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Has the Resume Passed Its Prime?

Job seekers who spend hours agonizing over their resumes can take heart: one day, the resume may be obsolete.

So say some recruiters and human-resources managers, who foresee employers, overloaded with data, turning to technology and database management systems to track professionals throughout their careers. Merely having to update a file to keep your history current will make resumes, with their cumbersome keywords and usually short shelf-life, a thing of the past, they say.

Resumes are marketing documents -- "a little information with a lot of data" -- that employers have to process, says Man Jit Singh, former president of Futurestep, an online middle-manager recruiting service of Los Angeles search firm, Korn/Ferry International (Futurestep is an alliance with Korn/Ferry and Dow Jones, the publisher of this web site). Large employers already use computer scanners to sort through the thousands of resumes they receive annually by mail, fax and email, and store them in resume banks or database retrieval systems. "We're going through an information revolution where I can pull up thousands of resumes at the touch of a button," Mr. Singh says.

He predicts services like Futurestep are the next phase in the evolution of paperless job hunts. Futurestep requires candidates to complete online forms that help the firm assess their experience and "culture fit" and match them with job opportunities. The assessment creates confidential candidate profiles stored in the firm's database. The process "really distills the content down to what's important to you," he says. The assessment eliminates the jargon that can clog a resume -- the keywords that job seekers are counseled to include so they're "screened-in" during an electronic search of a resume database. For example, says Mr. Singh, "Everyone's a leader. Everyone's a change agent."

Already, the days of the resume banks have come and gone, he says. "They're too unwieldy and have too many buzzwords. Resume banks are already on the downhill."

Going, Going, Gone?

Some HR professionals, given the challenges of their jobs and recent rapid advancements of technology, agree with this outlook. "I can see the resume as we know it today being obsolete," says Aaron Brown, director of staffing at HealthAxis.com, an Internet-based health-insurance service in East Norriton, Pa. "Everyone's getting away from a hard copy already," he says. "We're all struggling with where do we go from here."

Mr. Brown, a former staffing manager for a technology services division of aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. in Bethesda, Md., says some companies spend millions of dollars to purchase and install scanning-based resume retrieval systems such as Restrac Inc., based in Lexington, Mass. For small companies, though, it's hard to justify the expense.

Patrick Feehan, a staffing manager in Tempe, Ariz., for Allied Signal Corp., a global high-tech firm, which receives about 100,000 resumes a year, says he'd welcome the demise of the resume. "It would save us money and streamline the [hiring] process," he says. The firm installed a new applicant tracking system in which, among other functions, applicants can cut and paste information from their own documents into a text field or answer questions in a form.

But the firm isn't about to turn down resumes, whether submitted electronically or on paper, says Mr. Feehan. "We'll take them through carrier pigeon," he jokes. A process that excludes job seekers who don't use the Internet doesn't make sense, specially in the current job market, Mr. Feehan says. "I love the concept of the resume going away. I just think that it's a concept that's way, way far away."

Vested Interests

Professional resume writers say the need for resumes, in some form, will persist, even as paper documents become less prevalent. Despite an overabundance of keywords, resumes are essential, resume writers say.

"I see the resume as a marketing piece," says Susan Ireland, a San Francisco-based career consultant and author of the CD-ROM "Resumes That Work" (Macmillan Digital, 1998). "It's necessary for job seekers to be able to market themselves with words -- to create a resume about their future, not about their past." This is particularly true for professionals attempting to make a career change, she adds.

Moreover, employers in certain sectors, such as academia and nonprofit, still value paper highly, she says.

Tara Davies, assistant director of career development and placement at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, agrees. "We're still seeing lots of companies that like the hard-copy resume," she says. "I know plenty of people who print out email. [They] like to have that piece of paper in their hands." While resume obsolescence is "an interesting idea," she says, "it's hard to see all of society and employment move in that direction."

Mr. Singh says Futurestep's process doesn't shut out career switchers. Instead, it broadens opportunities for professionals by allowing "wiggle room" for those whose experience and qualifications don't precisely match employers' specifications but who could succeed in certain positions. The evaluation form is designed to make a cultural assessment by comparing candidates' career motivations and work styles with employers'. For example, a candidate doesn't need a specific number of years in a particular job to be selected. "That's not as important as getting the match for the corporate culture," he says. The process stresses cultural fit because clashing with corporate style is the No. 1 reason middle managers fail, he says.

Completing forms instead of sending an electronic or paper resume to be scanned could give job seekers an advantage because it's easier to find information that's been entered into a database, says Peter Weddle, publisher of WEDDLE'S, an online recruiting newsletter based in Old Greenwich, Conn. Fewer than half of Internet jobs sites require job seekers to enter data into forms, he says. The rest request the user to send an electronic document.

Mr. Weddle is skeptical that resumes will go the way of the horse and buggy. Many HR departments don't change their systems and practices quickly, he says. "The human condition being what it's, [candidates] aren't going to get anywhere without a resume," he says.

But such a view of HR, at least at certain employers, may be outmoded. Mr. Brown points out that many companies have sought to automate as many staffing functions as possible. "They've cut HR to the bone," he says. Connie McGee, human-resources manager at Epitaxx, a semi-conductor device maker in West Trenton, N.J., says her gut feeling is that resumes will become obsolete in the next five years, given the rapid changes in hiring practices caused by the Internet. The hiring process "has got to move faster than it does now," she says.

Too Time-Consuming

Indeed online forms may be on their way out since Internet users already are less willing to complete them, says Rob Feinstein, general manager of the resume database at CareerPath. "Attention spans are their shortest in the web environment," he says.

CareerPath research shows that web users expect tasks to take less time online than in traditional environments. Motivated job seekers will finish extended forms, but passive job seekers won't. "They won't want to fill out a highly structured, depersonalizing questionnaire," he says.

As unemployment keeps declining, it's passive job seekers that employers want to reach, says Mr. Brown. Active job seekers are the "low-hanging fruit" for employers, he says. "Every employer is trying to find the best way to find the passive job seeker," he says.

Job seekers who have registered with Futurestep say completing the forms takes too much time. Gene Silvestri, a regional sales manager for ECCs Inc. in Alpharetta, Ga., who registered with Futurestep during a job search this year, says completing the form was "very, very laborious."

But he stuck with it because he had secured a job through Korn/Ferry in 1985, that required flying up to the firm's Boston office to fill out forms and undergo an intense interviewing process. Overall the online process was "very good, but very involved," he says.

Mr. Silvestri, who landed his present job through another online career site, Headhunter.net, says he can foresee a future where Internet job sites turn the resume into a quaint artifact.

Mr. Feinstein disagrees. The resume "will always be a central element of communicating one's special skills to an employer," he says. While resume-matching technology is improving, data mining "means something different than it'll mean in the very near future," he says. Additionally, job seekers are becoming more savvy about what keywords to put on their resumes, he says. They're avoiding words that are too general and choosing a more sophisticated mix of generic and specific words: for example, instead of "marketing," they're using the more specific "channel marketing" or "direct marketing."

Emerging Hybrid

Jeffrey Hyman, president of Career Central, predicts that resumes will become more mechanized and electronic, but says profiles can leave out important information employers sometimes want. A paper-based resume can fill in the gaps later on. "A hybrid is emerging," he says. "A core set of criteria can be matched electronically. Once that key match is made, it's like computer dating." The electronic process helps companies narrow the field of potential candidates quickly. "You still have to get together to see if there's a 'love connection,' " he says.

Colorful Forms

Some predict resumes will evolve into multi-media production. Darren Smith, president of Digitalcard, a Langhorne, Pa., maker of credit-card size CD-ROMs, says electronic media offers an easier and more efficient and dynamic presentation. His product, Digitalcard, can present job candidates in a television commercial format, link to their web sites for resume information, display samples of computer programs and flow-chart analyses of business problems, provide actual voice statements of references, link to previous employers and make other electronic presentations. For example, a programmer in the gaming business offered a quick hand of black jack on his CD-ROM.

Scott Scanlon, editor of Executive Search Review, a trade publication based in Greenwich, Conn., also expects paper resumes to become obsolete. His prediction: "A tech company is going to come into the search business and ask people to post an electronic resume and then update it for them." The service will update the document every six months with a click of a button, he says. Users will update their resumes online in the same way investors make changes to their online brokerage accounts, he says.

Mr. Brown predicts employers will move toward such a contact information system or "relationship recruiting strategy" in six to seven years. Employers will track applicants throughout their careers, keeping in touch through periodic electronic newsletters and other methods. The shelf life of a resume is only about three months long, he says. Employers such as HealthAxis.com, which needs to hire 60 employees in the next three to four months, must act quickly or they're "going to lose out," he says.

Mr. Singh admits the employment world isn't ready for a future without resumes just yet. "I don't think we're at the stage where we should tear up our resumes and throw them away." If a job candidate wants to send a resume along to Futurestep, "That's fine. No problem," he says, but there's no need to. "We use the electronic data we have and that's sufficient."

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