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Resume Reviews: Reliable for Employee Selection?

August 16, 2012

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

Are Resume Reviews Reliable?

Research shows that recruiters integrate resume information very differently, and the reliability of such practices is quite low.  Recruiters often use inconsistent strategies and those strategies change over time.  Other research has found that recruiters and managers vary in how they process and use informational cues from applicants to reach hiring decisions.

Recent research studies have found that recruiter judgments of resumes were not only inconsistent across recruiters, but also 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, judgment processes vary within the recruiters themselves from applicant to applicant.  These studies further provide evidence that idiosyncratic patterns exist among recruiters’ evaluations of job applicants, and reliance on such unreliable methods alone should be limited.

Are Resume Reviews Fair?

One of the issues associated with resume screening that contributes to its unreliability is that 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.  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.

Moreover, resume screening may influence judgments made at subsequent hiring stages.  Some research suggests that interviewers adjust their interviewing behavior in order to confirm first impressions that they may hold about the candidates, or that interviewers may use the interview to confirm first impressions based on resumes.

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.  Therefore, other screening practices, such as assessments and interviews, 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.

For more information, check out a whitepaper I wrote on the topic,
"Resume Reviews:  Everyone is doing it, but how useful is it?"

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.