Are resumes relevant in the 21st century?

Do you secretly feel like the way we "buy" and "sell" our talents in the marketplace is broken? That resumes and job descriptions can't possibly match the complexity of the people and roles they're supposed to represent? Well, now you're not alone.

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“The thing about inflection points is that you just don’t see them coming. And you only realize it was such a moment in hindsight.”

-Christine Kenna, Partner at IGNIA Partners Venture Capital

For the last couple of years, I’ve wondered why others don’t see that the moment of change so many of us are anticipating is already in the past.

What’s the moment of change I’m talking about? The moment when we shifted from the industrial economy to the knowledge economy and soon to be the augmented economy, an economy where the world of business is filled with robots, quantum computing, AI and other augmented realities.

We read every day about how brilliant minds are accomplishing things like personalization-at-scale and AI-driven automation; medicine is being transformed with 3D printed hearts and other mind-shattering ideas. This energy doesn’t even stay on this planet; I know several people out there contemplating life on Mars. The binary world of the industrial economy is quickly fading into history, and we’re racing into the multi-dimensional future. It’s exciting stuff.

What hasn’t shifted is how we talk about talent. While our world is quickly becoming multidimensional, the language and tools of talent are still anchored in the binary world of the industrial economy. Listen to the words we use: we “find,” “evaluate,” and “engage” human talent. We use labels like “title,” “tenure,” “skills,” “productivity.”

Look at any resume and all you’ll see what the author hopes is a compelling narrative. But guess what, that narrative isn’t read in any detail by a human. Statistics show that the typical hiring manager spends on average about eight seconds per resume.

What’s she looking for? Keywords. Worse, many resumes are now “read” by a computer whose algorithms scan your finely crafted sentences for, guess what, those keywords that answer the one question, “Do we think she fits our criteria.” To your recipient, the resume you’ve taken such care to create is nothing more than a spreadsheet of keywords.


And here’s why I’m pulling my hair out. All around me I hear experts talking about the “future of work” and how we should prepare our children for the unknown world ahead, a new world full of robots, quantum computing, AI and other augmented realities.

But in truth, we’re all aware that the future they describe is already here. And the inflection point of change from the industrial to augmented economies started decades ago – in 1976, the year the first commercial internet company was born.

It’s time for us to switch from “it’s coming” to “Hi folks, it’s here!” The multi-dimensional modern business world is here and humans are woefully behind. Behind because we’re stuck in the world of keywords, datapoints, badges, and labels. Isn’t it time that the tools we use to hire, evaluate and value humans get an upgrade from the industrial word to the augmented world we live in?

I’d like to suggest that the upgrade starts with the resume and job description. Do any of you think your resume explains how wonderful you are? Do job descriptions highlight the complexity and richness of the opportunity? No.

For now, the bad news is that you still need to keep your resume updated. And yes, you still need to create a job description for that role you need to fill. Sorry. But you can start preparing for the time when the resume does become obsolete, and from where I’m sitting we’re starting to see the signs.

Take agency and ownership of your unique value – your ability to do things in the future, justified by what you’ve done in the past. And even if the system hasn’t woken up to it yet, you are a multi-dimensional human meant to work and thrive in a multi-dimensional world.

Start talking about the richness of your brilliant brain and the value it brings to work. And if you’re on the hunt for talent start asking about how they think rather than what they’ve done. Conversations are the countermeasure of any banal document.

In the interim, I’m going to keep talking to HR professionals and talent experts about what replaces the resume and job description. If you want to join the conversations just drop me a line.

It’s almost 2020. It’s time to reinvent the resume.

PS. Fun fact. The resume was “invented” by Leanardo da Vinci in 1482.

PPS. Feeling fired up? Read more rants about how your resume is screened by algorithms and what you can do to not get screened out of opportunities here, here, and here.

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