Resume Screening

Screening resumes is the process of sorting resumes to choose only the most viable candidates for the next step in the hiring process.

Facts and data

  • Resumes indicating the applicant is not a heterosexual, white male are much less likely to progress to the next step in hiring. To study this phenomenon, researchers create two resumes that are identical except for one key component. This could be an applicant name signifying race, gender, or class; a bullet point showing affiliation with a sexual identity; or a line indicating motherhood. These studies find an advantage to being an upperclass, white, heterosexual man
  • Identical resumes with "typically Black" names are called back at 5/6 the rate as "typically white" names.  Researchers submitted 9,400 fake resumes throughout many cities and states. African-Americans were invited to interview 15.2% of the time, compared to 18% for white applicants. This 2.8 point gap translates to African-Americans being 16% less likely to get a callback. Additionally, for customer-facing jobs, this gap reached 4.4 points, almost doubling [fortune]
  • Identical application materials from men were rated much higher than those from women. Researchers sent 127 hard science professors fake applications for a lab manager position. Half the professors received an application from "Jennifer" the other half from "John". Using scales from 1 to 7, John was rated higher than Jennifer on competency (4 vs 3.4), hireability (3.75 vs 2.9), and ability to mentor (4.75 vs 4). He was also offered a 14% higher starting salary of $30.1k compared to Jennifer's $26.5k. The only category Jennifer beat John on was "likeability" in which she received a 4.35 to John's 3.91, though this evidently did not provide professional credibility. Importantly, female professors were just as likely as male professors to rate Jennifer lower [Harvard Kennedy School]
  • Resumes with LGBT affiliation in some areas had less than half the chance of a callback than those without. Pairs of fictitious resumes were sent in response to 1,769 job postings in five occupations and seven states. Overall, resumes identifying work with a gay organization received only 60% of the callbacks without it. The discrimination had obvious geographic patterns. Firms in CA, MA, PA (10% callback rate) were much less likely to discriminate against gay resumes compared to TX, OH, FL, and NV (4% callback rate). Also, employers who emphasized the importance of stereotypically male heterosexual traits were particularly likely to discriminate against openly gay men, with callback rates dropping by a third to 3% (compared to the control of 10%) [American Journal of Sociology]

How men and women are rated with identical resumes [Harvard Kennedy School]

Hear it Firsthand

At a huge news org I worked for, a small group of black female staff members were standing around chatting; two of them were writers and all of us were talking about the writing test we’d all taken in order to become staff writers. A young, white, male colleague who was also a staff writer joined the conversation and when the conversation turned back to the writing test, he furrowed his brow and asked “what writing test?”

Take Action

  • Remove names and other identifying information that doesn't actually help evaluate someone's ability. The unfortunate truth is that "whitened" resumes (resumes of people of color who have deleted references to their race) do better for most jobs. One study found that 25% of black candidates received callbacks when using their whitened resumes, while only 10% got calls when they left ethnic details intact. Among Asians, 21% got calls if they used whitened resumes, whereas only 11.5 percent heard back if they sent resumes with racial references. If you're hiring or part of hiring, find a way to remove unnecessary identifying information before evaluating resumes [HBS]
  • Use a resume screening software program. A blind, systematic process for reviewing applications and resumes “will help you improve your chances of including the most relevant candidates in your interview pool, including uncovering some hidden gems,” says Francesca Gino, HBS professor [HBR] There are many software options out there, such as Blendoor 
  • Include non-resume screens such as work samples. Work samples, if done well, can be very useful. For example, a large UK-based supermarket chain recently began using a customized online situational judgment test to screen out the bottom 25% of applicants before reviewing CVs. Because the candidates called in for interviews were therefore better qualified, the average number seen for each successful hire fell from six to two—saving 73,000 hours of managerial time. Issues commonly arise, however, when these work samples are not done with referrals or friends as noted by the "Hear it Firsthand" quote earlier in this newsletter [HBR]
  • Don't just say you are an "equal opportunity employer" or "value diversity" – this backfires. Researchers found that people of color were half as likely to "whiten" their resumes when applying for jobs with employers who said they care about diversity.  But it turned out that employers claiming to be pro-diversity discriminated against resumes with racial references just as much as employers who didn’t mention diversity at all in their job ads. Meaning, including a diversity statement can actually be very harmful to increasing the diversity at your company [HBS]

Hear it Firsthand

If the employer is known for trying to employ more people of color [like me] and having a diversity outreach program, then I would include [identifying information about my race] because in that sense they’re trying to broaden their employees, but if they’re not actively trying to reach out to other people of other races, then no, I wouldn’t include it. (source)