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Do You Believe In The Curse Of The First Resume?

"I never look at the first resume. It's cursed, you know. You print them off, then take the first one, crumple it up, never look at it, and throw it away. That's the only way to ensure a successful hire." - anonymous Reddit User,  /r/recruiting, July 2009

Bill Stevens wasn't your typical recruiter. His background was in documentary film making, which made for interesting stories but did little to put food on the table. After working in New Orleans during Katrina, and then following  a profiler for the FBI, he got a plum job working in the Polynesian islands. What should have been two years in paradise ended up being two months and no paycheck, and he found himself in Los Angeles, unemployed, in the middle of a recession.

Out of desperation he answered a job ad for a staffing firm, where,  based on the strength of his interviewing skills, he was hired and sent to training for a week. And then he was dropped in a cubicle with a phone and a list of contacts to call on a computer screen. The company had a lot of openings, even in those grim times, and Bill's job was to sort through the resumes and call the best ones. He was a natural, as years of pointing a camera at a person made him easy to talk to. Candidates loved him, his bills were paid off, and like many recruiters do, he took a job inside a large company that offered more stability and less sales.

Megacorp wasn't a bad place to work - the benefits were good, the hours reasonable, and the work wasn't that difficult. Perhaps that's what led Bill to start looking around for entertainment. He loved a good story, but stories take time, and his time was taken up with the process.

It was the process that led to this amazing film, and the recruiting discovery of a lifetime. Welcome everyone, to the story of Bill Stevens, the man who uncovered The Curse Of The First Resume.

THE CURSE OF THE FIRST RESUME 

Many of  you have heard of the curse - many of you believe it. It's been trained to generations of recruiters, justified dozens of ways, and eventually, merged with the myth of a Hindu God. Today, it is considered a best practice in the halls of the Fortune 500 and the consulting firms that prowl them. 

What is the curse? Quite simply, it is the fear of looking at the first resume in a stack of resumes. Our study of other 20,000 recruiters showed that not only did 85% of them know of the curse, over half actively avoided the first resume. Not all believed it was a curse - they knew the activity by many names. First is Worst, Not That One, and the earliest version, The Nod to Edith. They all meant the same thing - in a stack of resumes, if you take the top one and read it, the person you hire won't be any good. 

Many people we interviewed for this documentary actively addressed the curse, printing out a stack of resumes just to crumple up the first one and throw it away. It wasn't the paper - crumpling a blank sheet didn't count, and neither did skipping the first resume on a computer screen. You had to print out a stack, crumple the first resume, and throw it away. Only then would the curse be lifted.

That's where Bill Stevens entered the picture. New to the industry, he first encountered the curse when he worked a position for a product manager in Culver City. A fellow recruiter handed him a stack of resumes, but assured him he'd already given a Nod to Edith. When Bill asked what that meant, the answer led him on a seven year journey to uncover the secret origins of the Curse of the First Resume.

The story begins in late 1980's in a branch office of Megacorp. A manager by the name of Ronald McIntosh ran a call center in Pasadena. Ron, known as Big Red by his co-workers because of his tall stature and unkempt red hair, managed about 60 people handling collections for the company. His secretary at the time was a woman by the name of Edith Stossel. One day, in late fall, a young salesman from Apple One came to the door, offering new staffing services in an attempt to replace Kelly Services, the long-time vendor for Megacorp. The young man, whose name is unknown, had a secret weapon - he offered to "fax" new resumes over instead of bringing the resumes to Ron each day to review. We can imagine the conversation as Ron and the Apple One salesperson talked. 

"Fax machine," "technology," "time-saver," "wave of the future." Maybe the young man was good, or it could have been that Megcorp had been an early adopter of faxes for corporate communications, and with Apple One local, there would be no charges for receiving resumes, and Ron could review them at night, or in the morning. Whatever the reason - he signed on. Apple One, the very next day, began sending resumes to Ron to review over fax. 

Edith Stossel was in charge of the fax machine - she treated it like a mother hen, and made sure it ran smoothly and had proper care. Twice a day, she would go to the fax and retrieve resumes that had been sent over. She would remove the cover sheet, and place the resumes in a basket for Ron.

This went on for several years, and as Megacorp grew, it expanded it's offices in Pasadena, adding several departments including human resources, credit, audit, accounting, and a new division called Information Technology. Ron advanced quickly as the company grew, and Edith was promoted with him, every step of the way. In 1996, Ron left Megacorp, but Edith stayed and begin to report to a new manager, David Hedrick. David had business degree from Stanford, three years at IBM, and his plans were to quickly grow in the executive ranks. Finding Edith very useful for her knowledge of the departments and the processes she ran, he largely delegated responsibilities involving paperwork to her. 

For hiring, which now included several departments, Edith connected with an HR generalist named Jackie Sobyak. Edith still collected the faxes, but she would bring them to each manager as they came in, and then deliver them to Jackie to contact for interviews after they were screened. Jackie saw an opportunity, and offered to take the resumes, screen them, and deliver them to managers. This would allow her to determine how many resumes were delivered, as Apple one charged per resume at the time. Edith liked the idea, both because it took work off her plate, and because it saved the company money. Jackie was given responsibility, and after that, she would deliver resumes to each manager. 

The first day Jackie delivered resumes, the managers were displeased. They saw Jackie deliver them, but didn't see her remove the cover sheet. They were concerned that they weren't able to see all the possible resumes. Two of them quickly went to David Hedrick and complain. Hedrick didn't want this marring his upward mobility, so he called Jackie in, explained the situation, and told her to bring in resumes with the cover sheet, as a "Nod to Edith." Jackie did just that. The managers were happy. David was happy, and Jackie was able to cut the spending in her department considerably. When Hedrick was promoted six months later, Jackie was name the Director of HR.

One of the first things Jackie did as Director was to login into job sites. Instead of paying per resume, she paid a fixed amount, and could download all the resumes she needed. When she delivered them to managers (or rather, when her assistant did), she made sure there was always a cover sheet on top. She literally had her assistant print out a cover sheet for a printed stack of resumes, prior to delivery. Many managers never knew they stopped coming from the fax machine.

 As Megacorp grew, an entire generation of recruiters grew up following Edith's workflow, which included always throwing away the first page. In 1998, Jackie left Megacorp to join a dot-com, which received massive amounts of media attention as they grew. Jackie's methods spread throughout the city, both through Megacorp, and through her own work. The spread of the idea was like wildfire.  The First is Worst idea was seen in a recruiting handbook in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1999, and The Nod To Edith was actually found in a Usenet forum for recruiters in Boston in 1997, while Jackie was still at Megacorp. The name changed, but the process spread. No one online seemed to recognize the original intent. Faxes still came in, but recruiters would print resumes and store them in giant file cabinets. It wasn't until 2001 that email of resumes became "standard." By then, there were over 70 mentions of the Curse of the First Resume online, except it wasn't called a curse. It was simply an observation about behavior. 

In 2009, a forum on the popular Reddit website for recruiting has a quote. The user is anonymous, but in this quote, supposedly directly from a manager, is the first use of the words, "successful hire." It received 35 upvotes. 

"I never look at the first resume. It's cursed, you know. You print them off, then take the first one, crumple it up, never look at it, and throw it away. That's the only way to ensure a successful hire." - anonymous Reddit User,  /r/recruiting, July 2009 

The subreddit would use this formulation as an inside joke for many years. In 2011,  a user from Hyderabad spoke of a Hindu god who was given the first portion of everything, or it would be cursed. This new version of the story became the inside joke, and it soon spread to other parts of the Internet. It was 2014, that a Buzzfeed writer picked the story and wrote it as original content, which was then shared over 7,000 times, garnering over 30M views on Facebook.

Shortly after that, references to the Curse of the First Resume became common. They made it into several corporate presentations over the years, and actually were written into an episode of the Office in their last season (only available as a deleted scene on the 4th disk). When we conducted the survey in 2016, almost 16,000 recruiters nationwide knew of the curse, and knew it by the name.

So it was in Century City, in a complex for Megacorp built for the IT department, that Bill Stevens first heard of the Nod To Edith. When he left Megacorp in 2010, he worked on several projects as a documentary film editor, but still sought out recruiters to find the origin of the story. When the Buzzfeed story on the Reddit jokes hit the mainstream, Bill began contacting recruiting departments and searching the internet archive for the earliest clues. This caught the attention of our producers, who agreed to fund the documentary if Bill could find enough content. 

Imagine Bill's surprise when he met Jackie at SXSW in 2015. He was telling his story to a friend in a bar in Austin when Jackie sat next to him. He quickly realized her place in the center of the story, and was amazed to find out that after years of search, it was indeed Megacorp that had originated the process. She was able to contact Edith, who had retired many years before, still lived in Pasadena, and both Jackie and Edith agreed to be interviewed. Ron "Big Red" McIntosh had sadly passed, and David Hedrick, now a SVP for a hedge firm, refused all inquiries.

As the documentary wrapped production, legal threats from Megacorp prevented the initial release, until the threat of an Indiegogo crowdfunding attempt convinced the company to cease litigation. 

We are proud to announce that in the fall of 2017, Netflix will air the original documentary, "The Curse of The First Resume," by Bill Stevens, and a pre-release download will be available on the website, FirstResumeMovie.com 

Thank you for your time, and if you have your stories, please leave comments of your experiences to have the chance to be in the extra features.

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