hiring the person not the resume

Hire the Person, Not the Resume: Bringing High-Performers Onto Your Team

By: Kyle Kania

Have you ever heard the expression, there are three sides to every story? The same concept applies to hiring. Three main parties are involved when hiring: the applicant, the hiring committee, and an algorithm. The applicant works hard to ensure they do everything necessary to get hired for the job — or at least get that first interview. The hiring manager does everything they can to find the right person. The algorithm provides an effective filtering mechanism to match one with the other.

Although the pendulum has now swung to artificial intelligence (AI), it wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, someone had to read every resume submitted for a job. However, AI plays a much larger role in determining who makes the initial cut. 

AI has inspired applicants and employers to leverage a mathematical model known as Game Theory. Simply put, game theory employs strategic interactions to move toward logical outcomes. In this case, employers make their best moves to find the right candidates. Candidates also make their best moves to get their resumes seen. While it might sound like a logical approach on the surface, as a data analyst, who often pulls out patterns, keywords, and trends in the information at hand, I see some concerns with this approach.

Many lessons are woven into data work that can extend to other parts of the business. Hiring is certainly one of them. 

Finding the Right Resumes

Before bringing in a candidate for a face-to-face conversation, you must find the top performers in a stack of submitted resumes. You must have the tools to make the overwhelming process of sifting through dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes more efficient. Leveraging this technological toolbelt requires that hiring managers do the work upfront to ensure the keywords are the right mix to hone in on who you’re looking for. 

Automated software has become a staple in this toolbelt within the last five years. Leveraging keywords and algorithms help parse out quality candidates. Although helpful, this isn’t foolproof. A once valuable tool has become more trivial as the inner workings of automation have become more commonly known. Candidates understand the importance of keywords and can adjust their resumes to reflect the desired phrases for a specific position. Utilizing these tools effectively means hiring managers must go beyond the basic or expected keywords to find the diamonds in the rough. This requires critical thinking about the qualities you admire and want in your candidate. 

For example, as a data analyst, I prefer not to have the database look exclusively for the keyword “data analyst.” Instead, I like to pull out applicants’ resumes with a math or statistics background. In my field, this is a likely signal of someone who can crunch some numbers but also thinks critically about the meaning behind those numbers.

Broadening your keywords lets you deepen your understanding of the person on the other side of the screen and how they articulate their thoughts.

Shifting Hiring Back to Human-to-Human Interaction

Resumes are fine for a jumping-off point in the hiring process, but when a candidate arrives in-office for an interview, I rarely ask about a person’s resume. Instead, I’ve found that better conversations unfold when there’s less discussion about the exact accomplishments and more about the applicant’s decision-making process.

For example, in a recent interview, I asked the candidate how they felt regarding managing tight deadlines. The candidate gave a well-intentioned response that they would simply work harder and meet the deadline, but I knew that kind of approach would not fit into our team’s culture. Working harder instead of smarter isn’t always the answer, especially when quality personal time with friends and family is the casualty.

As a data analyst, I also look beyond the resume for hiring. That’s because I usually don’t need a data analyst. Instead, when someone says they’re a data analyst, I always ask myself, “And…?”. The world of data analysis is as complex as the analysis themselves. The diversity in experience within that role is vast, and the title alone describes next to nothing about their skills. Yes, I need people with technical skills, but more importantly, I need people who can think in terms of variables and then use that data to solve problems. Just as not every “Data Analyst” has the necessary experience for a given role, not every candidate with the necessary experience for the same role is a “Data Analyst.”

Look Beyond the Basics

There’s a lot about job experience that’s circumstantial. Looking beyond the basics of a role, such as job title and generic description, will help hiring managers find those hidden talents and high-performers — case in point: My story. 

I studied business analytics. I had a lot of hard coding skills, but I worked in technical sales. I didn’t have my Ph.D. and was not a likely candidate as a Data Scientist. Eventually, I took my first job to get some experience. I was able to shape my roles and leverage my skills carefully, which paid dividends later down the road. I was not incapable of doing the work, I just didn’t have the right resume. Thankfully, I had a manager who looked beyond a keyword on a resume and allowed my true capabilities to shine, which led to my current managerial position.

Another prime example of this can be found on the college football field. I knew a lot of football players when I attended college. Our kicker surprised me, though. He had never played football, yet he played for Rutgers. When I asked about it, he told me that he played soccer and could kick a ball really well. The coach found him by doing a skillset-based assessment rather than looking at accomplishments alone. 

Looking at people who work in seemingly unrelated fields, such as sales, may allow you to capture someone working hard and hungry for more. Just because someone isn’t currently working in the role doesn’t mean they are incapable. They’re often more than capable and eager to be recruited for a job that aligns with their aspirations. 

Staffing your team with team members from outside-of-the-box backgrounds will help you find the best people for your project. These people can think critically and operate with passion and enthusiasm.