More than you think, they may impact your chances of getting an interview.
Interesting study reported in HBR …
The study investigated whether applicants got invited to interview at highly prestigious law firms (though the findings are probably generalizable to other top-notch professional firms).
Here’s the drill:
Imagine four applicants, all of whom attend the same, selective second-tier law school.
They all have phenomenal grade point averages, are on law review, and have identical, highly relevant work experiences.
The only differences are whether they are male or female and if their extracurricular activities suggest they come from a higher-class or lower-class background.
Who gets invited to interview?
More specifically, the researchers used a technique — known as the resume audit method — randomly assigning different items to the resumes and sending applications to real employers to see how they affect the probability of being called back for a job interview.
All applicants were from 2nd tier schools (where top firms don’t typically do on campus interviewing).
All educational, academic, and work-related achievements were identical between the fictitious candidates.
To test gender effects, the applicants were first-named James or Julia.
To “signal” social status, last names were either prestigious sounding “Cabot” or more common “Clark” … and commonly used and and often required portions of resumes were varied: awards and extracurricular activities:
The experiment confirmed some expectations, but there were also surprises …
Based on prior studies and conventional wisdom, the researchers hypothesized that that elite employers discriminate strongly based on social class, favoring applicants from higher-class backgrounds.
Attorneys viewed higher-class candidates as being better fits with the culture and clientele of large law firms.
Lower-class candidates were seen as misfits and rejected … or, steered to less prestigious and lucrative sectors of legal practice, such as government and nonprofit roles, positions that tend to be more socioeconomically diverse than jobs at top law firms.
The study confirmed the social class hypothesis, but with a “surprising — and disturbing — twist: coming from an advantaged social background helps only men.”
Employers overwhelmingly favored a higher-class man over a higher-class woman.
The fictitious high-class man had a callback rate more than four times of other applicants and received more invitations to interview than all other applicants in our study combined.
Most strikingly, James did significantly better than Julia — the higher-class woman –whose resume was identical to his, other than the first name.
Digging deeper, the researchers found:
Even though higher-class women were seen as just as good “fits” as higher-class men, attorneys declined to invite these women to interview because they believed they were the least committed to working a demanding job.
They were considered “flight risks,” who might desert the firm for less time-intensive areas of legal practice or might even leave paid employment entirely.
Attorneys cited “family” as a primary reason these women would leave.
Parenting strategies vary between social classes, and the intensive style of mothering that is more popular among the affluent was seen as conflicting with the “all or nothing” nature of work as a Big Law associate.
The perception is that higher-class women do not need a job because they “have enough money,” are “married to somebody rich,” or are “going to end up being a helicopter mom.”
This commitment penalty that higher-class women faced negated any advantages they received on account of their social class.
Bottom line: The study found that a higher-class background helps men land prestigious jobs … but, coming from an apparently higher-class background can actually hurt women’s prospects.
So what to do?
The authors suggest gender neutral resumes that use initials instead of names and eliminate activities & interests from resumes.
First, activities signal a candidates bandwidth and passions.
Second, how long would it take for potential employers to break the code on name-disguised initials?
My advice: Be forewarned and proactive.
Slant resume content & tone to demonstrate job-commitment … and be interview-ready with logic and examples that demonstrate your level of commitment.
That’s advice for both male and female applicants.