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Are Resume Reviews Reliable?

August 9, 2011
Real-world resume reviewing is a complex task where individuals must make judgments from different types of information in varying formats to decide whether the applicant moves on to the next step of the hiring process. While resume screening is viewed as common initial screening practice, research has indicated it is generally unreliable and less valid compared to other screening practices, such as structured interviews and selection assessments.

Are Resume Reviews Reliable?

Recruiters tend to use inconsistent strategies for resume screening and those strategies tend to change over time. Research has found that recruiters and managers vary in how they process and use information from applicants to reach hiring decisions.  Recently, Seibert, Williams, and Raymark (2010) found that recruiter judgments of resumes were inconsistent across recruiters, as well as inconsistent internally, meaning that the recruiters varied in how they evaluated different applicants. So, not only do resume screening judgments vary from recruiter to recruiter, judgments vary within individual recruiters from applicant to applicant. Thus, research suggests that idiosyncratic patterns exist among recruiters’ evaluations of job applicants, and reliance on such unreliable methods alone should be limited.

Are Resume Reviews Fair?

Some screeners may have difficulty remaining impartial during the screening process. Confirmation biases, or when individuals tend to look for and remember information that verifies their expectations, operate to maintain stereotypical beliefs and prejudices (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). In this way, people seek out information that supports or maintains their current conceptualizations . Similarly, people also may distort or ignore information that does not support their beliefs.

For example, Cole, Field, & Giles (2004) found that recruiter and applicant gender influenced judgments regarding applicant resume qualifications. They found that women applying for jobs that require “masculine” qualifications (e.g., supervision of others) and men applying for jobs that require “feminine” qualifications (e.g., nurturing, communal involvement) tend to be more stereotypically judged as poor fit by recruiters. However, when the applicant was assessed in an interview context, judgments were more impartial.  When limited amounts of information are available, like in the resume screening stage, recruiters will be more likely to rely on biased or stereotypical information. In contrast, when there is more information available to help make judgments (e.g., after an interview), recruiters do not need to rely as heavily on their preconceived notions and are better equipped to make less biased judgments.

The Big Picture

Taken together, research generally indicates that the reliability and validity of the types of resume information that recruiters use to infer attributes about candidates do not hold up under scientific scrutiny (Thoms & McMasters, 1999). Therefore, other screening practices, such as structured interviews and assessments, should be implemented in order to ensure that job relevant information is being used in the appropriate way to select the best candidates, as well as to ensure the legal defensibility of the hiring process as a whole.
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Kristin Delgado Kristin Delgado is a Senior Research Consultant at PSI. Her areas of expertise include analyzing data, designing and evaluating selection systems in terms of system utility, validity, fairness, and efficiency, and item response methodology. Kristin is a member of the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology and maintains an active role in conducting applied research.