Advice on Landing a Job, If You Happen to be Male/Young/White, etc.

The economy is a wreck, and everyone’s looking for a job. The unemployment numbers for blacks and Hispanics continue to outpace that of whites.  If you think the disparities are all about education levels, think again. Discrimination complaints at the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) are at an all time high. While not every  complaint is valid, it’s a good bet that discrimination in hiring is affecting a large number of job seekers.

A recent  article on LearnVest reveals just how flawed the hiring process is. While the article reads like advice, the real lesson is that hiring decisions are permeated with bias and the opportunity to discriminate.

Two of the eleven “inside tricks” hiring managers use involve sneaky ways to weed out women who may become pregnant. One manager scans women for wedding rings, assuming that young married women are bound to have children soon. “If I hire her, and she goes on maternity leave, I can’t legally fire her.” True fact. Of course, you can’t legally fail to hire her for that reason either, but apparently no one’s stopping you.

Another manager places fake pictures of children on her desk, inviting the job candidate to get into small talk about their own kids. The hiring manager says, “I’m not allowed to ask about family situations, but if they bring it up, it’s fair game.”

Another manager openly states that they believe older people can’t “adapt to newer technologies” and thus refuses to hire them. In my job, I’ve seen a surprising number of smart, sophisticated, often older individuals who explicitly state that they think that older people just aren’t as good as younger employees no matter what (though I imagine that if they found themselves out of a job in favor of a younger employee, they’d be singing a different tune).

Even in the absence of such blatant discriminatory attitudes, the hiring process is generally rife with opportunities for more subtle discrimination. The article advises people  to only apply through someone they already know at the company. We in the employment law business call this “word-of-mouth” hiring, which can form the basis of a discrimination suit. If you’re only hiring people in your social circle, chances are you’re only hiring people an awful lot like yourself.

Everyone knows that employers only spend about five seconds on a resume before throwing it in the “maybe” or “rejected” piles. (The article says “less than 30” seconds, but I think that’s optimistic.) What happens when someone has a fraction of a minute to look at a resume? They form the fastest impression possible, using what psychologists call “heuristics,” and employment lawyers call “stereotypes.” If your name sounds black, you are suddenly much less likely to get called for a job interview. The hiring manager may not even be aware that their decision was based on bias, but that’s little consolation to the rejected job applicant. (Note: if you haven’t taken the implicit associations test, you should. It’s fun, and it contributes to extremely interesting research).

The final note in the article says, simply, that most hiring managers have no idea what they’re doing and will just hire whoever they like (so make sure to be likable!). Take a guess, though, as to the kinds of people hiring managers like the most (hint: see implicit bias, above).

So what’s the solution, aside from simply making sure that you’re not  female, black, pregnant, hispanic, old, disabled, etc.? Sadly, I don’t have one. Discrimination in hiring lawsuits are notoriously difficult to prove. When someone works at a company, they get to know people there. Remarks are made in passing. You know which of your coworkers is also female, and whether they get yelled at more than the guys at your office. But if you’re an applicant, you may have no idea what the applicant pool looks like. You probably also don’t know who got hired over you. Even if you did, you’d have to prove that you should have gotten the job, which is a nightmare. In this economy, that’s like proving that you should have won the lottery. Sure, you’re qualified, but so are a billion other unemployed people.

There may not be proof of rampant discrimination in hiring, but the unemployment numbers, and the article above, speak for themselves.

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