The Hidden Costs of High Resumé Volume

It's almost silly season again. Every year in late May, the panicky phone calls begin. Recruiters call us, many on the verge of desperation, looking for "resumes, resumes... we need more resumes!" But of course they only want "great, experienced candidates that are qualified and are a good fit for our school." Invariably these same recruiters will send us an extremely vague job description that is little more than a paraphrase of the school's mission statement and a list of job titles. My short answer is "You are over a year too late and your metric of success/progress (namely resume volume) is incorrect".

When asked "how long should a man's leg be?", Abraham Lincoln responded wisely "long enough to reach the ground". The same logic holds true for resumes. How many resumes do you need to fill a position? Just the 1 of the person whom you will ultimately hire. This may sound trite on first blush, but it provides us with a valuable paradigm through which to view the recruitment process. For years, we have pushed-back on the common recruitment logic that the key to success is having a huge number of resumes. It's not and here's why:

  1. Large piles of resumes (virtual or paper) take valuable staff time to sift through
  2. Generally speaking, the type of advertising and outreach that produces large resume volume is often generic and unfocused leading to a large number of junk candidates.
  3. Because staff time is wasted on the highly inefficient process of sifting through resumes, the entire applicant management process is more sluggish and likely to turn off promising candidates. (The good ones won't wait weeks for a call-back).
  4. Due to labor and anti-discrimination laws, once you engage a candidate in the application process, you open the door to potential legal problems with candidates who feel they were treated unfairly. Fewer candidates in the process means less exposure to lawsuits.
  5. Dedicating large amounts of staff time to resume-skimming busy-work robs you of the precious time to do the vital intellectual heavy-lifting of planning, data analysis, and recruitment process improvement. 

Clearly a huge volume of resumes is not really an indicator of effective recruiting. In our experience working with clients over the past 9 years, we have found that fixation on resume volume as opposed to quality (of the resumes and the client's recruitment management process), leads to missed opportunities, over-worked recruiters and poor hiring decisions. There is no substitute for doing the heavy mental lifting of planning and executing well-designed, effective recruitment and applicant management processes.

So if not through generating lots of resumes, how do you build and effect recruitment and hiring system? Over the next month or so, we will publish a series of thought-provoking articles outlining our core ideas on best practices in staff recruitment and applicant management. The series is titled "8 Habits of Highly Successful Recruiting". We hope you find it useful and informative. Stay tuned.

Of course very few ideas are truly original, so we will provide lots of links to source materials and further reading. To that end, I have included links to source material I used in this article at the bottom of the page.

Source Material Links:

  1. Ahlrichs, Nancy S. (2000). Competing for Talent, Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.
  2. Fernandez-Araoz, Claudio, Groysberg, Boris & Nohria, Nitin (2009, May). The Definitive Guide to Recruiting in Good Times and Bad. Harvard Business Review
  3. Merseth, Kartherine K. (2009).Inside Urban Charter Schools: Promising Practices and Strategies in Five High-Performing Schools, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

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