Résumés perpetuate bias in the hiring process—these companies think skills assessments can be the solution

But there will always be intangibles that no test can calibrate.
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Francis Scialabba

· 5 min read

For job candidates, submitting a résumé through an online job portal might feel like throwing a paper airplane from the nosebleeds at the Super Bowl and praying it reaches the quarterback. Yet, it has been the standard bearer of conveying a candidate’s experience and, ostensibly, aptitude, for centuries—you can thank Leonardo da Vinci, who is thought to be the first to list professional accolades on paper in the hopes of landing a job.

As they’ve evolved from handwritten letters to Word documents and PDFs, résumés have also come to present a host of dilemmas: Surveys have shown how often candidates lie about their credentials or experience. Applicant tracking systems (ATS) used to source candidates are also highly imperfect and often gauge potential based on the number of keywords shared between candidates’ résumés and job descriptions.

Because résumés rely so heavily on qualifications such as academic pedigree, they limit the scope of suitable candidates, Tigran Sloyan, co-founder and CEO of CodeSignal, a technical skills and interview assessment platform, told HR Brew. Reliance on résumés is “the big…mistake [or] old habit that I think is preventing progress,” he said.

Various companies are attempting to help HR departments rely less on résumés by providing skills assessments meant to throw candidates directly into the rigors of a job through simulations, quizzes, and even video games. By providing predetermined success metrics, the process provides “a much fairer, quicker, and [more] effective assessment tool than a résumé or an interview,” argued Christopher Platts, co-founder and CEO of skills assessment provider ThriveMap.

But no assessment is completely foolproof. Technology can’t assess less tangible qualities, such as culture match or creative thinking, sources explained. And while assessments are often used to gauge ability in technical trades such as manufacturing and coding, it has been difficult for some purveyors to vet potential in creative fields like marketing. As Platts explained: “The résumé is definitely not dead for experienced, white-collar work.”

Click and pray. When all candidates have to do is send a file to apply to a job, recruiters are regularly deluged by CVs and can sometimes only dedicate a fleeting amount of time to review them. Researchers have argued that the pervasiveness of this model can deprive capable candidates of a fair chance. ATS have also demonstrated varying degrees of racial bias when audited.

Maya Huber, co-founder and CEO of skills assessment provider TaTiO, said the way many companies collect résumés forces candidates to “click and pray.” The ease of the model “creates a flood of non-relevant candidates,” she argued. The system’s drawbacks outweigh the advantages, as candidates cling to hope and recruiters scour through a bombardment of CVs that might lead them nowhere, she said.

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Enter: skills assessments, to try to stop the bottleneck. ThriveMap, for example, mainly constructs assessments for workers in manufacturing, call centers, hospitality, and across various frontline vocations. Scores are judged based on criteria set forth by a hiring committee made up of those involved in recruiting and training new hires, Platts said. CodeSignal, meanwhile, aspires to a “flight simulator” model for software developers, based on an integrated development environment (IDE) that can “simulate everything from takeoff, landing, and emergency turbulence,” Sloyan explained. Success is determined by a team of technical assessment design engineers and external experts who, according to Sloyan, “have been in the profession for a long time [and] defined entire frameworks around this.”

Both Platts and Sloyan agreed that tailoring assessments to more creative roles can present challenges, as greater subjectivity can cloud the judgment process. Positions that require creative thinking “probably don’t lend themselves as well to an online assessment as other roles,” Platts said.

The culture dilemma. Of course, the ability to perform a job says very little of a candidate’s likelihood of thriving within an organization’s culture. For Mike Lamm, VP of people for the Americas at product-management software provider, a defining question of the recruitment processes is “how do you assess culture fit and values fit in an organization?”

Instead of merely relying on a combination of résumés, interviews, or assessments, interviews candidates specifically for culture fit, gauging how certain life experiences correspond with the company’s core values. “Résumé doesn’t matter,” said Lamm. “[During] interviews with leadership…all of that is set aside.”

Skills assessments defined by predetermined rubrics can’t account for these kinds of intangibles, Sloyan echoed. “Depending on your preferred operating style, personality, and preferences, you can thrive in one company while being completely miserable in another,” he wrote in a follow-up email.

At their best, however, assessments can expand the traditional rubric meant to define candidate potential, specifically by broadening the pipeline, Sloyan argued. “There are many, many people who are incredibly skilled, but their résumés don’t reflect it. So, this is like a backdoor to find and hire enough talent and business needs,” he said.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.