Jobseekers create visual CVs but what are the legal risks?

The way people are presenting their curriculum vitae – the universal passport to career opportunities – is changing as digital technology now allows jobseekers to build online multi-media presentations.

Technology developed in the US allows candidates to create what is being called a ‘visual CV’, and include images, pdf files, charts and graphs, weblinks, online video and work samples, alongside the traditional text.

But, as a growing number of professionals in the UK embrace the concept, lawyers are warning it could expose employers to a greater risk of discrimination during the recruitment process.

Stand out

At the company synonymous with the trend,, marketing director Pierce Resler says the benefit of a CV with all these bells and whistles is that it helps jobseekers stand out from the crowd.

She says the firm has also made it extremely easy for people to build their own visual CV by offering free access to its software, which individuals can use to download the applications they want to include. The CV is then hosted online by the company, allowing the person to send a URL link to their CV out to prospective employers or anyone else they might want to see it.

“A lot of people have a public version that acts as a consistent professional representation anywhere online, whether accessed as a button on an e-mail signature, via a social networking website such as Facebook or LinkedIn, or on a website or blog,” says Resler.

The concept seems to be popular, with Resler claiming an “extensive take-up” of visual CVs since the company launched at the start of the year, with registered users in more than 120 countries. And it is not just people working in new media, IT and advertising that are using the technology. According to Resler, they come from a host of different professions.

She adds: “We had a competition to find the best examples, and a garden designer won. We also have management consultants who are using the platform to include strategy presentations, and CEOs who, for example, might embed a broadcast interview to demonstrate their media profile.”

Lagging behind

As with a lot of new business concepts and technology, the UK is lagging behind the US in its adoption of visual CVs, or similar creations, such as personalised video presentations. In fact, in a recent survey of 500 UK candidates, executive search company MRINetwork found that only 4% had used a video CV – a figure president Michael Jalbert expects to increase in the coming years.

He says: “The growth of broadband connections and the existence of easy-to-use video-making applications will most likely spur usage as more candidates, hoping to stand out from the competition, post video CVs online to boost their chances of being noticed and hired.”

Legal headaches

But while the exciting potential of this technology is obvious, it may present employers with a few legal headaches as they strive to ensure their recruitment processes are objective and free of prejudice, says Judith Watson, head of employment at law firm Cobbetts.

She is concerned that having a picture or video of a candidate embedded into a CV will lead recruiters to make decisions based on the age, race, sex, appearance, and disability of the candidate – something that arguably might happen less when they are faced with plain text on two pages of A4 that typically make up a traditional CV.

She says: “The video CV gives employers the opportunity to assess a candidate’s compatibility straight away, which may lead to a faster and more efficient selection process. However, it is still possible – and even likely – that they will make stereotypical assumptions based on what they see, leaving themselves wide open to discrimination claims.”

But although Paul Lambdin, an employment partner at law firm Stevens and Bolton, acknowledges that visual CVs increase the risk of discrimination claims, he also thinks this risk is “manageable”. He advises recruiters to leave a paper trail when rejecting a CV. He says they should make a note – it need only be a few lines – as to why a candidate was not given the job and ensure that the grounds given are solid business reasons.

He says: “In the real world, it may be impractical to make a note for each CV if you are sifting through hundreds, but you should at least keep a record of your thinking when it comes to the shortlist of candidates.”

Lambdin says employers could also face another potential legal pitfall if any recruitment advertisement they put out requests candidates apply only by video or visual CV. “This could leave them open to accusations of age discrimination, as these types of applications are typically only used by young people,” he says.

But, according to Lambdin, any equal opportunity employer who regularly monitors their recruitment can show they employ a diverse workforce in terms of age, race, sex and disability can be assured this would be influential at tribunal when faced with a discrimination claim relating to visual CVs. “It’s a very useful and persuasive tool,” he adds.

But before UK employers end up facing claims in this area, visual CVs need to become established over here – something Kevin Green, chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, a body that represents the recruitment industry, thinks is unlikely.

More cumbersome

He believes visual CVs could make the recruitment process “more cumbersome”, forcing recruiters to spend longer making their selection through watching video presentations or clicking on web links. “Americans are much more into appearance and have featured photographs on their CVs for years – I’m not sure it’s something that would be as popular in Europe,” adds Green.

He has however seen a rise in recruiters using social networking sites, such as Facebook and Linkedin, for background checks on candidates, especially at the shortlisted stage. And while lawyers say there is nothing underhand with this – the information is in the public domain, so there are no legal issues around data protection – Green reminds recruiters that the postings and references on these sites should not replace the standard reference from a previous employer.

“These sites give you background on a person, show how they present themselves and can help back up any claims they may have made at interview. But any references or recommendations will be unsubstantiated and will therefore have little validity,” he adds.

Case study

Reading-based e-business consultant Toby Treacher created his visual CV two months ago and has already used it to apply for a job, receiving a mixed response from his potential new employers.

He says: “Because of the industry I work in, the people I sent it to were interested in my approach, and to a certain extent it was seen as a statement of credibility – that I am up with the latest trends and technology.

“But they still requested I send them a more conventional Word document, simply because the mechanisms they have in place to process CVs couldn’t cope with the format. If an employer is sifting through hundreds of CVs, I doubt whether all the applications linked to the CV are of any use because of the time it takes to use them.”

Treacher has included links to his Linkedin page as well a BBC radio page where some interviews he did for local radio are stored. He has also included a graph, which visually demonstrates how a company grew during his time there.

He says: “I think this type of CV will work well in the freelance world, where people want to employ you quickly for a job they need doing straightaway, because you can give examples of your work there and then.”

And because his CV is posted in the public domain, Treacher also believes there is less likelihood of the odd white lie making its way onto his resumé.

He adds: “Because it’s public, it has to be honest, with less embellishment. You can’t put anything out there that a former colleagues might see and disagree with.”

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