CVs and Resumes

Application forms require individuals to provide specific information about themselves, such as their educational qualifications and job experience. Changes in the law and various other practices have resulted in new practices over the years: thus in some countries age discrimination legislation has meant that date of birth is no longer asked for, as well as place of birth. The practice of asking for a photograph has also been discouraged lest candidates are selected on their physical appearance more than their ability, motivation or experience. Yet most applicants now provide many of these details in their own CV or resume voluntarily.

There is not a large academic literature on resumes, though helping individuals write them has become a serious business (this is now changing). There are self-styled consultants who claim to help people write a CV to increase their chances of getting a job interview and the job itself. They aim to help with both style and content. It is in essence an impression management exercise aimed to present information with a particular impact. Thus some information is omitted which may be thought of as unflattering (class of degree, time spent unemployed) while other information is presented to maximize impact but which may be misleading, such as the size of a budget controlled by a team not just the candidate. Further, there appear to be fashions in the way CVs are written and presented as well as cultural, cohort and sector differences. One study looked at erroneous claims about publications in doctors but found relatively little evidence of ‘wilful misrepresentation’ (Boyd, Hook & King, 1996). Weinstein (2012) identified three types of resumes: chronological, functional (organized by skills) and behaviourally focused, which are better and most useful.

Chen, Huang and Lee (2011), in a Taiwanese study, suggested that recruiters are interested in ‘detecting’ a number of very specific characteristics from the typical information on a CV; these include academic qualifications, work experience, extracurricular activities and the ‘aetherics’ of a resume. Chen and colleagues showed that recruiters tried to elicit an indication of the candidate’s job-related knowledge, interpersonal skills, intelligence and conscientiousness from the CV in order to make a hiring decision. A similar American study showed that it was recruiters’ perception of the applicants’ academic qualifications, work experience and extracurricular activities that were critical in determining their decisions. Yet comparatively little research has been undertaken on this topic. Elgin and Clapham (2004) examined whether there would be a difference between how people evaluated electronic versus paper resumes. They found that people on a paper resume were rated as more friendly but those based on an electronic resume were rated as better qualified and more intelligent, as well as more technically advanced. Another study, by Hiemstra and colleagues (2012) showed clear and predicted ethnic differences in resume content. Indeed, the risk of discrimination resulting from resume screening has attracted research (Derous, Ryan & Nguyen, 2011).

Because most people now have a least one CV which they use for various purposes these have begun to attract research, though the non-standard nature of the form and content of CVs makes this difficult. It thus remains a very under-researched area, which is surprising given the role of CVs in selection decision making.

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