errors and half-truths

I don’t think it would be unreasonable to say that it is a generally held view that CVs are often viewed by employers with a large pinch of salt. In fact, a large proportion of the interview is usually devoted to checking what is in the CV, and candidates are often rejected when it becomes clear to the interviewer that a lot of it is a work of fiction.

3. Gives only a small part of the picture

Education, experience and job history often play only a small part in the overall recruitment decision, except in highly technical jobs. Selecting a short-list based only on the CV means that you could be potentially missing out the best candidate, simply because they didn’t write their CV in the “right” way.

4. What about soft skills?

CVs will tell you nothing about the candidate’s soft skills – their personality, their values and attitudes, their strengths and weaknesses. How will they handle pressure. Will they fit into the team? It’s often said that employers “hire for skills, but fire for attitude”, so wouldn’t it be a good idea to hire for attitude instead?

5. Past success is no guarantee of future success

It’s often said that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour, and that’s often true. However, that statement hides a very big assumption. For there to be a guarantee that behaviour will be replicated, all other things must remain constant – the job, the line manager, the team, the company culture, the location, etc., the list is almost endless. Clearly, most other things will not be constant, so there is little guarantee that past success will lead to future success.

6. Difficult to compare applicants using CVs

When writing their CVs, job seekers are obviously trying to increase their chances of “standing out from the crowd” and getting an interview. This often means that you will be faced with a wide variety of CV formats and styles, making it very difficult to compare one candidate with another.

7. Professionally prepared CVs

These days, people often have their CV professionally written so that they make the best impression on potential employers. While it is natural for applicants to want to do this, it unfortunately often masks the true skills and abilities that they possess. A well-written CV may lead you to think that the applicant has good writing skills, but this may not be the case. Professionally written CVs have only one purpose – to give the applicant the best chance of getting an interview. They are not intended to make the recruiters job easier.