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Research - 06.12.2022 - 09:37

Don’t mind the (career) gap? New study shows a simple résumé re-write improves jobseekers’ employment outcomes

In this interview, Assistant Professor Dr. Jamie Gloor discusses a new strategy to reduce bias towards jobseekers, now published in Nature Human Behaviour. The simple, cost-free, and low effort intervention increases job applicant outcomes by presenting job experience as total years (vs. dates).

Jamie Gloor, what did your team want to do with this study and why did you want to do it?

Despite employees commonly experiencing career breaks throughout their work lives (e.g., due to caregiving, sickness or downsizing due to the COVID-19 pandemic), these employees – especially women and mothers – face additional challenges to re-enter the workforce. Potential employers consistently disregard these employees despite research showing that short gaps have little to no effect on their skills and abilities. So, as behavioural social scientists and diversity, equity, and inclusion experts, we wondered: how to reduce this bias and help these applicants get back to work? 

Some research has tried to answer these questions. But the strategies that are developed and tested often require extra effort from applicants – persons who may already have fewer resources to effectively enact the strategies – or from hiring managers – persons who often have little time or motivation to make an “extra” effort while reviewing countless applications. Some practical recommendations have also tried to tackle these questions, often suggesting that applicants should explain their résumé gaps. But there is a lack of scientific evidence on how exactly applicants should do this and if it is effective in reducing bias or improving applicants’ employment opportunities. 

So, integrating insights from psychology with judgment and decision-making, we developed a new intervention – a cost-free, low effort “nudge” redesigning how applicants present their job experience in their résumés.

How can we reduce bias against jobseekers with résumé gaps? 

We tested one strategy: presenting applicant job experience as total years in their résumés rather than as dates. In doing so, applicants present the same information as in the traditional format, but with a critical difference: presented in this way, employment gaps are not visible, and therefore, cannot be used against them. While it is still possible that interviewers may ask about gaps or the novel résumé design in the second stage of recruitment, most applicants are weeded out in this initial step.

How would you summarize the key findings of your work?

Our randomized field experiment based on 9,022 real job openings showed that callback rates for applicants with the redesigned résumés increased by 15% compared to employees with employment gaps and 8% compared to employees without employment gaps. Follow-up experiments with an additional 2,650 experienced hiring managers showed that this effect is driven by making the applicants’ actual job experience more salient – not because the redesigned résumés are simply new or easier for hiring managers to read.  

We examined male and female applicants with and without employment gaps, working in various industries, with more (i.e., 15 years) and less (i.e., 5 years) total job experience. So, theoretically, our strategy is an effective micro-intervention for many different types of people and jobseekers with different levels of experience.

But we focused on data coming from the United Kingdom and shorter résumé gaps (i.e., 2.5 years). So, it is unclear if this intervention would be equally effective for applicants in other countries or for applicants with longer résumé gaps. However, applicants’ professional competences, knowledge, and/or valuable networks may admittedly begin to deteriorate with longer career breaks; 2.5 years was also the average length of leave for mothers there. 

What about hiring managers and leaders?

While this work focused on the applicant’s perspective, hiring managers and leaders in organizations can also take evidence-based steps based on this research. For example, they can add this intervention to their toolbox of “debiasing” strategies akin to increasingly common efforts such as “blinding” (i.e., removing names and/or gendered information like pronouns from applicants’ job materials): if their application process requires a résumé, employers can include a short instruction recommending applicants to present their job experience as total years. Alternatively, if employers’ recruitment systems request job experience, it can ask for total years instead of the traditional dates format. 

Any final thoughts?

Given the talent shortages facing today’s organizations, it seems only logical to take simple steps like these to improve qualified applicants’ inclusion in recruitment process, ultimately strengthening the efficiency and sustainability of our workforce. We hope that our micro-intervention is helpful for jobseekers, while also inspiring others to develop, test, and use similarly simple, cost-free, and low-effort interventions to benefit science and society.

The publication “Reducing discrimination against job seekers with and without employment gaps” appears in Nature Human Behaviour, coauthored by an international, interdisciplinary team: Ariella S. Kristal (Harvard Business School, USA), Leonie Nicks (Behavioural Insights Team, London, UK), Jamie L. Gloor (CCDI, FIM-HSG), and Oliver P. Hauser (University of Exeter Business School, UK).

Image: Adobe Stock / A Stockphoto

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