The most important part of someone’s resume is no longer education, or even experience.
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When I was creating the learning organization at LinkedIn, I needed to hire someone who would excel at coding and web development. After we posted the job, countless resumes came pouring in. Many candidates had engineering degrees from impressive universities and job titles similar to what I was hiring for.
The guy I ended up hiring, however, had neither of those things. He studied neuroscience in college. He then went into sales and worked his way up to become a coach. In that position, he spotted some limitations in Google Sheets which, if fixed, could help sales teams do better. So, he set about learning to code on his own, and applied those skills by creating a new calculator app to help the teams.
If I had been following traditional protocol for how to hire, I likely would never have even seen this candidate’s resume. For decades, businesses have often insisted that candidates have degrees in certain fields and years of experience with certain keywords in their titles, to whittle down resumes. If you didn’t have these, you’d find it much tougher to even be considered for a position.
It’s time for those days to end.
We’ve entered a new era. As my co-author David Blake and I write in our new book, The Expertise Economy, “The world of work is going through a large-scale transition — much like the transition we went through from the agricultural economy to the Industrial Revolution. We are now in the age of digitization, automation and acceleration — an age where critical skills and expertise will be an imperative for us to succeed in the economy.”
As part of this, the most important part of someone’s resume is no longer education, or even experience. The most important section, by far, is the candidate’s skills.
The employee I hired, Rico, had the combination of skills we needed. Yes, he could code, and had proven expertise in Python (which Arkenea co-founder Rahul Varshneya calls “the best language for non-tech founders to code their own web app”). But, Rico also had other proven skills that were just as important: originality, creativity and leadership, for starters.
He had demonstrated great learning agility, which is the most important skill of all in today’s business environment. With new technologies and new business ideas disrupting the status quo so frequently, the best employees are those who can keep evolving. I also knew that Rico’s understanding of neuroscience would be of great benefit when applied to a platform that was focused on personalized, social learning.
Steadily, more businesses are starting to realize that to find the best candidates, they need to focus primarily on skills. But, there’s still a long way to go.
“Often, a candidate’s proficiencies are not assessed until the final round of interviews — too late for non-degreed job seekers who decided not to apply based on a position’s educational requirements, or for candidates who are screened out by recruiters or applicant tracking system algorithms,” the Society for Human Resource Management reports.
A Harvard Business School study, titled “Dismissed by Degrees,” finds that “degree inflation — the rising demand for a four-year college degree for jobs that previously did not require one — is a substantive and widespread phenomenon that is making the U.S. labor market more inefficient.”
The focus on academic pedigree leads employers to “restrict their access to a wider pool of talent,” so they miss out not only on candidates who have the right skills, but also candidates who could quickly develop those skills, the study says.
This is why companies such as IBM are starting to change hiring practices. As CEO Ginni Rometty explains, many jobs don’t require such degrees. “What matters most is that these employees — with jobs such as cloud computing technicians and services delivery specialists — have relevant skills,” she wrote in a USA Today op-ed.
The same goes for job candidates’ current titles. A CareerBuilder survey found that nearly half (47 percent) of employers usually or always hire candidates with the same job title they’re hiring for. They’re missing out. “Hiring managers who consider previous job titles when limiting the field of candidates are more likely to have difficulty filling openings,” CareerBuilder executive chairman Matt Ferguson wrote in the Harvard Business Review. “This is a needless limitation based on a piece of information that, in the context of hiring decisions, is essentially arbitrary.”
Even the American Physical Society — a nonprofit group that, among other things, helps people find jobs in the highly educated world of physics — recommends that candidates use their resumes to draw attention to their skills rather than academic backgrounds or job titles. A “skills-based resume is the best format for communicating relevant information to an employer,” the group says.
Of course, you don’t want to overpack your resume with a list of too many skills. Glassdoor recommends that you emphasize quality over quantity — leaving out those other skills that virtually all candidates have, such as knowledge of Microsoft Office, and focusing instead on “impactful skills that are relevant to the job you’re applying to.” This is especially important given research by The Ladders that found recruiters spend only six seconds reviewing each resume.
It’s time for recruiters and hiring managers to use those seconds most wisely, by zeroing in on skills — and for job applicants to make that section of each resume stand out. Only then will we all build stronger businesses based on real expertise, and build a stronger economy.