I was in a meeting earlier today where the owner of a company spoke about the problems they had with hiring for a new position. One big problem was the variety of job applicant information coming in the door: cover letters, portfolios, and packaging all varied widely. Small companies see a big problem when dealing with 200 or more resumes like that.
The company’s solution, and, I might add, a standard one, was to offer a web form for applicants to fill out. But the solution takes more away from the job applicant than it gains for the employer. It changes the tone of the conversation.
The applicant is putting their best foot forward – their resume is their golden ticket, and they have invested everything into personalizing it, to impress. But the employer has a hundred tickets to deal with, each ticket’s value being reduced by number of other tickets it competes against. So the employer changes the conversation; they limit the information exchange to what fits on a blank web form. An analogy would be a person buying a new mid-sized car, having a large number of makes and models to choose from, and many salesmen vieing. But the first thing the car buyer asks the salesman is “please, only tell me the color, and the price.” Truncating the conversation not only demoralizes the seller, but key aspects of the offer may be missed: deals, leasing, seller reputation, and so forth.
Another conversation would allow the seller to present all that they have to offer, in a common language. The buyer could filter the information to items of interest. In the case of the job hunter, you want to present your resume, portfolio, cover letter, everything. And the employer wants to see all 100 resumes through a common lens, with the option to see the original offers in their unfettered form.
A structured resume markup language would solve the problem nicely. The document would hold all aspects of the job application process under its domain. You, the job hunter, may still submit everything, but the employer can cherry-pick aspects of the offer as it suits them, filtering on keywords, and archiving information in a machine-searchable format alongside the original document.
One idea would be “subjective flags”; one may mean ‘I put effort into the visual design of this item, please look at it’. It’s an attempt to preserve the plurality of a resume: it speaks to your skills in writing, information design, and asthetics. Your traditional, hand-crafted resume becomes a member of your portfolio, flagged subjectively.
Formats become less of an issue as well. Different formats are faces of the same information, some crafted, some plain. HTML resumes become easier to process. PDF resumes come along beside the markup form. Extraction from office suites is possible, as is format-independent document versioning – the structure is already there, but no one has called it out.
A quick Google search for this idea turned up a little thought along these lines from the HR-XML crowd, but that spec looks a little heavy for our practical needs (but the resume.dtd they offer may be useful). A community de-facto standard would gain traction much more quickly, enabling Open Source software to take root.
We are reducing the friction in conversations between employers and prospective employees; the magnitude of that reduction will indicate this idea’s value.