A recent item in a newsletter published by ESR issued a recurring recommendation in HR: employers should use standard applications, not resumes. I'd like to take the opposite viewpoint. Well, not opposite, but, well...you'll see.
The newsletter contains many good reasons for requiring a standard application. For example, applicants often provide you with information you may not want (e.g., membership in advocacy organizations). Applicants also use the most positive spin possible, (over)emphasizing accomplishments and leaving employment gaps. In addition, applicants may not give you all of the information you require, such as dates and salaries.
These are good reasons for requiring a standard application over a resume. But let me play devil's advocate for a minute. Think about the modern candidate experience. In order to apply for a job, you have to oftentimes spend hours--days--searching through job boards and employer "career portals." If you're lucky enough to find a job that appears to be what you want (because of course employers' worst kept secret is they don't tell you the bad parts of a job), you have to complete a lengthy application (each time), or navigate your way through a "modern" applicant tracking system (read: GUI designed by IT).
Qualified candidates--who are hard to find in the first place--get fed up. They don't want to waste their time filling out applications or entering information into your ATS. They may just look for an opportunity that doesn't require them to describe their entire life experience. Hence the resume, which they already have on file and simply requires a quick update.
So how do we reconcile the needs of the employer, who are doing their best to make sure they get the information they need, and the employee, who is trying to efficiently provide the information? I see several solutions:
1) The employer accepts resumes but makes very clear what the resume should contain. No unexplained employment gaps. Salary must be included. Etc.
2) Employers and candidates take advantage of a standardized third-party site that many folks already use for networking purposes (e.g., LinkedIn), again making clear what the profile must contain.
3) Employers use an ATS that takes less than 10 minutes for an applicant to apply.
Or how about a combination? How about giving the candidate options. The candidate must "register" with the employer's ATS but all this takes in an email address. Then the candidate can either:
a) upload their resume (which must include all the information the employer needs)
b) route the employer to their on-line profile--which must exist on a prescribed set of sites (e.g., no MySpace pages).
These are just some (not particularly creative) ideas. I'm sure somebody out there has even better ones. But isn't it about time we figure out how to meet both candidate and employer needs when it comes to applying?