CVs are a tool for discrimination and bias affirmation

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​We all know that the CV is total nonsense. Evidence suggests that using CVs as a form of selection serves to amplify bias and in turn reinforce the gulf between those with [enter applicable privilege] and those with less.

From this it’s clear that CVs are not only bad for business, they are harmful and dangerous to society. Yet we all continue to use them as the primary source for job recruitment. Here are my issues with that.

Inaccurate information poorly delivered

At worst, CVs are full of lies, and at best they are full of severely embellished versions of the best things we’ve ever done, cherry-picked from what is most likely an otherwise chequered employment history.

Secondly, CVs are about as effective for recruitment as Tinder would be. A quick glance, maybe a skim over the description, but then in most cases it’s a hard swipe left. I’m not kidding.

Ladders has research showing that recruiters spend an average of 7.4 seconds looking at a candidate’s resume before deciding whether they're fit for a job. Those seven seconds are spent looking at just six things: Name, current company, previous company, previous position, current position and education.

A tool for reaffirming bias

Here’s where things get really scary. A US field experiment on Labor Market Discrimination, conducted by faculty research fellows Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan of the National Bureau of Economic Research, revealed that resumes with Caucasian sounding names like Emily Walsh or Greg Baker were 50% more likely to get a call-back than the identical resume with an African American sounding name such as Lakisha Washington or Jamal Jones.

Their research also indicated that a white name yielded as many more call-backs as an additional eight years of work experience.

The authors wrote: “While one may have expected that improved credentials may alleviate employers’ fear that African American applicants are deficient in some unobservable skills, this is not the case in our data.

"Discrimination therefore appears to bite twice, making it harder not only for African-Americans to find a job but also to improve their employability.”

It’s not just a US problem. In 2015, prime minister David Cameron declared the issue of bias against “ethnic sounding names” as part of his agenda for the NHS and announced that name-blind recruitment processes were to be adopted by 2020.

But biases are not just based on ethnicity. Research firm Insync Surveys asked over 1,000 hiring managers in Australia and New Zealand to evaluate two resumes with the exact same qualifications save for one difference. One was from Simon Cook, the other from Susan Cambell. Even among female recruiters Simon was the favourite.

Let’s boil it down. If you don’t have a white sounding name you’re 50% less likely to get a call back; if you’re a woman you’re also less likely to get a call back; if you’re a woman with an “ethnic sounding name” do you even register as a person to recruiters?

When I’ve brought these insights up in the past with people, I genuinely believe to be thoughtful and intelligent, the overwhelming response has been an apathetic shoulder shrug and some version of “Well, what else can we do?”

The answer is a lot. It starts with caring less about how someone can summarise their experience to date and more about how their intellect, personality and motivations fit with what you need at the company.

Sterling Grey is VP of strategic accounts at management consultancy firm The Chemistry Group

Further reading:

BAME employees told to 'Westernise' names

Is the traditional CV the best recruitment tool in a digital society?

BAME workers feel they have to mask identity at work

What employers can do for BAME employees as we head back to the office

Data in hiring: The recruitment revolution

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