How do we make sense of the difficulty employers are having when looking for workers when there are so many people unemployed or underemployed hoping to get a job? One major factor is that the online resume screening that most companies use is deleting all kinds of people who could be strong candidates if the criteria were adjusted.  

We appreciated the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of this situation, based on a recent study from Harvard Business School. The study found that as employers have increasingly turned to computer-driven application screenings, these systems are automatically excluding millions of applicants due to short gaps in employment histories or failing to include a single keyword.

At Common Knowledge, we started working on this issue about five years ago, using the perspective of the workers who were being screened out. Through our collaborations with adult literacy programs, we had been hearing the frustrating and sometimes heartbreaking stories of people who had strong job skills but were not able to get their resume or application through to a hiring manager.

We met people who had been demoted or fired for their jobs for not having adequate credentials when in fact they were doing their work very well. Ray, a nurse recruiter without a college degree was asked to train his new boss who had a master’s degree. Then Ray was let go. But the new manager did not have the trust of the network of nurses or the skillset to do the last-minute wrangling to meet the needs of the hospital. In this case, higher education was not the most relevant criteria for the assignment.

We know people who had the appropriate certification and qualifications but did not understand the process of matching keywords. Our friend Tony described how he spent a year fruitlessly submitting applications until someone explained that missing piece of the puzzle. He was hired right away after that. We are also close to people who have been nervous about the gaps in their resume because they stopped to care for a child or family member.

With our partners at Berkeley READS, Berkeley Public Library’s adult literacy program, we applied for a small innovation grant. A team of adult students volunteered to co-create a workbook and workshop for their peers. Thus, the New Resume Project was born.

The original, in-person workshops took place in libraries, adult schools and nonprofits working with people in reentry. During the pandemic, our colleagues at the California State Library literacy program asked us to adapt the New Resume Project for online workshops. Adult students brought vital insights to this work, helping people claim the value of all their life experiences, including on-the-job training, volunteer work, caregiving, and other activities that can build valuable work skills. Project designer Alma Hernandez Miller calls these “Life Certificates.” In this year’s update, we also addressed the underlying anxiety that almost everyone has about updating their resume.

Are you working with people who have underappreciated talents and life experience? Here are resources from the New Resume Project that may be of interest:

The New Resume Project aims to take the stress out of writing or revising a resume and to help people reflect on how they have more skills and accomplishments than they may realize.