Being a start-up is all about design thinking and experimentation. You try various options, test hypotheses and develop contingencies to help solve customers solutions in a creative way.  Thus, when confronted with the question;  “Does the CV format works?”, we decided to conduct a simple experiment of our own.

Very simple experiment, indeed. It was comprised of  25 HR leaders, a neurotransmitter, and two almost identical CVs.

The design of the experiment was pretty straightforward. After we strap the HR leaders to a specially designed neuro-transmitter engine and a small screen,  we asked 25 seasoned HR professionals to associate the  positive and negative attributes that flash in the screen in front of them with the candidates on those two CVs.  Attributes were not complex; Hardworking, smart, results oriented, lazy, slow, fast, leader, etc. We told the HR leaders that we were trying to gauge if there would be any bias with their CV screening. They smiled confidently. They knew that they will pick the right candidate with the right skills and qualifications without bias.  Very basic experiment, indeed.

The trick was both CVs were almost identical in terms of content. Same years of experience, same projects, same schools, etc, The only significant difference in the CVs was the picture of the candidate. One candidate had a handsome picture, bright, fairer hair, blue eyes, with model like sharp facial features, a most Anglo-successful confident stare. The second with a more round, less than perfect face with a visible dot on the cheek. Darker skin. You get the picture. If you did not, here are the pictures:

Guess what happened? 25 out of 25.  Bingo!

All HR leaders associated all of the positive attributes like being hardworking, results oriented, successful, smart, accomplished, etc. with the more handsome one. Even though they knew what we were testing, even though they tried their very best to stop their own biases consciously, it was no avail. Turns out, unconscious bias is very strong indeed and it is unconscious, obviously.

I already knew this kind of bias existed. We all do and try our best to minimize. But to be honest I was not expecting such an overwhelming 100% response rate. Can unconscious mind be so relevant at our workplace? Is it such an actor in the talent acquisition process? These results suggest they do but mind you that this was not a scientific experiment so I will not go in depths about the role of unconscious bias and the complex nature of human mind here in this blog. ( I can hear you say Thank GodJ)

But as a HR veteran with 23 years of experience in the talent business, I felt even stronger about this old CV business. We better fix the CV issue once and for all. I think I am not the only one in this.  Take the 25 participants, for example.  They were all shocked and disturbed by the results. One of the participants even claimed:

“I don’t think I can ever trust a CV screening anymore.”

Why do we trust CV screening anyway?

After all, CV is a very tired, old format that did not change very much in the last 50-60 years. Same structure, headings, lines, even the fonts do look-a-like. We ask candidates to share why they are valuable, unique and worthy. They copy the same format.

We know most people put white lies and exaggerations in CVs. Heck, we do it ourselves. So, it is not only tired but also half decent at best.

They are wordy, too. Pages and pages of bullet points of generic words describing generic experiences.  Most of the time, they tell a little.  Thus, we don’t read them.

According to Behiring’s research, recruiters spend only 5-6 seconds browsing a CV. 5-6 seconds? That is fast and furious. That is only enough time to work that unconscious mind. No wonder the same research points out that candidates with a picture will have a 88% more chance to get rejected.

CVs have to go. They don’t work for the candidates, it does not improve the talent experience and it does not help HR teams. It is like a bad habit.

What is Next?

I strongly believe that technology is the answer to this. We need to break the CV screening process apart and transform it with the help of new technologies. But I am not talking about the career website application screens. They basically replicate the CV by making the poor candidate re-type everything in her CV into your website all over again. That only helps HR to sort and filter the CV format better. That is all. It is horrible for the talent experience.

When I mean technology, I mean smart screening and mobile technologies. With the help of digital tools, you can chunk out the CV into smaller, sharper, smarter screening sessions with few pointed questions at a time. After all, that is what we are after are we not? The differentiating attributes, qualifying points and key answers. So why dance around bullet points and biases when you can ask them directly and easily via mobile.

Instead of having them list all their previous positions in detail, you can simply ask about her total industry experience.  Instead of fishing through bullet points to see if she has project management skills, you can have her upload a sample gannt chart that she was proud of.

Ask her to shoot a video explaining why she is passionate about her job, what are the basic trends in the industry, when was the last time she had to convince a very difficult customer? See, if she can give you STARs.

You can have her prioritize 6 options on the screen about an ideal workplace to understand her values. You can ask a simple scenario to gauge her situational awareness.

Turning the application & CV screening process into a series of 2-3 short smart screening sessions will help you collect all the qualifying data you need to understand the fit, enable you to use the data to make better decisions and will provide a much better talent experience for sure.  Much easier, much more direct and fun experience with much better data we can actually use.

Let’s get rid of all our biases, old habits and give talent a great experience explaining themselves.


Cagatay is a Human Resources and Organization Development professional with more than 20 years of experience both as a manager in and as an external consultant to several Fortune 500 companies in USA, Canada and Turkey.
He specializes in organizational structure, strategic planning, talent management and workforce planning. He is the consultant and technical specialist for HR domain.
Prior to the Peoplise; company he owned was consulting enterprise HR teams. As a professional; he worked for Deloitte Turkey as Director of HR, for Toyota Turkey as Director of HR
 and Ford Motor Company as North American, Regional Workforce Readiness Manager.

Cagatay holds a MSc Degree from the Master or Organization Development program at Bowling Green State University. He holds a BSc degree in Political Science and Public Administration from the Middle East Technical University.

He served as a member of the State of Illinois Workforce Investment Board and Employment Committee of The Turkish Industry and Business Association (TUSIAD).

He is also the author of two fictional novels.