Every few years a new wave of HR technology comes out with the promise that it will revolutionize the way candidates are recruited and hired. And along with that, it’s inferred that the paper resume will become totally obsolete.
You may even think that the disappearance of a resume hard copy is already a done deal. So much of the job search now involves flipping through online job boards, filling out online applications, and submitting electronic resumes.
Nobody mails in their resumes anymore, right? And even if you wanted to, you probably can’t find the company’s mailing address anywhere on their website, much less the address of the recruiter or hiring manager you want to reach. Besides, everything they need to know about you is already available on social media.
So, can we conclude that paper resumes are dead?
The simple answer is no, not by a longshot.
In the age of the digital job search, paper resumes certainly play a different role than they did in the past. But they are just as important as they ever were, and perhaps more so now that job searches are longer and more complex.
Paper Resumes Are Still Vital for Interviewing & Networking
Before the 1990s, the job search was all offline, and consisted entirely of paper-based processes. As the world gradually came online, a new job search dimension was created, shaped by recruiting software, applicant tracking systems, and social media. As technology added this new online dimension to the job search, it remodeled the old offline dimension, and rearranged the furniture.
This is a textbook example of how technology displaces work, not replaces it. The digital job search happens in both an online world, where everything is handled electronically, and an offline world, where things are still physical.
What do we mean by that? You search and apply for jobs online, and use social media to be visible to recruiters. All your communication and documents, including your resume, are electronic. But interviewing and networking still happen offline and involve your physical presence. Communication is face-to-face, contact is highly personal, and everyone has a hard copy of your resume right in front of them.
Technology has pushed the paper resume deep into the offline part of the job search. But offline is also where the most serious business of your job search gets discussed. In-person interviews are offered to only the very best candidates, and paper resumes are essential for driving those high-stakes conversations.
Likewise, the majority of jobs are filled through networking, which are usually facilitated through a live contact sharing your paper resume, not by submitting an electronic resume online.
Are Video Resumes the Way Forward?
One of the biggest jobseeker complaints about resumes in general is that they are static documents. They don’t tell the complete story or showcase standout talents. By forcing candidates to present themselves in a rigid format, crucial information about what makes them unique is lost.
The solution: recruiters and hiring managers should dump the resume — both paper and electronic — in favor of something richer, such as a video resume, a social media profile, or some form of digital media. That way, candidates can be themselves, present a three-dimensional person, highlight special talents, and ultimately be judged more fairly.
Wrong! You are actually more likely to sell yourself short by relying too much on digital media. Researchers found that job candidates who used video resumes were judged to have lower intelligence and less developed workplace interpersonal skills than candidates who used paper resumes.
Recruiters were also more likely to focus on personality traits that are irrelevant to job performance. A follow-up study found that getting too salesy about yourself in a digital medium such as a video resume offered no advantage for male candidates, but put female candidates at a serious disadvantage.
Recruiters and hiring managers often point out that social media is ripe for exaggeration, inaccuracy, and omission. Therefore, no serious hiring decision will be made on the basis of a social media profile. Hiring managers need to see a comprehensive history of credentials, accomplishments, and professional growth, especially for more senior roles.
A paper resume is irrelevant only if a candidate's past is irrelevant.
Paper Resumes Are Mainstays In Certain Industries
A standard format for evaluating candidates is a well-established HR best practice and will likely remain so for a long time. It protects both the employer from accusations of hiring discrimination and candidates from being victims of it. Digital or social media reveals information that is known to result in bigoted judgement.
Paper resumes require strict adherence to factual material relevant to the job. They are the most refined and reliable means to assure every candidate gets a fair shake.
As is the case with electronic resumes, interviewers almost always markup paper resumes, and refer to them when making their decisions. That is an important reason you should always bring multiple copies of your paper resume to any interviewing (including informational interviewing) or networking situation.
Another is that technology can and does fail right before your interview. Maybe the ATS didn’t parse your electronic resume correctly, or the printer is malfunctioning. Providing backup copies to the hiring team also demonstrates you have high conscientiousness, something that interviewers are assessing when they ask if you brought along a copy of your resume.
Finally, there are millions of jobs where candidates still need a paper resume.
Many small and local businesses don’t yet use HR technology and rely on paper-based processes for hiring.
Likewise, paper resumes are still commonly used for blue-collar, hospitality, food & beverage, custodial, and service roles, and front-line staff.
You Need an Electronic & Paper Resume
The digital job search takes place in both the online and offline worlds. The online world has developed very quickly and takes up a lot of space. But the offline world is still where much of the high-value action occurs in the job search.
You need an electronic resume to go along with your online presence, and to pursue those opportunities you find online. And you need a paper resume for when your job search goes offline, and you start talking with people who can open doors, or hand you the keys.