Why my CV sucks! How bias in my CV stopped me getting interviews

Joe Caccavale

30

December

2019

|

7

minute read

X

We're rebuilding the hiring process.

Want to see more content like this? Subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

Give me more

My pride, my joy, my baby!

Oh how I used to love my CV.

The entirety of my working life (all 4 years of it) ruthlessly combed through, curated and condensed into an A4 sized masterpiece.

Just feast your eyes on this beauty…

Jaw-dropping I know, but sorry, I’m off the market now.

Before I landed my job here at Applied and discovered all the gaping pitfalls in traditional hiring  (you can check out my story here), this was my trusty jobsearch companion through thick and thin.

At least that’s what I thought.

In reality, CVs suck. 

The judgments people make about you from your CV are based on biases, and have nothing to do with your skills or abilities.

You could be the best person for the job but never make it to interview… because recruiters use CVs to find disqualifying information about you.

Didn’t attend a Russell Group University? 

Haven’t worked at a well known company? 

Don’t look like you’d ‘fit in’? 

It might be hard to stomach, but your CV is little more than a painstakingly formatted list of reasons NOT to hire you.

Now that I’m aware of just how biased the CV sift is, I can see how parts of my CV could’ve - and probably have - been grounds for binning it.

So, roll up your sleeves and let’s get stuck in… 

Here's how my CV enabled bias

Name

Is this the craziest name you’ve ever heard? Probably not.

But does it sound like your run-of-the-mill, simple, relatable British name? Again, probably not.

Looks like we’ve already found our first bite of possibly disqualifying information.

This isn’t just me being extremely pessimistic.

Studies found that changing names on an application to ones that ‘sound white’ can have an appallingly significant impact on call-back rates.

We went into a little more detail about this when making our case for killing the CV.

I’ll admit, this mainly applies to minority groups and women, of which I am neither. 

However, although I might make it past the name check, there’s plenty of talented candidates who won’t.

Photo

Who’s this handsome young devil I hear you ask.

Attractiveness doesn’t just get you dates. It gets you jobs too!

Given that we tend to associate physical ‘beauty’ with kindness, talent and intelligence, it’s easy to see how photos on CVs can get in the way of fair, unbiased assessment.

Revealing your race and gender can also trigger unconscious bias. We believe certain characteristics are typical of a particular group. This is what we call ‘perception bias’.

If you think about it - a potential employer could form a complete, but utterly incorrect idea about who you are and how suitable you are from your photo alone, before even reading your CV.

They say a picture says 1000 words. Well, your CV headshot probably triggers 1000 false assumptions.

Address

Yes, this is my real address. Fanmail welcome.

I’m sure you’ve been guilty of stereotyping people based on where they’re from, for better or worse. 

It’s no surprise then that leaving your address on your CV invites a fair share of bias.

On one hand, your address could cause an employer to turn their nose up.

If you’re a Brit, my humble Essex dwellings could lead you to assume I’m a perma-tanned, tight-trouser-sporting wheeler dealer… but you’d be sadly mistaken.

On the flipside, it could actually make them take a shine to you, if you’re from their neck of the woods. This is actually an affinity bias - when you feel like you have a natural connection with someone similar to you.

Again - does any of this sound like it’s relevant to your actual ability?

That’s what I thought.

Personal statement/ summary

I thought I’d switch up my summary from the generic “content marketer with experience of blah blah blah”.

My opinion of myself is determined by my background and expectations. If you think you're the bee’s knees, your summary is probably going to sound a lot more striking than someone with less self-confidence. 

My CV could easily get tossed aside because I didn’t blow enough smoke up my rear.

Also, there’s the fact that the effectiveness of the summary is largely down to how well you understand what a recruiter wants to hear. 

Not everyone has the same access to this sort of advice. This means the quality of the summary has more to do with socioeconomic status than it does skill.

Education

Much like your address, reviewers could have an affinity towards you or instantly dismiss you based on your university.

Maybe someone went to Sussex too or perhaps they don’t think it’s prestigious enough for me to make it through to interview.

All of this conjecture is pretty meaningless when you consider that education is one of the least predictive means of assessment. Don’t believe me? Just glance over Schmidt & Hunter’s game-changing study.

Your choice of university doesn’t say anything about your suitability for the job you’ve applied for - even if you did go to Oxford or Cambridge.

All it indicates is your socioeconomic status. 

Also, it’s worth pointing out that the dates you give for your education can be used to guess your age.

Whilst age has no actual bearing on ability, we can be extremely biased when it comes to age.

If you’re applying for a more senior position, you could easily be dismissed as being too young and inexperienced. You could also be ‘too old’ to be considered for certain roles.

Ageism is a serious problem - just skim our article about age discrimination to get a sense of how bad it really is!

Whilst age shouldn’t be a factor, it has a major part to play in hiring… just another reason to give CVs the boot!

Work experience

Working at a big-name company seems like a sure-fire way to succeed in a CV sift - but it shouldn't be!

It might not be Spotify, but I learned almost everything I know about marketing there. Sadly, when there’s a metric ton of CVs to be reviewed, I doubt many recruiters would delve into the real value of my experience. 

I’m guessing any candidates with some heavy hitters on their CV would seem like a safer bet.

This sort of thinking is known as the halo effect – when we project positive qualities onto people, based on signifiers such as previous employers… this person worked at Google? They must be good!

Skills and competencies


When I say skills here, I’m not referring to my actual skills - ones that have been tested in tasks or interviews.

These are the skills that I decided I have. And guess what… my own self-evaluation is based on confidence level, and sense of entitlement. 

That means that the CV sift favours those who think most highly of themselves and get a little gung-ho with their estimation of their ability. 

You could argue that these self-assessments are useful to get the gist of what someone is capable of. But, this means that the more modest candidates don’t get a look in if they’re not willing to go over the top with their proclaimed skillset.

Whilst my CV only lists ‘hard skills’ -  more specific, technical stuff - I’ve seen my share of soft skills on CVs too.

P.S. Why do people turn their skills into meters like a Mortal Kombat character?

Skills like this are all relative to who candidates have worked with. If a recruiter doesn’t know these people (why would they?), these skill bars are meaningless.

Plus, if you list skills that aren’t relevant to the role but say more about your personality (e.g confidence), they could cause a reviewer to be biased against you.

Hobbies & interests

No offence, but who cares about your knack for aubergine growing or clay pottery?

Other than being completely irrelevant, hobbies are also ripe for bias.

A recruiter or hiring manager could be biased towards you if they feel that they can relate to your extracurricular pursuits. And they could just as easily be biased against you if they perceive your hobbies to be too goofy, working class, middle class, etc.

*Might I add that listing hobbies like football and ‘hanging out with friends’ is quite literally pointless. They’re so generic and common that you might as well say that you enjoy breathing.

My new and improved, bias-proof CV

I went ahead and removed all of this bias-enabling information from my CV, leaving just the stuff that actually tells hirers about my skills.

Here’s what I was left with…

As you can see, there’s not much left.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you go to town on your CV with a Sharpie.

What I’m trying to show you is just how biased and unfit for purpose the standard CV process really is.

There are companies out there blinding CVs the old fashioned way like I did above, which is undoubtedly a step in the right direction *tips hat*.

However, that really doesn’t go far enough, since what’s left is still open to bias and pretty darn non-predictive. 

There’s very little to nothing on your CV that tells anyone how fit for the job you are.

At Applied, we’ve canned CVs in favour of fairer, data-backed hiring methods. Want to find out how you can make more predictive decisions? Whizz through our free guide to bias-free hiring. You can also request a demo, and we’ll walk you through how the Applied platform works.