Our top advice for job seekers often has to do with resumes. They’re easily the first impression recruiters have of you as a job candidate. And just when you think you have your resume mastered, the game changes. We recently shared advice for job seekers wanting to update old resumes to perform better against applicant tracking systems (ATS). It’s a critically important step because if an automated ATS can’t read your resume or can’t find what it wants, you’re eliminated right away. Humans may never even have the chance to set eyes on your resume.
Once people are involved, however, bias becomes an unfortunate factor. Whether it’s blatant or unconscious, hiring managers take certain cues from your resume that can paint a picture about you: your age, religion, marital status, personality, race, and even gender or sexual preference.
These factors shouldn’t play a role in your employability in most cases (in fact, it’s often illegal for them to be considered), but once those hints are thrown out there, they’re difficult to ignore. The scenario plays out again and again:
- For jobs in STEM fields, women and minority candidates with 4.0 GPAs were treated the same as white male candidates with 3.75 GPAs.
- A landmark study by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals resumes with “white-sounding” names (the study suggests “Emily Walsh” and “Greg Baker”) received nearly 50% more callbacks than those with “black-sounding” names (the study suggests “Lakisha Washington” and “Jamal Jones”).
- In a study of identical resumes, 79% of applicants with a man’s name were worthy of hire, versus 49% of applicants with a woman’s name.
- Job candidates ages 29 to 31 receive 35% more callbacks than those 64 to 66.
- Resumes that mention religious affiliations receive 29% fewer emails and 33% fewer phone calls than those that don’t.
Many recruiters and their employer clients are working hard to take unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) out of the hiring equation. Plus, one would think that as diversity and inclusion initiatives gain steam, bias would be less of a factor. But to reach this utopia, we’re on a long road filled with stops and starts.
“Companies say that they value diversity and think that everybody else is doing the same…but our research shows they don’t actually have those preferences,” says Corinne Low, assistant professor of business economics and public policy at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
The bottom line when it comes to bias-generating resumes: Are you offering more information about yourself than is helpful to you?
To even the playing field when it comes to age, for instance, consider removing unnecessary clues. They can be obvious clues like employment and graduation dates. Still, other hints can be found in an older email address (AOL anyone?), outdated proficiencies, and even two spaces between sentences. This advice from TopResume can help.
Be mindful about including volunteer work and hobbies as they can often unnecessarily reveal social-economic class, family status, and religious and political affiliations. If an employer doesn’t ask for your outside interests, don’t offer them up. Instead, focus on keywords from the job description and filling your work history with measurable accomplishments. We guarantee those elements will be more valuable.
Being clear and concise—ensuring that your resume is no longer than two pages—can remove many of these biases naturally. Other factors like your name and gender are more challenging to cover up. And the question is, of course: Do you even want to cover them up? An outside recruiter can give you a leg up and help you decide case-by-case how to put your best foot forward without unnecessarily creating unconscious bias.
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