Is the CV dead?

An exploration of current hiring tools and a deconstruction of the usefulness of the modern CV

Words by Sarah Williams


Trying to find an organisation that hasn’t been hit hard by the talent shortage is an endeavour of ‘haystackian’ proportions – from aviation to manufacturing, software to retail, every industry has taken a hit and been forced to self-examine every stage of its talent pipeline.

But what if we’re doing it wrong off the starting line?

Is the CV dead? explores just that, starting with the CV and its fitness-for-purpose for hiring and candidate assessment. It comprises original research conducted by Executive Grapevine via an in-depth* survey of our readers, as well as exclusive data and comment from HR and business industry leaders.

Key Findings:

Despite acknowledging that candidates with neurodivergence may struggle with the CV and cover letter format, 62% don’t have measures in place to add neurodivergent-friendly practices in their hiring process

While 85% of respondents felt the CV was a useful tool, 40% don’t think they provide a real picture of a candidate’s personality and 36% feel they leave too much room for unconscious bias

CVs aren’t helpful to showcase talent for creative roles and they can ‘mute’ transferrable skills

Questionnaires, psychometric assessment tools and giving candidates a chance to pre-record video interviews were all popular alternatives

83% of respondents don’t feel CVs provide an accurate assessment of cultural fit

The history of the CV

According to most scholars, the CV was invented in 1482, and in the 540 years since, has changed in some weird and interesting ways – but not as much as you might imagine.

John Garrido, Regional VP UK for talent acquisition specialist firm With You With Me, says the CV, “having been invented by Leonardo da Vinci in 1482, is absolutely outdated. Yet it’s still relied on by many organisations today.”

But what purpose did CVs serve throughout their history? According to Todd Lempicke, author of History of the Resume, CVs were, in general, a type of introduction from the bearer to the receiver – often with mentions of people, places or institutions which the receiver would be familiar with – and thus, confer trustworthiness; or at the least, a good amount of gravitas.

Prior to this, people secured employment by either:

  • going into a place of work and offering their services
  • physical introductions through acquaintances or
  • a letter of recommendation from someone in authority (clergy, politicians, landowners, etc)

Back then, it really was all about whom you knew, and securing well-paid employment was something that was hard to do if one had moved location or was, for whatever reason, persona non-grata.

Fast forward to the early-to-mid-1900s, and things began to take a different turn. According to most sources, by the 1950s, CVs began to be expected within the world of work, and with the advent of typewriters and their faster younger siblings, the word processors, people began adding flair, good design, hobbies and things got a bit more ‘salesy’.

The first VHS recorded video CVs landed in the 1980s, according to Lempicke, but, along with video dating, got replaced with digital versions during the Internet Age.

LinkedIn, of course, in the Noughties, became a place to store one’s CV in a standard template, with the added boon of recommendations and verifications of skills and competence from colleagues and industry peers.

But still, things haven’t changed much – while you may not need to be part of a church parish or have the blessing of an aristocrat’s noblesse oblige, CVs are still often no more than a list of companies, locations and dates – a flat, literally 2D experience that tells little of a candidate’s personality, transferrable skills or fit for company culture. And of course, CVs exponentially compound the young school leaver or graduates’ catch-22: “If everyone wants two years’ minimum experience and no one will hire me, how do I get two years’ minimum experience?” A fair question.

Using current tools wisely

The current issue with CVs, of course, lies in the misuse – often, not purposeful – of computers and AI to parse through and weed out candidates. Unfortunately, the AI is only as good as its programming. And as we all know by now, we bring our biases, conscious or not, to work with us, which means we’re missing out on excellent talent by letting that colour how our AI forwards on or dismisses candidates.

And the latest news that’s incredibly important to nearly all companies – the ICO has recently called for an investigation into AI causing bias in the recruitment process. The UK data watchdog is investigating whether AI systems are showing racial bias when dealing with job applications, bank loans and welfare benefits, which could have, according to the ICO’s statement, “damaging consequences for people’s lives”. As the information commissioner has just fined some companies for this practice, it’s now, more than ever, the time to look at your use of CVs, AI and fair hiring practices.

Khyati Sundaram, CEO, of Applied, a company that works with AI to remove unconscious bias in hiring, told HR Grapevine: “CVs have long been the cornerstone of hiring. But in reality, a candidate’s name, education or employment history tells you very little about their suitability for a job. What this information can do, however, is trigger unconscious bias that clouds decision-making and perpetuates prejudice. We have reams of data that shows the current system isn't working.”

"Hiring managers know the CV is not fit for purpose in this situation yet they still cling on to it like a comfort blanket,” says Robert Newry, CEO of behaviour-based hiring assessment company Arctic Shores: The skills crisis means it is more important than ever to hire for potential and look for people with transferable skills and qualities. We have to change our mindset and think about how we sift people with potential into the process and move on from the CV and an over-reliance on past experience. We will get better diversity in the workplace by taking this approach as well."


Are CVs a helpful recruitment tool?

To answer this question, Executive Grapevine conducted a survey of senior leaders, from CEO to HR, small business owners to HR academics. To sum up the findings, most organisations still rely heavily on the use of CVs and cover letters, and 85% find them a useful recruitment tool, mainly as a simple ‘holding place’ to sum up a candidates’ experience (chosen by 84% of respondents).

However, the responses quickly revealed some glaring issues with CVs: 40% felt that they don’t provide an accurate view of a candidate’s personality (an essential part of how well they’ll work within their team and your wider organisation); and 36% think that CVs provide too much room for unconscious bias in hiring, particularly for neurodivergence/disability, sexual orientation, gender and race.

And that data absolutely backs that up. Ladders, a recruitment firm for executive-level roles, found in a study in 2018 that hirers spent, on average, only 7.4 seconds per CV, looking only at things like name, current and previous employer, certain keywords, and education.

Ladders CEO Marc Cenedella said in a statement accompanying the results: "Unemployment is at unprecedented lows in the current job market, and the findings of this new study underline the extent to which resume-skimming behaviours impact not only a job seeker's chances of being noticed, but also a company's ability to spot qualified candidates.”

Ian Nicholas, Global Managing Director at Reed, confirms this with Reed’s own data: “Despite being published pre-pandemic, James Reed’s book The 7 Second CV, outlines how it takes a mere seven seconds for an employer to reject or accept a CV – a fact that still remains relevant today.”

Garrido agrees with the research, saying: “CVs are riddled with bias and have not kept pace with the skills required to fuel our digital economy. Not only do resumes not account for a person’s potential, they also stack the odds against diverse candidates. While it may be accepted practice, there is a general lack of understanding that the screening methods we have been using for years are likely to have inherent biases against diversity.”

He continues: “Things like gender, educational background, age and race that are exposed through resumes can often unfairly influence a hiring manager’s perception of a candidate.”

Natalie Desty, Director of STEM Returners, works with people in, unsurprisingly, STEM fields, primarily those who have had a gap in their employment (hence the ‘Returners’ in her company name). She told HR Grapevine that recruiters and hiring managers often read CVs “like they are on autopilot”.

“Instead of being open to discovering what a person could offer their organisation,” she says, “they look to rule out a candidate. CVs do not give the candidate an opportunity to showcase their talents, experience or their potential. They are too formulaic and drive unconscious bias in the recruitment process.

“Hiring organisations need to gather the essential information early in the recruitment process (names, right to work), there is no doubt about this, and the CV is an efficient way of capturing this. However, it should not be the only opportunity a candidate has to portray their qualities.”

Thus, with the seven-second assessment combined with unconscious bias, well, it’s probably time to let Houston know we have a problem.


So why aren’t we ditching the CV?

In an Arctic Shores survey carried out earlier this year, out of 250 senior HR leaders asked their reasons for not removing CV from your recruitment screening process, the results were:

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