Does Moneyball really suggest the resume is dead?

I remember walking out of the theatre last summer after seeing Moneyball and exclaiming to my wife, “that’s what we’re trying to do!” The “that,” I was referring to was using a new, predictive way of assessing the potential performance of someone. However, in our case, it was online recruiting, not baseball (forgive the shameless promotion).

If you haven’t seen or read Michael Lewis’s Moneyball, it’s the story of the 2002 Oakland A’s efforts to build a winning team on a shoestring budget. This may not sound unique in itself, but how the A’s did it was revolutionary. Using advanced statistics, they were able to objectively evaluate a player’s future contribution to the team and in turn, find the best bargains in baseball.

So is the resume dead?

Since the release of the movie at the end of 2011, it’s been the go-to example in the HR blogosphere to declare the resume dead. The contention is that the resume isn’t helpful in gauging someone’s future performance; and to better identify candidates, recruiters need to look past the resume to a set of more advanced technology-based solutions.

Most recruiters would agree that there are flaws with the resume:  for example, resumes are typically embellished, they provide partial information, they’re nearly impossible to verify, they are not a consistent format, etc.  But I don’t think this means the resume is dead.

Resumes and context

Returning to Moneyball, it doesn’t conclude that the core stats (home runs, runs batted in, etc.) that have been used to evaluate players for the past 100 years or more are irrelevant, it says that a manager needs to understand the context in which those stats happened to really assess a player’s value. For instance, a home run hit when your team is up 12-0 is of much less value than one when the score is tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth. That understanding of how people perform in different situations reveals a lot more than just the fact that they hit home runs.

As recruiters, we don’t have the luxury of a complete data set to contextualize a candidate’s actual past performance (how amazing would that be?), but we can use the resume in a more refined way to better understand a candidate’s contribution.

Here’s what I mean:

  1. The past helps predict the future
    Resumes are full of information that can be extrapolated to the future. For instance, what a person has been able to achieve, how long someone has committed to a company and the types of companies someone has worked with are all revealing, but they don’t guarantee future behavior. What they do provide is evidence of the person’s ability to perform in specific roles and companies.
  2. Read between the lines
    When faced with a stack of resumes, it’s become customary to spend just a few seconds looking at high-level information. But shortlisting someone because he or she worked at Company ABC or went to University X is not a useful approach (and the reasons for excluding people are often more subjective and even less valid). Instead, look for the particular skills and experiences achieved from someone’s past. Use what will be the role’s performance expectations or at least a precise set of requirements, and then go hunting for those amongst the resumes (akin to the Performance-based Hiring advocated by Lou Adler). Try not to let yourself (it’s hard) get caught-up in short-cut proxies versus actual insight.
  3. Potential vs. Performance
    When reviewing candidates, there are two broad considerations – someone’s potential and someone’s performance. I am a strong proponent of hiring for potential and as such, I want to know that a candidate has the right make-up to achieve in a position. There are emerging technologies that are very useful in assessing someone’s potential to do the work (e.g. pre-screening personality tests).  However, this needs to be balanced with the skills necessary to complete the work.  For example, it’s unlikely you’d hire a translator who only speaks one language, no matter how much potential they possess.

While Moneyball makes an excellent point – one that I believe – that there are more predictive and insightful ways of looking at someone’s potential, this doesn’t mean the resume is dead. It only means that there are better ways of using it.

Img credit: Columbia Pictures

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