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Why The Traditional Cover Letter And Resume Need To Die (And What Should Take Its Place)

It’s time to bury the stuffy, outdated resume and cover letter that haunts job seekers and hiring managers alike. Here’s what we should be doing instead.

Why The Traditional Cover Letter And Resume Need To Die (And What Should Take Its Place)

The resume is old. Really old. There’s evidence that Leonardo da Vinci wrote the first resume in 1482 to the Duke of Milan. More than 500 years later, isn’t it time to rethink the traditional resume?

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A recent article in New York magazine calls for the death of the traditional application packet, and we might have to agree. Here’s why it’s time to make the cover letter and resume obsolete, and how to break from the old ways:

THEY’RE FULL OF UNRELIABLE INFORMATION

Crafting a 100% accurate resume is as difficult as writing a completely honest self-appraisal: You can only be so insightful when it comes to your own personal ability. All the introspection you can muster will still produce skewed observation.

You may feel “proficient” in CSS but there’s no way of knowing if you’re up to the skill level your future employer needs, based on a resume alone. And you’ll likely have to leave out parts of your skills or gloss over weaknesses to make your resume both readable and strong in the right places.

Similarly, the average cover letter is full of hot air. We’re forced to explain why we’re just dying to devote our lives to one company, and use strings of descriptors like we’re writing our own report cards. Everyone plays well with others and is highly motivated in a fast-paced environment, on paper.

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The Fix: Requesting examples of work, project pitches, or giving test tasks that replicate real job duties are better gauges of ability than the applicant’s own words.

THEY MAKE US UNINTENTIONALLY BIASED

Studies show that the pronounceability of your name–or non-Westernization, in essence–affects employers’ bias toward candidates. But the assumptions don’t stop there: We project biases based on location, prestige of education, race, and personal life factors. If you’re a black woman and state-school graduate from the midwest, you’ll have a harder time finding work than a single white Ivy League male–even if your application materials are identical.

Those in authority are more likely to ignore requests from women and minorities, studies show. And if you’re a minority, you’re given less slack in writing errors. This doesn’t mean the reader is a racist or malicious, per se, but brings to light the “confirmation bias,” defined by a recent Nextions study on the impact of racial bias on evaluation:

A mental shortcut–a bias–engaged by the brain that makes one actively seek information, interpretation and memory to only observe and absorb that which affirms established beliefs while missing data that contradicts established beliefs.

The Fix: Forgoing the cover letter and resume would cut down on information on which we naturally form these biases–leveling the playing field. Anonymizing application material in early stages of judgement can help give everyone a more fair chance.

THEY’RE A TIME SUCK

Applicants spend days putting together a perfect application packet, and hiring agents spends weeks sifting through candidates’ materials, through all of the hyperbolic phrasing and degrees of design clarity, to fill a single position.

Most of the time, it’s clunky work for all involved–and you still might not end up with the right person for the job. A bad hire can cost a company more than $50,000 in resources.

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With all of that time and effort, streamlining the process in early, easily culled stages can’t hurt.

The Fix: Many companies opt now for an online survey-based application, where skills and scenarios are presented before a resume even hits the table. In lieu of a cover letter, some ask for an “about me” section in 140 characters–the length of a tweet–to evaluate creativity and concision under constraint.

If we lean less on the traditional application packet process, social networks take more of the judgement; candidate’s Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter presences could give more accurate glimpses into the lives of the newest member of the company culture.

Hat tip: New York Magazine

About the author

Freelance tech, science and culture writer. Find Sam on the Internet: @samleecole.

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