Resumes and cover letters are useless because they perpetuate hiring discrimination and offer little to no value when it comes to assessing candidate fit for a position. Yet, employers continue to allow these documents to lead their recruitment processes based on tradition.
If employers want to be successful in the attraction and retention of star candidates, it’s time to rethink the recruitment process altogether. The recruitment process is riddled with problems that are obvious to employers and job seekers alike. Things like flawed Applicant Tracking Systems, requiring candidates to spend hours completing an online application and employers (and candidates) who ghost, all signal that there is room for significant improvement.
Many of these issues are openly discussed and widely complained about by both job seekers and employers. All you have to do is scroll LinkedIn for a little while and you’ll see moans and groans about the recruitment process from both sides of the equation.
The job of your dreams.
No matter your race, or where you're from.
As much as the problems are two sided, the solution must be driven from one side only. In a process where the power is placed only in the hands of the employer, the employers must drive the solution. Still, little is done to address the root cause and solve these known problems.
This article will discuss how changes in the employment market, and changing attitudes around diversity and inclusion, create a sense of urgency for employers to examine and improve their recruitment and selection practices in order to attract and retain talent.
Changes in the Canadian employment market reflect the need to change how we recruit
As the employment market shifts in favor of job seekers, employers must renew their focus on the candidate experience.
According to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (September 2022), Canada’s unemployment rate is at 5.2% which means that Canada’s labour market remains near full capacity. This means that employers must fight to attract and retain top talent.
Ceridian Canada’s Report, 2022 Pulse of Talent, claims that 60% of the country’s employees are currently a flight risk with 39% of employees open to the right opportunity.
We also know the recruitment process can impact a new employee’s engagement even before they join the team. The interview and selection process is often a candidate’s first impression of a company and can send a message about perceived value.
According to, The Effect of Recruitment and Selection on Employee Retention: Mediating Factor of Employee Engagement, when combining positive recruitment and selection practices with intentional employee engagement activities, a strong significance on employee retention can be achieved.
In summary, solid recruitment practices combined with solid employee engagement leads to a positive impact on overall employee retention. Thus, the relationship between the organization’s recruitment processes, employee engagement and organizational performance are clear.
Shifting focus to employee retention
Given the current job market climate and scarcity of available skilled workers, employers should consider a renewed focus on enhancing their recruitment practices to achieve the benefit of employee retention. Recruitment seems more challenging than ever. Therefore a reasonable approach would be to retain current employees, to avoid the need to recruit new ones. This need to repair broken recruitment processes is immediate, given that most employees are currently a flight risk, according to Ceridian Canada’s Report, 2022 Pulse of Talent.
Since the recruitment process is linked to overall organizational performance, it seems problematic that companies continue to underperform when it comes to recruitment and selection.
It seems employers are stuck in a process that no longer serves their goals because this is the way recruitment has always been done. Consequently, it’s nearly impossible to see the problem, because they are so deeply immersed inside of it. Employers in this case are like fish. And fish don’t know they are in water.
The problematic history of the recruitment process as we know it today
The current North American recruitment process involves writing a resume, applying for a job and participating in an interview. The process itself is really old and its origin is problematic for underrepresented job seekers.
It’s unclear who invented the resume, but the first recorded person to use one was Leonardo Davinci in 1482. During this era, communication via smoke signals was also commonplace. Somehow the relevance of smoke signals didn’t last, but the resume did.
How screening and interviewing can be discriminatory
The screening and interview parts of the recruitment process were designed to discriminate against certain sets of people. Historically, the selection of candidates was influenced by superstitions, beliefs, personal prejudices of hiring managers. Recruitment and selection practices have been notorious areas for prejudice and bias. Despite the best efforts of organizations today to overcome these pitfalls, history continues to prevail.
For example, for those living with non-Anglo names, it seems that there can be consequences beyond constantly having to correct its spelling and pronunciation. Researchers at Ryerson and the University of Toronto found that Canadian job-seekers with Asian names are 20 to 40 per cent less likely to receive a callback for an interview, due to their name.
The Canadian study supports the findings of the Harvard study which claims that companies are more than twice as likely to call underrepresented job seekers for an interview, if they have a white sounding name.
While organizations continue to make efforts to eliminate hiring bias, it seems the original intention of the recruitment process trumps those efforts. That original intention is deeply tied to the notion of encouraging discrimination and screening candidates which don’t meet the expectations of, mostly white, hiring managers.
One might even claim that flawed recruitment processes are doing exactly what they were designed to do – discriminate against underrepresented candidates. This is why many Black, brown, Indigenous underrepresented job seekers take extra steps to protect themselves from hiring bias when writing a resume.
The practical issues with resumes and cover letters
There are obvious blunders when it comes to resumes and cover letters. Quite frankly, we don’t need to look back to the daVinci era to discredit the relevancy of these ancient documents. Any practical, critical thinker can come up with a list of problems that arise from resumes and cover letters.
For example; resumes and cover letters do little to predict your overall job performance and a resume cannot effectively show your work or how you can solve professional problems. The documents are notoriously bullshit filled, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety for job seekers.
We all know the interview process leads us to the candidate who interviewed the best. Not necessarily the best fit for the job.
Nevertheless, job seekers looking for roles at more traditional organizations continue to fret over arbitrary norms and expectations that bring little value to actually predicting their job performance.
On top of this, underrepresented job seekers may still be screened out of the hiring process unfairly based on information disclosed on their resume which can lead to bias and discrimination from the hiring manager.
It is known that racial minorities face a significant disadvantage in employment. Although racial minority immigrants experience the most significant hardship, even native-born minorities tend to earn less than their white counterparts, particularly in the private sector. That hardship begins with flawed recruitment and selection processes from these companies.
Inclusive recruitment and hiring practices
We have seen that current recruitment and selection practices stem from history and tradition. Current employment market conditions and attitudes around diversity and inclusion call for a change when it comes to hiring practices. This change must start with top down support for diversity initiatives.
Unfortunately, there is no simple, one-size fits all approach to the solution. Employers should consider their own values and recruitment goals when it comes to implementing a solution.
Dramatic recruitment overhaul: The Body Shop’s “open hiring” process
A complete restructuring of recruitment practices might benefit some companies. For example, The Body Shop uses a process called open hiring. With Open Hiring, the first candidate to apply gets the next available opportunity, across entry-level positions.
When a hiring manager is recruiting, they select the first candidate on the list (in order of application date) for an in-person meeting. During the meeting, the candidate is informed of open positions and roles and responsibilities. Interested candidates are asked three simple questions to confirm they are eligible and physically able to fulfill the requirements of the role. The successful candidate is then hired.
The Body Shop’s approach to hiring contrasts the traditional process and has led the company to a 60% decrease in monthly turnover.
Open hiring means hiring individuals regardless of their background. It means being open to people who may have histories that would have excluded them from a more traditional hiring process. These histories may include things like time spent in jail, substance abuse, homelessness, a lack of work experience, or a non Anglo Saxon sounding name. The key is that the hiring is completely open.
Open hiring leads to organizational benefits such as improved retention, more diversity, speedy recruitment process and positive community impacts.
Admittedly, Open Hiring will not work in all cases, for all roles. The approach lends itself to front-line, transactional positions where training is provided by the employer. However, it is not a practical option for more specialized roles that require certain qualifications, high amounts of experience, and specific education requirements.
Employers recruiting for more specialized, professional positions can benefit from a targeted recruitment strategy which implements some of Open Hiring’s best practices.
Employers looking to make small process changes can act immediately by simplifying and eliminating excess steps. This might include removing the cover letter requirement, cutting down the number of interviews required and skipping lengthy candidate assessments.
Employers should remember that each step in the recruitment and selection process will inherently include some form of bias. Consequently, eliminating the number of steps should eliminate some degree of bias and improve the candidate’s experience.
Incremental recruitment process change
If your organization insists that resumes and cover letters must remain part of a process, your Recruitment Team should focus on incremental process change. Your team should be aware of the inherent bias and pitfalls with the current recruitment approach and participate in training to better understand and overcome those biases.
There are a number of immediate adjustments you can make in order to attract more diverse applicants and enhance the candidate experience, without taking drastic measures like implementing an open hiring approach.
Here are 4 steps you can implement to become more inclusive right away, without forcing big change all at once:
- Take a look at your recruitment team.
Ensure your Recruitment Team has a variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations and genders. Having a diverse team yields better results and higher employee engagement.
- Make sure you’re using bias free language in your marketing and interviews.
When it comes to the job postings, make sure that the language is bias free and accessible. Wherever possible, you should also try to shift your focus from non-essential requirements to job training and transferable skills.
- Set Key Performance Indicators.
The organization should focus on setting key performance indicators which help to understand areas of improvement and success when it comes to candidate attraction, selection and retention. Performance indicators may also be useful to understand areas of bias in the process.
- Make sure your policies support diversity and inclusion.
Finally, focus on promoting workplace policies that appeal to a range of people with different backgrounds.
Conclusion: it’s time for employers to overhaul the broken recruitment process by ditching resumes, cover letters and other harmful practices
If your organization insists that resumes and cover letters are useful, they are right. These documents are useful to create bias and discrimination in the hiring process. Your organization should consider how the utility of resumes and cover letters serves the organization’s goals. If your organization is committed to enhancing the candidate experience and hiring diverse talent, the use of resumes and cover letters is in direct conflict with those goals.
After all, these documents exist to actively encourage bias, discrimination and unfair judgement on the underrepresented candidate. Their existence is in direct conflict with approaches like open hiring, which encourages the consideration of all candidates. Given their history, resumes and cover letters are naturally useless when it comes to enhancing the candidate experience and hiring diverse talent. Perhaps your organization cannot clearly see the full depth of the problem, because you are so deeply immersed inside of it. After all, a fish doesn’t know it’s in water.
Leonardo daVinci said “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” And while I question the ongoing relevance of daVinci’s 1482 resume, this quote seems valid today.