To Find Diamonds in the Rough, Look at Abilities, Not Resumes


2018 has been a challenging year for hiring, as demand now exceeds the number of unemployed in the US. Yet, even today, the hiring process is built on a model that has been around for decades: take in resumes, read them over, interview people, and make a decision based almost purely on flawed, subjective judgments.

How deep is the resume? Did the person go to a good school? Are the resume’s supplementary materials relevant or not?

It’s easy to make a case for or against someone across the board based on this kind of information, but these factors are pretty unreliable predictors of future job performance.

Here is a great case study to illustrate this point:

In 2014, Brian Acton sold his startup, WhatsApp, to Facebook for $19 billion. According to news reports, the deal was hashed out in Mark Zuckerberg's house over the course of a few days and sealed over a bottle of Jonnie Walker scotch.

In the middle of 2009, however, Brian Acton was a software engineer that no one wanted to hire. Despite a dozen years of experience at Yahoo and Apple, he got turned down by two of the Internet's brightest stars at the time. First Twitter said no and then Facebook rejected him.

Looking back now, it seems absurd that any major tech company would pass over a clear innovator like Acton, but that’s exactly what happened – and it’s a perfect example of why the current talent assessment and hiring processes are antiquated.

In the 21st century, the “trick” to identifying innovators like Acton – even when their resumes don’t stand out – is to ignore traditional hiring factors in favor of talent signals.

These signals are particularly important when filling junior-level positions: The right hires there can power your company for decades, while the wrong ones might tread water or struggle to catch on.

Almost everyone’s resume looks the same straight out of college – i.e., pretty sparse – so what talent signals should you be looking for?

Research suggests that two sets of traits should be prioritized during recruitment:

  1. Cognitive capacity, which includes not only problem-solving ability but also practical intelligence factors like analytical orientation and innovation.
  2. Conscientiousness, which encompasses factors like task-orientation, detail-orientation, achievement-effort and persistence.

How can you identify candidates who excel in these key areas of conscientiousness and cognitive ability?

Let us help you.

Our assessments of cognitive aptitude and conscientiousness are a cost-effective way to assess these dimensions. Research shows that assessments are far more predictive of an employee’s success than common hiring criteria: They are twice as predictive as job interviews, three times as predictive as work experience, and four times as predictive as education level. This means these assessments are particularly effective in evaluating recent college graduates, who come with limited work experience on their resumes.

This tale of woe may cause recruiters and hiring managers some anguish. Using an outdated approach to hiring is a chancy exercise. But let’s be honest, no one at any company wants to become famous for having let "another Brian Acton" slip away. 

If you only look at resumes that check off boxes for a limited number of skills, then you’re missing the forest for the trees. If you want to avoid passing on the next Brian Acton, you may want to adjust your focus: Look for real talent signals.