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This CEO wants to kill the résumé

Tim Paradis   

This CEO wants to kill the résumé
Careers4 min read
  • Khyati Sundaram, CEO of Applied, doesn't think the résumé should be central to getting hired.
  • Applied and other companies use skills tests to determine who's a good fit for a job.

For about eight months in 2018, Khyati Sundaram spent much of her day at a desk in a corner of her London flat, applying for jobs.

Sundaram had attended top universities in the UK and the US. She had an MBA, JPMorgan on her résumé, and had run a startup for six years. Yet after pumping out more than 500 applications, Sundaram had landed only a few dead-end interviews.

Eventually, a recruiter told her her résumé didn't fit anywhere because her experience was too varied. That led Sundaram to a company called Applied that tries to make brief skills tests — and not the résumé — the thing that gets people a shot at a job.

Sundaram, now CEO at Applied, is making it her mission to kill the résumé — or at least diminish its role in hiring.

"We don't look at anyone's résumé, ever," she told Business Insider, referring to how she hires at Applied. Sundaram wants other leaders to follow suit because our work bios — and even job experience — aren't always good predictors of who will succeed in a role. And résumés can leave candidates exposed to bias in the hiring process.

Yet, for all the frustration about résumés and the need to tinker with them to make it past seemingly impenetrable software employers use to sift through applicants, there's likely little chance — for now, at least — that résumés will go the way of paper paychecks. But a move toward screening for skills could, advocates hope, result in a demotion for the CV.

Show us what you can do

One buzzy idea floating around HR departments is the concept of "skills-based hiring." It would have employers focus on a candidate's abilities and less on traditional qualifications like college degrees or formal experience in a role. One way to measure skills is to do what Applied and other companies do: have you take a test.

Sundaram said the approach of testing can help make hiring fairer. The company might use only five or six questions per test to help identify suitable job candidates. In a statistical analysis, Applied found that 60% of the approximately 25,000 hires made through its platform would have been overlooked based on their résumés.

In one small study, the approach resulted in two-thirds more women getting into STEM roles. And, in another larger review, Black candidates getting jobs in finance and consulting increased by nearly 80%, according to the company.

When employers do want to see a résumé, Applied can use AI to strip away information about gender and ethnicity. That makes it more likely a variety of candidates will get a look, she said.

Finding candidates who don't look the part

Applied isn't alone in seeing tests as a better way to identify the best candidates. SHL, a global talent screening company, offers a 15-minute assessment that employers can give to job seekers. The test measures 96 soft skills — things like how someone communicates or how consultative or persuasive a candidate is. SHL has also developed hundreds of tests that examine specific business and technical abilities, including coding simulations in more than 50 languages.

Marlene Dunne, chief talent advisor at SHL Americas, told BI that assessments are consistent across candidates and are designed to be relevant to a job. The tests can help identify candidates who might not have certain experience listed on their résumés but might be a good fit, she said.

"Organizations are willing to place bets on people where they feel like they at least have the potential to demonstrate or be aligned to some of the skills that they need — even if they haven't had work experience around those things," Dunne said.

Focusing on the results of an assessment rather than a candidate's pedigree can make it less likely those hiring will make assumptions based on things like where a person might have gone to school, Dunne said.

Researchers have found that when indications of gender or ethnicity are stripped from résumés, people from various backgrounds get a better shot at landing a job. That can make it more likely, for example, that women will find jobs in tech.

Deploying tests early in the process can help ensure people getting interviews aren't wasting anyone's time, Dunne said.

"Oftentimes, there are a lot of man hours that get eaten up interviewing people that really shouldn't be getting interviewed," she said.

A test might be a turn-off for some candidates

Aaron Cleavinger, managing partner at Murdoch Mason Executive Search Group, told BI he's often not a fan of testing applicants because he doesn't see assessments as good predictors of someone's success in a job.

Cleavinger added that tests or tasks can turn off top-tier workers who don't want to be bothered. "You're going to anger the most qualified candidate," he said. Tests can be appropriate, Cleavinger said, when a role depends largely on how well someone can complete a particular technical task on a computer, for example.

He sees value in the résumé as "the artifact you leave behind." It's a way for an interviewer to remember what stood out about a candidate, Cleavinger said.

"I hope for the world where a résumé is no longer needed, and you can simply and easily assess candidates based on their capability and qualifications for a role," he said, adding that he doesn't expect we'll soon be able to ditch our CVs.

For her part, Sundaram expects AI will change how so many people work that job candidates' employment histories might often reflect a smorgasbord of experiences. That means detecting workers' abilities, not just what they've done, will be more important than ever.

"It will hit us in the face," she said. "The divide at one point will be there are so many jobs out there that the job description — the skills required — do not match the résumés that exist in the world."