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Are We Ready for a World Without Resumes?

Updating resumes and writing cover letters can feel like an insurmountable obstacle in the job hunting process, even when you're desperate for a new gig. For one thing, it's hard to see typos or inconsistencies once they've been introduced, making the process dull at best and frustrating at worst; for another, well, it feels weird to pitch yourself so openly. Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to deal with resumes and cover letters at all?

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(Photo Credit: slightlyeverything/Flickr)

Now, some researchers are advocating just that.

"It's time for the resume and the cover letter to die," writes Jesse Singal at The Science of Us. "The problem is that the resume-and-cover-letter bundle -- call it 'the packet' from here on -- is an inefficient, time-wasting way for employers to sort through a first wave of applicants. It doesn't provide nearly as much useful information about potential employees as we've been led to believe, meaning that firms that overly rely on it are likely missing out on talented applicants whose materials get overlooked. What's worse is that it's discriminatory -- it exacerbates many of the biases that fuel a winner-take-all job market at the expense of minorities and people without fancy connections."

Singal quotes researchers at Carnegie-Mellon, Cornell, and the Wharton School, who all claim the same thing: resumes and cover letters favor are subject to confirmation bias, encouraging hiring managers to view the CVs of, say, Harvard grads more positively than those of state-school alums, and white men above all other groups. Not only is this unfair to applicants, but it potentially deprives companies of talented workers.

So what should employers do instead? There are a few options:

1. Continue with some form of "the packet," with prejudicial information obscured.

This doesn't help the procrastinating job searcher overcome her fear of introducing a formatting inconsistency into her resume, but it might prevent HR from subconsciously favoring white, male applicants with Ivy League educations.

2. Do a sample work assignment, instead.

A lot of companies now ask for work samples from applicants, but generally in addition to, instead of replacing, the traditional resume. Why bother at all with the preamble, if we're going to be judged on our merits in the end?

3. Testing.

Companies now employ everything from personality and IQ tests to video games to sneaky little psychological tricks, like leaving a candy bar wrapper on the floor, and seeing which candidates pick it up. It might sound a little Brave New World, but if it can provide a more accurate view of how we fit into a potential job, and spare us the typo-hunting and CV prep, it could be worth it.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think resumes and cover letters are a waste of time? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

7 Comments

  1. 7 Janette Haines 15 Sep
    I think it is very difficult to keep up with the latest trends in resumes. Employers are looking for that verses the content. I feel if my resume isn't the latest format mine isn't even considered.
  2. 6 Janiah Thomas 14 Sep
    I don't think they're a waste of time cause when your looking for a job they ask you for either one. These could be a lot of help for what your trying to do something. I feel like that's another thing that's going to help you in the furture when your really trying to get a job.
  3. 5 Charlotte 13 Sep
    Anxious to hear more about the job.
  4. 4 Marissa 13 Sep
    I graduated from high school and now I'm going to the Art Institute. I'm trying to get a part time job and what do they tell me "you have no experience". Hello, there's a lot of us out there that didn't work in high school. These employers should give us a chance to work, even though we never worked before. I hate resumes because I have no experience and the employer probably doesn't even look at mine. Give us a break, just because we never worked doesn't mean we don't know how.
  5. 3 Eileen 11 Sep
    The most frustrating thing for me is that I have an Associate's degree in Medical Administration and cannot find a job. Everyone wants someone who is experienced. At first I thought it was my age until I started asking some healthcare professionals and they all said it was not my age but lack of experience. I am now a volunteer at a medical facility to try and get some kind of experience and see if that helps. I feel like I waisted 2 years of my life (not to mention the time and money I put into it) for nothing.
  6. 2 Sue Beck 11 Sep
    I am in the process of a career change and I feel it is very difficult to do with resumes and even lengthy applications. I have been in the healthcare business for 30 years and now would like a driving career.
  7. 1 Danny White 11 Sep
    I have a MA in clinical psych, and I'm looking for part-time at home employment.

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