My CV horror story: why I stopped hiring using CVs

Published by:
Demetre Constantopoulos
January 21, 2020
min read

“You’re fired!”

It’s the last thing you ever want to hear at work. For me, it wasn’t something I ever wanted to say either.

If you’re still hiring using CVs, then take heed of my horror story. There may not be any ghouls or goblins in this tale of woe, but there is a decrepit, warped hiring practice that left me very red in the face. 

At Applied, we’ve swapped out CVs for fairer, more predictive hiring methods, backed by behavioural science.

For many hirers out there, cutting CVs loose can be painful.

But not for me! I already knew how useless CVs were through my own trial and error (mostly error) as a hiring manager...

A quick and easy hire, so I thought

Before I joined Applied (and became infamous for my #cvisdead Applied t-shirt), I was responsible for managing information analytics at a multinational company.

As the company grew, so did the workload, and so I needed to get a new analyst on board to lighten the load for the rest of my hardworking team.

Before I saw the light and waved my final adieu to CVs, I thought (as most people still do) they were the only viable choice when it came to screening the first wave of candidates.

My personal tact was to scan CVs for keywords that might denote certain skills, although, to be completely honest with you, I was mostly just hoping that one or two candidates would just jump out at me… maybe because they worked somewhere cool or went to a top university.
When I saw that a candidate worked at a big company.

To an unenlightened me, any candidates that had worked at big, reputable companies were a solid bet, as I associated this with skill.

I had a (very) vague picture of what this person would look like, and so I was looking for someone who roughly ‘fit the bill’.

My minimum requirement were:

  • Customer segmentation
  • Sales activity reporting
  • Excel skills

After breezing through piles of CVs desperately searching for any keywords that might suggest they had these skills, I finally managed to find some promising candidates.

One of the budding analysts stood out to me in particular (we’ll call them R, for the sake of anonymity).

R had experience at ‘good’ companies and a solid academic track record. What more could I ask for?

When I got them in for an interview, everything was still rosey. R said all the right things and seemed well rehearsed, repeating bits of the job description back to me, which at the time was music to my naive ears.

It’s worth pointing out that my interviews were fairly unstructured at this time. I’d have the candidate's CV in front of me and talk through it with them. If you knew your CV, you pretty much had it in the bag.

Then, R was interviewed by the director. And again, all seemed fine and dandy. The second interview served as more of a personality test. Here we’d decide if we like the person… which we did.

They ticked all of the boxes so I hired them! At this point, I was happy. I’d been able to sort through a mound of CVs just by honing in on keywords and big companies - nabbing myself what I thought was a keeper.

Then it all came tumbling down

The period between making the hire and the start date were blissful. I was excited to get my new analyst on board and take some pressure off the team. 

However, R had barely been in the office a day when I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.

The interview had been a rehearsed performance. 

R had about a tenth of the technical capability they’d claimed to have, lacking everyday, essential analytical skills. And they dropped their once smiley, professional facade pretty much the second they set foot in the door.

In case the skills deficit wasn’t bad enough, R was fighting tooth and nail about the semantics of their job description. The issue was that they weren't up for doing anything outside of what was specifically stated, but as you probably know already, job descriptions are meant to give an overview of the role, not list every single task that might be asked of them.

*The Applied platform uses work samples and role play tasks to give candidates an idea of what job would be like, so they know what to expect when they start.

The tension had reached a boiling point.

After just 1 week of locking horns with R, I’d had enough. I was wasting precious time skirmishing over minute particulars of what an analyst should or shouldn’t be doing, getting hot under the collar, going home in a fowl mood and the reality was that R just didn’t possess the skills or passion they’d led me to believe they had.

The climax of this draining week was a very public row in the middle of the office. R didn’t want to do any investigation or enquiries, as (you guessed it) this wasn’t in the job description. The CFO, COO and even the CEO (who had poked his head out to see what all the commotion was about) were all witness to our epic shouting match.

I didn’t want to let R go out of sheer rage.

Maybe they did have potential. Had I just managed them poorly?

Or did I completely mess up the job description? 

As hard as I tried to cobble together some sort of solution to this hot mess, there was only one way this was going to end. It was the argument that broke this hiring manager's back.

“I’m an analyst, not a private investigator!”

That was all I could take, I felt I had no choice but to go to the last resort.

“I don’t think this is going to work for either one of us.”

Sadly it didn’t go down quite like this.

This isn’t an easy thing to say… to anyone, even if you have been at each other's throats for a week.

I felt guilty that I’d had to let them go so soon.

Angry, that they’d pushed me to the point of no return.

And above all I was feeling extremely embarrassed, and had a lingering worry that my neck could be on the chopping block too. What kind of hiring manager hires someone that has no intention of doing what the role required?

The cost of a bad hire

My hurt feelings, red face and sleepless nights aside, this shambolic hire had a very real cost...

Interview + admin hours = 29 hours x £55 per hour (average hourly cost of employees involved) = £1,595

External recruiter's fee (even though the exorbitant commission was pro rated) = £2,000

Estimated opportunity cost related to the project R was meant to support = £40,000

Damage to the employer brand = Priceless

When it was all said and done, my bad hire cost the company at least £43,000

And how did I forget... there's also the cost of having to hire a replacement!

Cost of repeating hiring process to find replacement = £1,595

External recruiter's fee for replacement = £8,000

This is just my experience - it could've been a lot worse. We parted ways with R pretty soon after their joining. If it had taken longer to realise things weren't working it could've easily end up costing a whole lot more.

Improving a broken hiring process

I still needed an analyst, and this time around I wasn’t going to rely on proxies like keywords on CVs. In fact, I didn’t really want to use CVs at all, but under pressure to hire another analyst asap I just didn't have the time or resources to redesign the entire hiring process.

What I did promise myself to do was:

  • Have a much clearer idea of what a good candidate looks like.
  • Give candidates a real taste of what the role would be like.
  • Have a list of set questions for interviews.
  • Actually test skills during the interview.

I decided to make the second half of the interview a technical test. I didn’t want to be hoodwinked again.

This resulted in some interesting moments. Candidates would talk a big game in the first part of the interview, and then quickly fall apart at the seams. They didn’t just struggle, they gave up at the first hurdle!

Actual footage of candidates doing my technical test.

Believe me, I don’t take any joy in making candidates sweat. I was utterly shocked at how bad CVs were at reflecting actual skills.

Whilst the changes I made enabled me to hire another analyst with a little bit more confidence in my decisions (and I didn’t have to give them the boot within the first week), I still felt that the whole process was busted. I just couldn’t tell who was going to flop the technical test or have the right mindset from looking at CVs.

I’d later come to find out that my suspicions were correct. CVs have been proven to be one of the least predictive assessment methods. You can take a look at Schmidt & Hunter’s famous study on selection methods if you’re skeptical.

We designed the Applied recruitment platform using behavioural science to replace CVs with predictive, data-driven assessment methods. Read our full report on why CVs have to go and how you can replace them or feel free to jump right in and request a demo.