I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Today is the first day of Black History Month; last month, we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. 50 years after his death, how much does race still matter in America?
Race (still) matters, a lot. After analyzing 4,068 job applications, outcomes and applicants, we discovered two things:
- Job applicants with obviously ethnic names were 2-9x less hireable than those with apparently white names, including Asians (a supposed “model minority”); and,
- Some resume tips were clear disqualifiers or equalizers for ethnic applicants, either forcing their hireability to zero or creating a (roughly) equal playing field.
Let’s break it down, shall we?
Resume Disqualifiers and Equalizers
#5: Follow Basic Resume Etiquette [+871% BOOST]
In our last post, we mentioned several resume tips around “resume etiquette”: not using personal pronouns in job achievements, starting sentences with action verbs, etc.
For non-white job-seekers, not following basic resume etiquette was a near-strict disqualifier. Whether because it reinforced racial stereotypes, suggested poor communication skills or something else entirely, ethnic applicants who didn’t follow these basic tips had a 0.7% interview rate (vs. a 6.1% chance if you had followed them).
Resume Tip: Although it’s important for everyone, following resume etiquette is necessary (but not sufficient) for people with ethnic names. Make sure you don’t include personal pronouns. Start each job achievement with an action verb. And so on.
(There are actually several resume rules that go into this. If you want to instantly scan your resume for etiquette mistakes, upload your resume to TalentWorks — it’s free.)
#4: Having 2+ College Degrees [+45% BOOST]
Growing up, my dad always told me: “Kushal, you have to be twice as good to get ahead.” As I got older, I realized I wasn’t alone — every Asian, black, Hispanic family tells their children this:
You were taught that you were good enough, but you might have to be twice as good given you’re black. — Condoleezza Rice
As an African-American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. — Barack Obama
You have to be twice as good as them. — Olivia Pope
Dad (and Condoleezza Rice and Barack Obama and Olivia Pope) were right: you really do have to work twice as hard to get by. Non-white job applicants with 2+ degrees had the same hireability as the average job applicant, 87% of whom had only 1 degree.
Education was an equalizer, in the sense that people of color quite literally had to have twice the education as (almost) everyone else to have an equal shot as them.
Job Search Tip: Except in very specific circumstances, our position is still that it’s not worth going back to school for that second degree, regardless of your race. There are faster, more effective ways to level the playing field (see below).
#3: Using Specific Numbers to Demonstrate Your Impact [+65% BOOST]
Another equalizer, but an actionable one this time: Applicants who used specific numbers to demonstrate impact had the same shot as the average job-seeker.
Resume Tip: Especially for people of color, quantifying how you specifically made an impact with numbers will help remove subconscious subjectivity and let you play on an objective level-playing field (+65% boost).
#2: Don’t Overuse “Team Player” Words [+67% BOOST]
This is also an equalizer. People of color who used the right number of teamwork-related words had a roughly similar hireability to the average job-seeker.
Why is this important? Well, if you read our previous analysis closely, you’ll see that “team player”-oriented words were words that diminished your achievements and experience. If you’re a person of color, hiring managers seem to need you to be extra explicit about what you achieved.
Resume Tip: For people of color, being explicit about your specific contributions is especially important (+67% boost). As above, it likely helps cut through subjective, subconscious bias and puts you on an objective (level) playing field.
#1: Using Industry Buzzwords [+113% BOOST]
This is the final and most impactful equalizer. Applicants with ethnic sounding names who mentioned the right frequency of industry buzzwords, specific skills and expertise didn’t just perform equally as an average job-seeker, they actually outperformed them.
Why is that, you might ask? If you take a step back, there seems to be a clear pattern emerging from the above. When people with ethnic-sounding names — people who might otherwise be subject to subconscious, subjective bias — are specific about their past achievements, they seem to instead be objectively evaluated on the same level-playing field as everyone else. That doesn’t mean that they’ll get the job or even the interview — it just means they start playing on the same field as everyone else.
Resume Tip: Make sure to include specific skills, industry buzzwords and expertise in your job achievements (+113% boost).
Although it’s hard to get inside hiring managers’ heads on this topic — so much of this is subconscious, including for me — two clear patterns seem to emerge above. For people with ethnic-sounding names,
- Hiring managers seemed especially quick to dismiss ethnic applicants based on small errors, possibly because they reinforced specific ethnic stereotypes; and,
- Demonstrating specific expertise or accomplishments put ethnic applicants back on an objective (level-)playing field.
As with most things involving race, subconscious bias and discrimination, you’re working on a knife edge here: do too little and you’re nothing, do too much and you’re blackballed; you have to do the right thing in exactly the right amount. Balancing the hundreds of variables that go into this is hard, for humans.
But, it’s easy for machines: our AI can simultaneously optimize 1,000+ variables. To be 100% transparent, we’re just getting started with these sorts of (discrimination-related) issues at TalentWorks, but our existing AI-driven tools can already help a lot:
- ApplicationAssistant will automatically identify jobs you’re objectively qualified for, so you can emphasize your objective qualifications and worry less about discrimination,
- ResumeOptimizer will instantly scan your resume for potential issues to help level the playing field — the 5 issues above, in addition to dozens of others.
As an Indian-American living on the West Coast, I’m lucky to have rarely felt explicitly discriminated against. (I have lots of stories from when I was younger, but that’s for another time…) Growing up, I argued with my parents dozens of times about how their experiences with discrimination must be a thing of the past.
But, here’s the rub. The numbers don’t lie—
Even if you’ve never felt explicitly discriminated against, the clear, measurable impact of implicit discrimination has probably hurt you, even today.
What irks me about many of the studies done on discrimination is that they don’t tell you what you can do. “So, you’re telling me I’m screwed. Well, great. Now what do I do?” For our project, I wanted to make sure we gave you some tools to do something about it.
Whether you use ResumeOptimizer or ApplicationAssistant or not, I hope the tips and tools above help you live your life so you’re judged by the content of your character (and not by the sound of your name or color of your skin).
We used the core dataset, analysis and visualization from The Science of the Job Search, Part I.
To calculate which resume optimizations were disqualifiers, we looked only at non-white subgroups and filtered for optimizations where its absence resulted in a <3% interview rate. For equalizers, we filtered for optimizations where its presence resulted in an interview rate within 1 standard error of the overall mean. The above graphs are plotted with bokeh on Python.
[*] For the statistically-minded amongst you, this is a good sanity check that we weren’t making dumb over-fitting mistakes.
Why Are We Doing This?
With ApplicationAssistant right now, we can boost the average job-seeker’s hireability by ~5x. But, what makes ApplicationAssistant work has been an internal company secret until now. We’re fundamentally a mission-driven company and we believe we can help more people by sharing our learnings. So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
We’re not only sharing this but also sharing all of it under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license. In other words, as long as you follow a few license terms, this means you can:
- Share: Copy, redistribute the material in any medium or format.
- Adapt: Remix, transform, and build upon the material.