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What Parts of Your Resume Create an Unconscious Bias?

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Your resume says a lot more about you than just your skills and work history. Business writer Thursday Bram gives hints to your gender, race, and other characteristics that can bias hiring managers against you.
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Every detail on your resume paints a picture for a recruiter or a hiring manager deciding who to choose for an open job. Your experience matters, as does your education—but your name and other subtle cues may prove to be the most important details of all. They can create unconscious biases in the minds of hiring managers when they decide who gets the job: you or another candidate with the same abilities.

Your Name Means Everything

Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College, has studied hiring processes in STEM fields. Her work demonstrates one of the clearest examples of how gender can change an applicant's chances of getting hired:

"Science faculty from research-intensive universities rated the application materials of a student—who was randomly assigned either a male or female name—for a laboratory manager position. Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant."

The faculty who participated in the study was more likely to hire male candidates than female candidates, even with identical qualifications. The gender of the person making those decisions didn't change the outcome, either: Female faculty members assumed female applicants were less competent, just as male faculty members did. The names themselves were unlikely to have introduced further variables (like assumed differences in race); they were “John” and ”Jennifer.”

Names can also provide hints as to the race or cultural background of the person submitting a resume—and studies have demonstrated the same sort of hidden biases against both men and women of color applying to jobs in the U.S. A study by NBER Faculty Research Fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan found that applicants whose names sound African-American have a much harder time landing interviews:

"Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback. This would suggest either employer prejudice or employer perception that race signals lower productivity."

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