Is it risky to hire people with promising resumes?

This might seem like a rhetorical question, but it’s not. My first thought to this question was, “What’s wrong with hiring a strong resume?”

Well, after a little thinking, I noticed the problem. Hiring managers risk being biased toward people with promising resumes.

Here’s the issue I have with that: people with such resumes might not actually live up to the hype on paper.

We risk valuing the “good resume candidate” more than a better fit candidate with an average looking resume.

So it’s risky if you hire someone solely for the quality of their resume.

A story can explain this best

We needed to hire during a tough time

I recently helped a fellow manager at my employer with the task of shortlisting candidates for a critical role.

Let’s call this manager Dirk. A key staff member left Dirk’s team right as our company approached a busy period.

I was on vacation at the time, but I had to help because I knew how swamped he was. I offered to review resumes and qualify candidates.

After culling what felt like 99% of the resumes we received, I forwarded a handful to Dirk for his thoughts.

Surprise! Someone got hired fast

The next email took me by surprise. It went to the affect of, “I’ve made a verbal offer. Who in HR do I ask to draft the written offer?”

“Wow, that was quick. I only emailed the resumes yesterday,” I thought.

How could this be?

After I got back from vacation, I learned that Dirk phone offered the job to a candidate after a 5 minute call. Yes, 5 minutes.

“Did you hire this… Morgan for his resume?,” I queried Dirk, “OK, he’s racked in a lot of years, but is he right for us?”

Dirk retorted, “Look at his resume! He’s gotta be good. He couldn’t have lasted for 15 years in our industry by being ordinary.”

I didn’t say any more and left Dirk to complete his new hire.

And then came trouble…

Fast forward a few months. Dirk came to my desk a little pale in the face. He asked for my opinion on how to get rid of Morgan.

I wasn’t exactly gobsmacked by this revelation, but still, I needed to probe the issue properly.

It turned out that months had passed and Morgan was still not showing any results. This despite Dirk rolling the red carpet for Morgan.

Morgan was given special access to mentoring from our company’s senior contributors on top of HR’s standard onboarding program.

So I had a casual talk with Morgan.

This is how Morgan ended that conversation, “I know I’ve got 15 years experience, but I expected a little more support. Dirk kind of expects me to do things on my own most of the time. I thought this’d be a team effort.”

His words neatly summed up the problem for me. Morgan’s idea of support was our idea of heavy supervision.

That’s what he was used to, but our work culture valued the opposite. We expected people to operate – for the most part – on their own.

Could this built-up pressure get released?

Then I spoke with Dirk’s other employees. I learned that he was rubbing off the wrong way on them too.

He constantly asked banal questions. They had to triple check his work. He dropped the ball on some important tasks.

All this was making both Dirk and me very, very worried. Why me? Because problems in Dirk’s team had potential to ripple onto my team’s work.

But a few days after my conversation with Morgan, he emailed Dirk his notice. He wrote this at the end: “This job isn’t for me”. We agreed.

Dirk could not believe his luck. He still thinks my casual talk with Morgan was the catalyst for him quitting. I can be very useful sometimes!

Moral of the story

This is one example of how a resume can show great promise, but doesn’t translate to greatness in reality.

We need to really understand how the job candidate would behave in our work environment. A resume can’t do that for us.

That’s why we need to look beyond what the resume tells us to understand if the job candidate is the right fit for us.

It’s a balancing act

The ideal world you would take the high road and not fall for a pumped up resume. The real world you needs to think it through.

A lot of old-school managers value resumes as indicators of ability. Going against the grain can risk your standing in the company.

Consider your decision by putting on the lens of influential company insiders and pondering:

How would your boss and other managers interpret your hiring someone with a less impressive resume than other candidates?

It’s hard to put on a solid defence to this question in the beginning. Best to err on cautious side until you’ve had a few hiring wins.

Give the resume quality some weight in your hiring decision.

That’s besides all the other facets of hiring like testing for culture fit, interest in the work and hard skills.   

By doing this, you are sprinkling a little of what others value into your hiring process. Makes it palatable for them.

At the same time, it gives you room to be the ideal world you of not just hiring a promising resume.