For Organizations

A Hiring Lesson for Bing Gordon at Kleiner Perkins


I just saw this quote from Bing Gordon, GP at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers from Chicago Ideas Week last year. He said:

I read resumes backwards, if you don’t have any interest, neither do I.

I see hiring managers make this mistake again and again. Mr. Gordon’s error is mistaking arbitrariness for cleverness or heuristic efficiency. And, most importantly, this tactic doesn’t solve his hiring problem. It merely solves his short-term time problem. When he confuses the two, he risks hiring underperforming people and wasting time in the long-term. Hiring managers can avoid these mistakes by opening their expectations.

Arbitrariness is the #1 Problem

Arbitrariness is the #1 problem with the resume as a screening tool. Mr. Gordon conceived his shortcut in an attempt to quickly eliminate all of the irrelevant people and identify the great ones. However, it is highly unlikely that all of the truly great applicants will be aware of the supposedly clever device. Many will base their formatting and presentation (and in reality that’s all he’s selecting for) on other assumptions. Their approach won’t be less arbitrary, just different.

Most hiring managers don’t reveal their own arbitrariness, because they mistake this kind of obscurity for advantage. They believe that concealing their categories will in fact reveal secret (and valid) qualities in the candidate. But there are dozen of justifiable reasons that candidates may not include an “Interests” section or put it somewhere other than at the bottom of their resume. None of which have any bearing on their ability to do great work.

Solve for Hiring Not Volume

Using arbitrary heuristics like Mr. Gordon’s simply solves a volume problem, not a hiring problem. It enables Mr. Gordon to eliminate a majority of the resumes stacked on his desk, but doesn’t improve the average quality of the resumes that remain. Candidates face so much conflicting advice out there that it is highly unlikely that all great candidates will follow the same formatting protocol or frame their experience in the same way. Both hiring managers and candidates miss out on opportunities due to the confusion.

Solution: Open Your Expectations

If Mr. Gordon wants his heuristic to improve his applicant search he should make this and all of his other arbitrary criteria transparent on each job description. He should tell candidates where he expects to find what information, and what categories of information they should include. With the criteria clearly laid out, applicants can then do their best to align their background, capabilities and interests with his expectations. Only then will he have quick access to the information that he wants to efficiently eliminate candidates and increase the average quality of those that remain. With this new transparency, he can evaluate candidates based on real information rather than arbitrary alignment with his expectations.

Hiring managers in all knowledge industries could dramatically improve their outcomes if they changed one thing about their behavior: Being More Transparent and Flexible with their Expectations.