How words impact your résumé: How to de-bias the biases
  • 6 min to read
“Bias that results from the tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings, even when these are contrary to one’s conscious or declared beliefs: implicit bias in cases of racial discrimination”
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What if the first impression of your résumé leads to some form of discrimination and be affected by unconscious bias too?

In recent years, especially the largest and international companies, aim to create a better culture of inclusion. Therefore there is a lot of attention in trying to minimize this kind of problem. Creating a modern résumé that is bias-free (or close to) demonstrates that you are already in the mindset of embracing empathy and inclusion towards all the groups, and companies will appreciate it!

Let’s consider the following pieces of information that you may consider to include in your résumé:

  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Marital Status
  • Health Status
  • Religious or Political Orientation
  • Address
  • Citizenship
  • Profile Photo
  • Name
  • Education
  • Email Address

All of them may lead to unconscious bias. There is a lot of discussion and articles out there about bias created by gender and sexual orientation, marital status, religious or political orientation. Today we would like to focus on the ones that are a bit more subtle.

Citizenship and Location

Think about your citizenship: is that really necessary for a hiring manager to know your country of origin? Is that a relevant piece of information on how you can fit your new role? We believe that’s not the case.

On the other hand, it is important to know if you are able to work in a particular country. You don’t want your resume getting trashed because the hiring manager assumes you would require massive immigration and international relocation cost. In this case, you should think to provide your working VISA information, instead.

Here is another example, a bit more “extreme”. Knowing your full address of residence, the reader might already (unconsciously, hopefully) jump on some conclusions and picture yourself based on the area of the city in which you live. Of course, this is not necessarily happening, but keep in mind that your résumé should contain only relevant information to make the hiring manager understand if you are a good fit for the new role, and nothing else. Also, we believe a very little number of companies will contact you via post for setting up an interview.

Also, don’t forget that your résumé will probably be read by a number of people, you may want to keep your address private.

Age and Physical Aspect

In our experience as hiring managers, sometimes we received résumés for software engineer roles including a profile picture. The physical aspect should never be relevant in our industry. Of course, it can be relevant if you are applying for a fashion model role. But this is not our area of expertise, for the moment.

There are also other ones that may be a bit more complicated to analyze, think about your year of graduation or dates of your previous job experiences: those can indirectly provide information about your age. allows you to leave these dates blank, it is up to you. In fact, your age shouldn’t be relevant either, the company should consider your years of experience in a particular field or role.

The same thing can happen with your email address, imaging having an address like [email protected]: it might provide a hint on your age too. So, be careful.

The importance of words

The words you use can also give indications about your personality and can lead to a sort of unconscious bias too.

Think about these words you may think to include in your résumé:

“Competition”, “Mission-Critical”, “Phenomenal”, “Under pressure”, “Hard-working”

In general, candidates using these words are stereotyped as “Dominant/Authorative”. (Actually, they are often referred to as “Masculine” words but we believe a personality should not be associated with a gender, it would be a stereotype itself — wouldn’t be?)

Perhaps you can think to frame it differently using alternative words that are perceived as more empowering for your future team?

Another example:

“Responsible for”

If the summary of your résumé, or a specific job experience, is limited to one bullet point starting with “Responsible for” might lead to a conclusion that you just fulfill the minimal requirements of your job description.

Would be possible to frame it differently? You can also use it in combination with stronger verbs (or “Action Verbs”) like improved, launched, managed, or collaborated, overseed.

These are just examples of how the choice of words can lead the reader to create an image of yourself and your personality. We would need a separate article for that, and we will probably write it soon. We just wanted to trigger some active thinking in you about this topic.

Our Recommendations

Some of the potential biases are not super easy the be de-biased, right? Some others are a bit easier. Below is a summary of some quick-wins you can obtain while creating your résumé:

  • No profile photo
  • No Age
  • No full address, just specify your city or your region
  • No Citizenship. In case it is relevant, provide your VISA status
  • In your summary avoid info about your sexual orientation, marital status, political or religious orientation
  • Think about reducing the information about dates if you prefer to make your age not too obvious
  • Beware that some words can be associated with a particular personality
  • User gender-free nouns

The role of the company

It is important to mention that companies should do their part too, which is totally in their interest. In fact, diversity and inclusion give significant business advantages.

Hiring managers should learn how to de-bias their practices and there is a lot of progress. For example, do you know that companies sometimes perform blind résumé reviews? Yes, some Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are able to automatically scrape out personal or irrelevant information from résumés in order to reduce the bias effect.

In summary, you should aim to have an ATS-cleared version of your résumé identical to the original one in order to not lose its flavor.

How can help you?

We just released a new component that highlights words and sentences that in our opinion need your attention, providing suggestions on how to improve the language in order to be more impactful. It includes the most common words that can lead to bias, it detects the use of non-gender-free terms and also highlights the use of good and empowering words!

This feature is available for the fields summary, skills, and job highlights. Just type some words and the suggestions will appear. Give it a try!

If you wish to comment or like the post, please visit the post in Medium.

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