Reducing discrimination against job seekers with and without employment gaps

Redesigning résumés reduces discrimination against female jobseekers with child-related employment gaps and overall improves hireability of applicants with and without employment gaps. 


Research shows employers discriminate against job applicants with career breaks. Even when employment gaps are transitory, workers still are less likely to be hired if these gaps are evident in their résumés. Penalties associated with employment gaps due to parents leaving to engage in childcare are most profound for women. Barriers to re-entry contribute to the persistent gender wage gap and women’s lower representation in leadership positions.  

One way to address this bias is during the initial screening of résumés. Previous studies have measured the effect of an evaluator’s unconscious bias towards applicants’ demographics (e.g., gender, race, unemployment record) on ‘callbacks’, yet little research has explored ways to overcome these barriers. One low-cost and easily implementable intervention that could facilitate workforce re-entry is by removing career-break information from jobseekers’ résumés while still conveying job-relevant information. The intervention presented work experience through a single number indicating the years the applicant worked in each job (for example, ‘5 years’), instead of the ‘traditional’ listing of two dates between which the applicant started and finished a job (for example, ‘March 2011-March 2016’).  

This study evaluated whether this résumé intervention will increase the likelihood of a qualified applicant advancing to the next stage of the selection (Study 1) or receiving increased ratings of perceived hireability (Studies 2-3). To test whether the ‘perceived job experience’ mechanism impacted employer’s perception of applicants, researchers measured to what extent employers evaluated the applicant’s prior years of job experience (Study 2-3).  

  • Displaying the number of years of job experience (the “years” condition) on a résumé garnered more callbacks for job-seeking candidates than any other résumé conditions (i.e., employment gaps with explanation, employment gap without explanation, and no employment gaps)  
  • The Years condition résumé increased callbacks by approximately 15% compared to traditional résumés with employment gaps, with or without explanation for their employment gap. 
  • Compared to résumés with no employment gaps, which are considered as a conservative benchmark, the Years condition résumé increased callbacks by approximately 8%.  
  • Gender does not affect the perceived hireability for résumés with Years condition. Applicants with redesigned résumés were considered more hireable than applicants using a traditional résumé in general, irrespective of their gender.  
  • Redesigned résumés improve salience of applicants’ work experience. The Years résumé had a significant effect on participant’s ability to accurately recall the number of years of experience on the résumé compared to those who evaluated the traditional résumé. 
  • The intervention increased perceived hireability of job applicants regardless of their level of prior experience. Redesigned résumés worked successfully for applicants with 5, 10, or 15 years of experience, with an increased hireability for applicants with fewer years of experience.  

The findings from this study provide a low-effort and costless means that would benefit returning working mothers in remaining competitive when re-entering the workforce. Further, this intervention is fairly generalizable for various types of job applicants with regard to years of working experience as well as gender.  



Study 1: 

Study 1 is a preregistered audit field experiment conducted in the United Kingdom. This study manipulated the presentation of over 9,000 résumés by changing a fictitious job applicant’s prior experience in a job in the form of dates (in the case of traditional résumés) or summarizing the number of years the applicant held the job (redesigned résumé). The study sent one of four different conditions of résumés and cover letters to 9,022 employers across eight different sectors, representing high- and low-skill jobs, and in both male- and female-dominated fields that were advertising vacancies from October 2019 to March 2020. 

Three conditions were used in the ‘traditional’ résumé format, including an employment gap that was present and explained (i.e., took time out of work to look after children); an employment gap that was present and unexplained; and no employment gap. The fourth condition – the redesigned ‘Years’ condition – is the study’s main treatment of interest, where the date of employment is replaced with the number of years in each role.  

All résumés belong to a fictitious applicant who had worked for 9 years, employed in two previous roles, and was a mother. 

Studies 2 and 3: 

Studies 2-3 included a series of lab studies: an online pilot and two preregistered experiments, with 2,532 participants.  

The online pilot recruited 250 employees with hiring experience (33.6% male). Participants were randomized to either the Traditional condition (without employment gap) or Years condition résumé of a female applicant and rated whether they found the résumé easy to read or novel and how much professional experience they thought the applicant had. Participants were also asked to recall applicant’s years of job experience and demographics. 

Study 2 recruited 761 participants (54.7% male) who were shown one of two different job types (software engineer, a traditionally male job, or human resources manager, a traditionally female job). Participants were then randomly assigned to view a male or female applicant and a control (traditional without employment gap) or treatment (Years condition) résumé and were then requested to rank, on a scale from 1 to 100, their likelihood of advancing the candidate to the next step. Further, participants were then asked to recall the number of years of experience of the applicants, the number of previous jobs the applicant held, as well as identifying gender of the applicant. 

Study 3 recruited 1,521 participants (38.7% male) who were randomly assigned to view the control (traditional without employment gap) or treatment (Years condition) résumé and were then randomly assigned to see a résumé with fewer years (5 years) or more years (15 years) of job experience. Participants were then asked to rate, on a scale from 1 to 100, their likelihood of advancing the candidate to the next step. Further, the participants were asked to recall the applicant’s number of years of job experience and their demographics.  

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