Resumes: The Holy Grail or a Fool’s Gold?

Jul 6, 2018

I answered a call on my business line from a client who had utilized my training programs for many years.  I anticipated another enjoyable conversation, just as each had been in the past, but today was different.

When exchanging initial pleasantries which included, “how are you doing?” I was taken aback when that customary question was met with, “I just want to kill myself”.  His tone of voice told me he wasn’t joking, so like any concerned person would do, I asked what was wrong.

This question prompted a litany of frustrations which included primarily, the exhaustive process he had just gone through to find a new salesperson, to no avail.  “From now on, you’re selecting all my salespeople!” he exclaimed.

This problem was not unique to this one client.  One of my most requested seminars was on selecting and hiring top candidates.  At the end of each session, business owners would approach me and express their appreciation for the insight and their regret for not having had it before their last hire.

The big “aha” moment for those attending these seminars was the realization that most hiring decisions were based on what studies suggest is the least reliable source of information, a resume.  Could it be that it’s the universal reliance on this document that makes it seem credible?

According to, a full 58% of resumes contain lies and embellishments.  Often, it’s lying about an academic degree (i.e., in 2012, Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson stepped down from his role after just four months when it was discovered that he’d lied about his education) or embellishment of skills and experience (i.e., someone bragged to me once that she had friends pose as former employers to falsely validate experience she didn’t have in an industry that required years of prior experience).  She got hired. Her employer got duped!

This is a common scenario.  It’s played out in Corporate America on a daily basis.  It’s time-consuming, costly and for the person responsible for staffing their company, it’s stressful.

Resumes are based on historical data.  Meaning, at best, they offer nothing more than a candidate’s interpretation of each job they’ve held in the past.  They provide no insight into character, decision making or ability to do your job, in your environment and with your clients.

And herein lies the fallacy.  Resumes focus on past performance.  Hiring focuses on future performance.

If you’re among those that believe that past performance predicts future performance, you may be relying on the wrong currency, and I suspect you’ve had some mishires that proved this theory wrong.

Looking great on paper is not the same as being great on the job.

A person will excel in some situations but will not be motivated to excel in all situations, including yours.

Human behavior is driven in large part by external circumstances. Your culture, management style, performance expectations, clients, etc. are all unique to your company.  Collectively, these things drive performance.

That’s why I recommend hiring someone based on why you would fire them.  In other words, start with the end in mind and hire for performance capability and not skills and experience. What results are you seeking from the new hire?  What activities will they have to perform to realize those results?  Can they demonstrate instances from the past that required the same behaviors? What is the environment, management style they’ll have to adapt to in order to achieve this performance level?

These things matter more in predicting future performance than having a number of years of experience, strong communication skills and being results-oriented. In order for a candidate to tick all the right boxes in an interview, the right boxes have to be identified.

Which proves the point that success doesn’t come from knowing ─ it comes from doing.  And, all too often, a resume is nothing but a description of what one knows rather than what they did.

I had a client once that called me to discuss how baffled he was that his new salesperson with many years in outside sales was underperforming in his company.  When I probed into the new hire’s background, I discovered that his past sales experience did not transfer to selling staffing services.  In his past role, he was an order taker, calling only on existing customers to maintain their stock.  My client hired him to be an order maker, initiating sales and profits.

Failure was inevitable.  He was a spare peg trying to fit into a round hole.

Since most resumes you’ll receive are nothing more than a glorified job description, you’ll have to probe beyond the candidate’s language of being “charged with” or “responsible for” this or that which provides no insight into results ─ only expectations.

If you receive a resume riddled with this type of language, your only hope to getting to the truth is to adopt Aristotle’s belief in “logos”, that is, the logic behind the argument.  Require each candidate to describe in detail an accomplishment that’s most comparable for each of the objectives you have identified for the job.

If a candidate can provide verifiable examples of how they achieved similar results elsewhere, and the way they went about realizing those results matches up with the behaviors and actions needed to succeed in your company, then the resume you’re relying on may actually turn out to be a Holy Grail.

Otherwise, just flip a gold coin.


By Linda Zumstein


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