How To Evaluate Candidates Without A Resume


May 25, 2022


180 Engineering

Whether you call it the Great Resignation, the Great Reshuffle, or the Great Reset, it’s ushering in an era of change. As employers struggle to fill open roles, they’re re-evaluating their hiring processes and implementing a wide array of “perks” (including hybrid work arrangements and four-day work weeks) in an effort to attract and retain top talent.

But even the smoothest hiring process and the most lucrative perks can’t ferret out workers who simply don’t exist. The American workforce has shrunk. An unprecedented number of new retirees, steeply declining immigration rates, and a large number of Americans who simply didn’t return to work after the pandemic means that there are fewer workers available. A smaller labor force combined with rapid job growth has created a situation where there are nearly two available positions for every unemployed person.

While this may seem insurmountable, a large pool of untapped talent actually exists. Instead of focussing on how to lure top talent to their companies, employers may find it more effective to redefine what “top talent” is and rethink their recruiting strategies.

Resumes, in particular, are problematic, especially when an applicant tracking system (ATS) is used to weed through applications. An ATS typically screens out applicants by searching for keywords. And, as pointed out in a piece by Andrew R. McIlvaine, that can hinder those who don’t have a degree from a renowned college or who haven’t worked for a well-known company. It can also hide applicants with unconventional backgrounds since those candidates (e.g., veterans, immigrants, and those previously incarcerated) will likely have gaps in their employment history. All this aggravates the struggle to fill open roles and intensifies competition for pedigreed candidates, making the labor shortage seem worse than it really is.

Reevaluating recruitment practices in order to hire hidden talent can have unexpected dividends. Those who struggle to get hired often outperform their peers in terms of “attitude and work ethic, productivity, quality of work, engagement, attendance, and innovation.” And, because they’re eager and motivated to work, hidden talent is less likely to quit.

But if resumes are tossed out the window, how can employers effectively find, screen, and evaluate candidates?

The Trouble With Resumes

Aline Lerner, founder and CEO of, has blogged about a couple of experiments that took place after she realized that data showed that the strongest predictor of whether an engineer would get a job wasn’t their “pedigree” (alma mater, GPA, degree) but how many typos and grammatical errors were on their resume.

Realizing that this data was “quite startling,” Lerner decided to run an experiment to see if engineers and recruiters could identify strong engineering candidates based on resumes alone. At the conclusion of that experiment, she posited that writing samples might be a more effective way of assessing candidates. Out of necessity, a small startup (KeepSafe) ran with Lerner’s suggestion for a one-month trial and ultimately decided to continue using writing samples as their basis for selecting new hires.

“Resumes might actually suck”

For the first experiement, Lerner explains that she used resumes from actual candidates that she had worked with in her role as a technical recruiter. She knew whether each resume belonged to someone who was ultimately placed at a top-tier startup, including details about how they had performed both in interviews and on the job once hired. Using that pool of resumes, Lerner explains that she:

showed a set of anonymized engineering resumes to about 150 engineers, recruiters, and hiring managers and asked one question: Would you interview this candidate? It turned out that not only did both recruiters and engineers largely fail at predicting who the strong candidates were, but, much more importantly, no one could even agree on what a strong candidate looked like in the first place.

Calling the results “pretty alarming,” Lerner pinpoints three issues that affected the ability of reviewers to identify strong candidates:

  • The amount of time spent reviewing a resume has no impact on the reviewer’s ability to identify a strong candidate;
  • Engineers and recruiters weight criteria differently; and
  • Different types of detail held more relevance for engineers than for recruiters (i.e., engineers found detailed descriptions of projects most helpful in determining successful candidates while recruiters looked to the companies the candidate had previously worked for).

Following this first experiment, Lerner posited that a writing sample, specifically about a project that a candidate was excited about, might be a better way of assessing the candidate since it would demonstrate technical expertise as well as communication and writing skills.

“The overall quality of applications seemed to be a lot higher”

Six years prior to the Great Resignation, KeepSafe was already having difficulty filling open roles. Lerner explains that: “They had a product people loved, a ridiculous user to engineer ratio (39M users for 6 engineers), and the requisite hip South Park office. Along with that, though, they had quite a high hiring bar and consistently found themselves competing for talent with the likes of Google. And more often than not, they’d lose.”

KeepSafe decided to trial Lerner’s suggestion of using writing samples to vet candidates. In the first two days, the company received 415 samples. Although the hiring team needed to take more time to work out a new way of assessing the applications, they interviewed 18 applicants and invited five to a day of coding onsite. One was offered a job. The cofounder and CEO of KeepSafe admits that that hire, who turned out to be exceptional, would have never made it through the traditional hiring process.

How To Move Away From Resumes

If you’re seriously considering removing resumes from your recruitment process, the Harvard Business Review has some advice to start with.

First, change the metrics you use to gauge recruitment success. Instead of focussing on short-term successes, such as time to fill or time to hire, look instead at long-term successes, such as retention and promotion rates.

Second, rewrite job descriptions by analyzing data in order to determine which skills are necessary for the long-term success of a new hire. The new job descriptions should eliminate skills that aren’t necessary as well as those that can be learned on the job. Additionally, as you work on this step, make sure to incorporate inclusive language that won’t deter women or minorities from applying.

Third, develop alternate ways of assessing candidate skills and fit (see below). As you implement a new way of asking for this information, keep in mind that you will also likely need to develop a way of fairly assessing that new information.

Last, be prepared to focus on reevaluating and revamping your onboarding processes so that they’re fair and inclusive to all.

Alternate Methods Of Assessing Candidates

KeepSafe isn’t the only company that has ditched resumes. Increasingly, companies are turning to alternative methods of assessing candidates, including gamification, coding challenges and GitHub projects, questionnaires, and case interviews because they better assess the actual skills that are needed for a particular role.


As we outlined in a previous blog, gamifying your recruitment process can make it fun for everyone. It can also attract more diverse candidates (which can bolster your DEI initiatives), widen the candidate pool, showcase your company culture, and promote your brand as innovative.

While gamification holds exciting promise, it works best when it’s thoughtfully designed, engaging, and has clear, measurable objectives. The best games tap into behavioral science, neuroscience, and gaming trends. Take, for example, Multipoly, which was developed by the Hungarian division of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). The game invited students and recent graduates to work through a 12-day virtual simulation of being a PwC employee. The game gave players an in-depth look at life as a PwC employee while also collecting data and gauging the suitability of players as candidates.

Games like this are fun and effective but also incredibly complex. It’s rare that effective gamification tools can be developed inhouse. But, compared to the cost of a bad hire, the cost of gamification can be quite reasonable. It depends on a number of factors, but prices currently range from as little as $25 per user to as much as thousands of dollars per user.

Coding Challenges And GitHub Projects

A coding challenge also taps into the love people have for puzzles and games, and has many of the same benefits as other types of gamification. It can widen the candidate pool, attract diverse candidates, highlight your company culture, and promote your brand as innovative. Further, it instantly assesses relevant job skills.

Google’s Code Jam is a well-known coding challenge that gives people the chance to solve algorithmic puzzles in exchange for monetary prizes – or, a job with the tech giant. For those unable to design or evaluate their own coding challenges, platforms like HackerRank can provide an easy way to integrate these types of games into your hiring process.

While not a game or challenge developed specifically for hiring, projects posted to GitHub provide the same sort of insight into a candidate’s technical skills as a coding challenge. If you haven’t already tapped into GitHub, it’s a platform where developers create, share, and collaborate on code and open-source projects. Vivek Ravisankar, the co-founder and CEO of HackerRank, is quoted in a piece at Human Resource Executive as saying: “I see places like GitHub becoming the new resume.”


Detroit Labs, a software development company with approximately 150 employees, uses questionnaires to assess candidates. According to Nathan Hughes, the company’s co-founder and Chief People Officer, questionnaires have a number of benefits.

At Detroit Labs, everyone on the team that the new hire will join collaborates on the questionnaire (the questions are run by the company’s legal team). The questions are designed to assess both skill and fit and, in this way, help to standardize the assessment of candidates. As a bonus, this method of recruitment effectively bypasses unintentional and systemic bias and can be a terrific way to bolster your company’s DEI initiatives.

Case Interviews

In a case interview, a candidate will be presented with a problem to solve or a hypothetical scenario to tackle. For example, a developer might be asked how they would work with a client to troubleshoot an issue. In many cases, there are no right or wrong answers to the cases posed. Instead, the candidate’s responses give employers a chance to gauge the candidate’s communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills as well as their overall thought processes.

Reevaluating the skills that are necessary for a candidate to bring to a job and developing new ways of assessing those skills will require thought and time and, quite likely, input from your legal team. But, the benefits can be substantial and, in today’s job market, it’s critical to do whatever’s necessary to widen your candidate pool.