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Why Companies Should Hire People, Not Resumes

Businesswoman shaking hands with a man in front of a building.

BOSTON—Two resumes lie side by side on a recruiter's desk. Candidate A has an Ivy League education, a 4.0 GPA and a slew of impressive internships. Candidate B graduated from a state school with a 3.4 GPA and once worked as a singing waitress. Which candidate is more likely to add value to the organization?

Regina Hartley, a vice president of HR at UPS, argues that it just might be Candidate B, and she explained why during her closing keynote presentation at the Human Capital Institute's 2017 Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference.

If the recruiter were to do a little digging, Hartley said, he or she might discover that Candidate B is a "scrapper"—someone who has faced adversity and succeeded in overcoming obstacles.

Attendance at a less prestigious educational institution may have been the result of financial limitations, not a lack of intelligence, for example, and an uneven work history might mean that the person had to take time off to care for a loved one.

But through these experiences, Candidate B may have become incredibly resilient or developed superior problem-solving skills. She can bring those and other desirable qualities to your organization—but only if you're willing to take a chance on her.

"There are people out there who can transform your organization," Hartley said, "but they're getting filtered out through the recruitment and selection process."

Who Are Scrappers?

Hartley referred to a concept called "post-traumatic growth" and cited a study of 698 children who grew up in less-than-ideal circumstances. One-third of them went on to lead healthy, productive, successful lives.

Steve Jobs is an example of a scrapper, she said. He struggled with his feelings about being placed for adoption, was diagnosed with dyslexia and dropped out of college before founding Apple.

Kat Cole might consider herself a scrapper, as well. Cole experienced what she describes as a "Jerry Springer" childhood. She was raised by a single mother, worked as a Hooters waitress when she was a teenager and dropped out of college. Now, she's group president of FOCUS Brands, the franchisor and operator of Cinnabon, Carvel, Moe's Southwest Grill and other restaurants.

Cole recently told HR Magazine that her work ethic "came from watching my mom, who worked three jobs while she was single and taking care of us. In many ways, I grew up as a normal kid. But I also had to look after my sisters, so I had to develop a great work ethic early in life."

In many cases, Hartley said, scrappers succeed not in spite of their circumstances but because of them. In fact, many of these people "attribute their success to adversity," she said.

Hartley urged attendees to read between the lines on a resume.
"Struggle is a great indicator of resilience, creativity and critical thinking," she said.

Scrappers also tend to:

  • Be self-reliant.
  • Have a sense of purpose.
  • Be problem-solvers.
  • Refuse to give up.
  • Take personal responsibility for difficulties.

'Be the Gateway'

For talent acquisition professionals who are ready to introduce scrappers into their organizations, Hartley had this advice:

Don't rely exclusively on technology. It's easy to let tech solutions whittle down your applicant pool, but doing so may not yield the best candidates. Screening systems may reject applicants whose resumes don't contain the right keywords or don't check certain predetermined—and often irrelevant—boxes.

"The resume tells me what a person did, but it doesn't tell me who you are," Hartley said.

Remember, she told the audience, "you're hiring people, not resumes."

Use innovative recruiting methods. Companies can hold events that give scrappers a chance to show what they can do in a real-world setting. If your organization is hiring for entry-level IT positions, she suggested, sponsor a hackathon where prospective employees can showcase their coding skills. You may discover that the best performers aren't the university recruits with the best pedigrees.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Staffing in Special Markets: Technology Professionals]

Educate hiring managers. Hiring managers may be skeptical of scrappers' value. The best way to educate them, Hartley said, is to identify a scrapper who has already proven himself or herself at the organization. Find that person who started in the mailroom, worked her way up the company ranks and is now known as someone who helps drive the business.

Talent acquisition professionals have a lot of influence over which candidates get passed along to hiring managers and which ones are chosen for interviews, Hartley said. "Don't be the gatekeeper. Be the gateway."


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