Ethnic and Gender Discrimination When Reviewing Job Resumes

Topic(s): discrimination, fairness, gender, recruiting, selection
Publication: Personnel Psychology (2015)
Article: Double Jeopardy Upon Resume Screening: When Achmed is Less Employable than Aisha.
Authors: E. Derous, A.M. Ryan, A.W. Serlie
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Job resumes are essential in making hiring decisions, as they provide necessary information about applicants during the initial screening stages. However, resume screening is highly susceptible to psychological biases, and raters or screeners may rely on mental shortcuts that lead to inaccurate assessments, especially when relevant applicant information appears to be lacking. New research (Derous, Ryan, & Serlie, 2015) explored how characteristics of the job and rater attitudes (ethnic prejudice, sexism) combine to influence the decisions of recruiters when limited information was provided in resumes.


When it comes to making decisions regarding an applicant’s suitability for various job roles, a number of factors can impact decisions. In two field studies using professional recruiters who typically review resumes, subconscious prejudice against Arabs was not found to play a part in screening, however subconscious sexism did become influential depending on the type of job considered. For example, when the role was traditionally more male or female oriented, it dictated perceptions of fit. In the case of client-centered roles, presuming women are better at client and interpersonal exchanges put greater focus on the applicant’s gender more than the applicant’s ethnicity. Across both studies, the researchers found that Arab females were rated higher than Arab males.

The researchers also showed how individuals pay greater attention to social categories that they hold strong opinions about, which may lead to more overt discriminatory practices. When individuals hold strong beliefs and are also confronted with an absence of adequate information, they may be more likely to react in a more discriminatory way. In addition, ratings were influenced more by prejudice when there were non-ethnic-related justifications for discriminatory reactions. External or business-related factors like the job requiring client interaction or interpersonal skills could become a means with which to justify discriminatory decisions. In jobs that were considered “high demand” roles, the more cues to ethnicity on the resume, the greater the hiring discrimination and use of various justifications to defend it.


This study shows that recruiters may be particularly prone to prejudiced decision-making during screening, especially in the face of limited information. Category-based discrimination may be averted when more information about the applicant is available, which is not always possible during the screening process. To counter these negative effects, recruiters can be trained to frame and apply alternative categorizations in their evaluation. For example, resume screeners can be trained to focus on using experience levels, sectors of employment, or number of extracurricular activities. Developing structured resume reviews and screening processes based on these categorizations can help standardize evaluations and lead to a fair selection process.

Diversity training can also make recruiters aware of their biases, as well as the harmful effects of stereotyping, and help reduce the effects of bias on decision making. In addition, organizational policies and procedures should be developed to keep screening transparent and recruiters accountable for all decision making.

Derous, E., Ryan, A. M., & Serlie, A. W. (2015). Double Jeopardy Upon Resume Screening: When Achmed is Less Employable than Aisha. Personnel Psychology, 68(3), 659-696.