January 13, 2021


Written by Mike Sarraille, George Randle and Dr. Josh Cotton

The following is adapted from The Talent War.

“You’re not hiring a resume; you’re hiring a person.”

That was the tagline of a 2019 ad campaign from Indeed, and it’s very accurate. A resume shows a limited perspective of a much more complex individual.

Someone who sounds great on paper could end up being a disaster in the office, and someone with a lackluster resume could become one of your top performers.

Resumes are a valuable source of information, but only if you read them the right way. Instead of using resumes as a simple screening tool, you need to dig deeper and read between the lines.

What the Facts of the Resume Tell You

One of the most common mistakes people make with resumes is drawing conclusions that seem logical but are inaccurate. 

For example, hiring based on IQ is a scientifically valid method of hiring for success. But resumes don’t include IQ scores, so companies often look at GPA instead. They assume a high GPA means a high IQ, and a low GPA means a low IQ. It’s a reasonable conclusion, but like much of what you see on a resume, what you are inferring is not always reality. 

What GPA shows is how good of a student someone was, and you’re not trying to hire a student. Boston University researcher Eric Barker found that most valedictorians gain only moderate amounts of success, not absurd amounts of success, like becoming millionaires. Barker argues that the traits that make successful students—like complying with rules—are not the same traits that make innovators and millionaires. 

So a high GPA probably means the person is brilliant, but a low GPA doesn’t mean the person is not intelligent. See the difference?

As another example, if you see a candidate with years of leadership experience, you might assume strong leadership skills. But there are plenty of bad bosses in the world who have still accumulated many years of experience.

Years of experience tell you only how long someone has held a particular title. It is not necessarily a strong predictor of success. Instead, look at what the candidate has accomplished—how they have contributed to the company’s success. It’s not about simply doing the job; it’s about how well someone does the job.

The Deeper Story of the Resume: Silver Spoons and Scrappers

The “facts” of the resume—a person’s education, the companies they’ve worked for, the jobs they’ve held—tell only part of the story. To get a fuller picture, you want to know more than just what they’ve done; you want to know how they’ve done it. 

In most cases, a candidate won’t be doing the same thing at your company as at their previous company, so you want to unearth the fundamental character attributes that enabled them to accomplish what they’ve accomplished—like drive, resiliency, adaptability, etc. humility, and so on. Those are the building blocks that predict performance, and they are constant and translate from role to role.

Regina Hartley has a fantastic TED Talk, “Why the Best Hire Might Not Have the Perfect Resume,” about the need to look at the story a resume tells. 

As she explains it, some people go through life without facing many obstacles. These people—the “silver spoons”—are the ones with the perfect resumes in Ivy League school, 4.0 GPA, good industry experience. 

On the other end of the spectrum, those who have faced a lot of adversity in their lives—the “scrappers”—often have imperfect resumes: a degree from a state school, a lower GPA, but a history of overcoming obstacle after obstacle.

If you read resumes on a superficial level, you will choose more silver spoons than scrappers. Silver spoons can be fantastic employees, but so can scrappers. Scrappers are often the ones with the most resiliency and drive. They’ve faced obstacles and overcome them. They’ve had to fight and work so hard and so often that accomplishment is like muscle memory for them. 

But too often, scrappers never even get the chance to interview. That’s a loss for you as well as them. You could be passing over great talent simply because you’re not digging deeper into the resume.

Investigate the Resume

Talent doesn’t fit a mold. When you get an imperfect resume that looks different, you need to investigate further. 

A candidate may have a lower GPA because they had to work through college or have a unique job history. After all, they had to do whatever it took to make ends meet. That person may have more drive, resiliency, adaptability, and humility than the candidates with seemingly perfect resumes. 

The “perfect” resumes must be investigated too. A high GPA at an Ivy League school could indicate someone with intense drive willing to put in the work to excel in a competitive environment. Or it could mean someone who is used to always succeeding. A person with a perfect resume might crumble at the first sign of pressure.

By reading resumes better, you can avoid mistakenly eliminating talented candidates and gain an insightful look into candidates’ character.

For more advice on building an effective hiring team, you can find The Talent War on Amazon.

Founder, Managing Partner & CEO | Website | + posts

Mike Sarraille is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and a former enlisted Recon Marine and Scout-Sniper. A graduate of the University of Texas McCombs Business School, he is the founder and CEO of Talent War Group, a specialized executive search firm, and talent advisory that finds high-performing business leaders for senior, executive, or other critical leadership positions. He is co-author of ‘The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent’ and a columnist for Men’s Journal and Men’s Fitness under ‘The Everyday Warrior’ column. He founded and served as a board of directors for the VETTED Foundation, a cutting-edge executive-level transition program.

Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps and later became a Recon Marine and also served as a scout sniper. He was selected for a Marine officer program, but after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University, he sought a commission in the Navy to try out for the SEAL Teams.  He is also a recognized keynote speaker and subject matter expert in leadership development, talent acquisition, and talent management.

Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | Website | + posts

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Website | + posts

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies, and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.

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