Tigran Slogan is the CEO and co-founder of CodeSignal (Photo by David Ryder)

Henry Ford said, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.” This certainly rings true for talent-acquisition efforts. According to Tigran Sloyan, co-founder and CEO at CodeSignal, if you want to bring more diverse candidates into your talent pipeline, you need a fresh approach.

“Resumes are a terrible way to identify and hire talent,” said Sloyan, whose company has developed an objective, skills-based interview and assessment platform that can be used as a standard for technical hiring. Speaking at From Day One’s January conference in Seattle, he drew on both his own experience and that of CodeSignal co-founder Aram Shatakhtsyan to illustrate his point. Both men grew up in Armenia and studied extremely hard, Sloyan excelling at math and Shatakhtsyan excelling at computer programming. Both won medals in international competition. The difference between the two young men was that Sloyan was an extrovert who hung out with a lot of international students and found out about this wonderful university for math nerds: MIT. He applied and was given a full scholarship, which of course looked wonderful on his resume.

Shatakhtsyan, on the other hand, didn’t have the same experience. He didn't know about MIT or other top-notch schools that might offer him a scholarship, and he attended a university in Armenia that virtually no one in the U.S. had heard of. “Once both of us graduate, I’m literally being chased by every recruiter in the country,” Sloyan said. “I ended up working at Google, making way more money than any new grad should be making. When Aram went out and tried to get a job [in the U.S.], people would literally not bring him in for an interview.”

While Sloyan was working at Google, his friend ended up freelancing because his resume didn’t reflect his aptitude. The realization that resumes aren’t an effective way to identify talent is what led to Sloyan and Shatakhtsyan to launch CodeSignal in 2015. They wanted to make sure that qualified engineers were given the opportunity to at least interview for the jobs they were going after. CodeSignal's mission is to help employers to go beyond resumes and traditional credentials in technical recruiting by structuring, automating, and scaling interviews with its technical assessment platform.

Two Forces Democratizing the Hiring Process

According to Sloyan, there are two fundamental forces making it imperative to go beyond resumes in finding talented employees. First, the Internet has democratized education. Thirty years ago, the only way you could actually gain top-level technical skills was to go to a university such as MIT or Stanford, and then one of the companies associated with those higher-learning institutions would offer mentorship. “So if I looked at your resume and I found neither one of those on your resume, it wouldn’t be too far off to say you probably do not have the skill,” he said.

But online learning has changed everything. Last year, virtually every university recorded lectures and published their courses for free. “You can get on YouTube and literally learn anything you want,” Sloyan said. “So that notion that unless you're associated with one of those few educational resources, you’re not qualified, is gone."

The second force is demand. “Over the last 30 years, technology has been eating the world in every aspect. You’ve gone from, ‘Yeah, we just need a handful of those engineering people,’ to everybody hiring,” Sloyan said. “Every company is a software company, from Starbucks to Macy’s to Costco. Everybody is literally trying to reinvent themselves as a software company.”

Sloyan went on to say that the pandemic accelerated the transformation to digital commerce and the demand for tech engineers. And yet, despite the high demand for talent, everyone is still looking for resumes that fit the outdated standard model. “Less than three percent of the whole pool that’s available has a resume that includes a flashy name that you recognize,” he said. “And fighting for those very, very limited resources is leading to the situation in which everybody is just, like, recycling. You go from Google, to Uber, over to Facebook, back to Google. It’s like this dance where perks are running out, and salary inflation is hitting a crazy point.”

The Future: Going Beyond Resumes

Even still, Sloyan said, resumes remain the primary tool for hiring, whether it’s an electronic CV or LinkedIn. But he does believe there will be a transformation in the hiring process, moving beyond resumes listing education and previous employers. It’s just a matter of time.

“Any year that that transformation doesn’t happen–to a system in which it’s more about skills, it’s more about ability, it’s more about potential of doing the job versus a list of institutions that you’re associated with–there’s a whole generation of people who are actually struggling to live up to their full potential,” Sloyan said. “At the end of the day, talent is the most precious resource humanity has. And if we’re not cherishing it, if we’re not growing it, if we’re not discovering it, if we’re not developing it, we’re literally not going to be able to make the transformations that we need toward the future.”

Editor's Note: Thank you to our partner CodeSignal for sponsoring this thought leadership spotlight.

Jennifer Haupt is a Seattle-based author and journalist.