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Résumé screening heuristic outcomes: an examination of hiring manager evaluation bias

Ozias A. Moore (Department of Management, Lehigh University College of Business, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA)
Beth Livingston (Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, University of Iowa Henry B Tippie College of Business, Iowa City, Iowa, USA)
Alex M. Susskind (Nolan School of Hotel Administration, Cornell S.C. Johnson College of Business, Ithaca, New York, USA)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 30 August 2022

Issue publication date: 3 February 2023

898

Abstract

Purpose

Hiring managers commonly rely on system-justifying motives and attitudes during résumé screening. Given the prevalent use of modern résumé formats (e.g. LinkedIn) that include not only an applicant's credentials but also headshot photographs, visible sources of information such as an applicant's race are also revealed while a hiring manager simultaneously evaluates a candidate's suitability. As a result, such screening is likely to activate evaluation bias. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of a hiring manager's perceptions of race-system justification, that is, support for the status quo in relations between Black and White job candidates in reinforcing or mitigating hiring bias related to in-group and out-group membership during résumé screening.

Design/methodology/approach

Drawing from system justification theory (SJT) in a pre-selection context, in an experimental study involving 174 human resource managers, the authors tested two boundary conditions of the expected relationship between hiring manager and job candidate race on candidate ratings: (1) a hiring manager's affirmative action (AA) attitudes and system-justifying attitudes and (2) a job candidate's manipulated suitability for a position. This approach enabled us to juxtapose the racial composition of hiring manager–job candidate dyads under conditions in which the job candidate's race and competency for a posted position were manipulated to examine the conditions under which White and Black hiring managers are likely to make biased evaluations. The authors largely replicated these findings in two follow-up studies with 261 students and 361 online raters.

Findings

The authors found that information on a candidate's objective suitability for a job resulted in opposite-race positive bias among Black evaluators and same-race positive bias among White evaluators in study 1 alone. Conversely, positive attitudes toward AA policies resulted in in-group favoritism and strengthened a positive same-race bias for Black evaluators (study 1 and 2). We replicated this finding with a third sample to directly test system-justifying attitudes (study 3). The way in which White raters rated White candidates reflected the same attitudes against systems (AA attitudes) that Black raters rating Black candidates exhibited in the authors’ first two studies. Positive system-justifying attitudes or positive attitudes toward AA did not, however, translate into the elevation of same-race candidate ratings of suitability above those of opposite-race candidates.

Research limitations/implications

Although the size of the sample is on par with the percentage of Blacks nationwide in private-sector managerial-level positions ideally, the authors would have preferred to oversample Black HR managers. Given the scarcity of focus on Black HR managers, future researchers, using diverse samples of evaluators should also consider not only managers' and candidates' race but also their social dominance orientation. Moreover, it is important that future researchers use more racially diverse samples from other industries to more fully identify the ways in which the dynamics of system-justifying processes can emerge to influence evaluation bias during résumé screening.

Practical implications

Advances in technology pose new challenges to HR hiring practices. This study attempts to fill a void regarding the unintended effects of bias during digital résumé screening. These trends have important HR implications. Initial screening of a job applicant's credentials while concurrently viewing the individual's photograph is likely to activate subconscious evaluation bias, produces inaccurate applicant ratings. This study's findings should caution hiring managers about the potential for bias to arise when viewing job candidates' digital résumés and encourage them to carefully examine various boundary conditions on racial similarity bias effects on applicant pre-screening and subsequent hiring decisions.

Social implications

The study’s results suggest that bias might be attenuated as organizational leaders engage in efforts to understand their system-justifying motives and examine perceptions of the workplace social hierarchy (i.e. responses to status hierarchies) linked to perceptions of the status quo. For example, understanding how system justifying motives influence evaluation bias will inform how best to design training and other interventions that link discussions of workforce diversity to the relationships among groups within the organization's social hierarchy. This line of research should be further explored to better understand the complex forces at work when hiring managers adopt system-justifying motives during hiring evaluations.

Originality/value

The authors address the limitations of prior research by examining interactions between boundary conditions in a real-world context using real human resources hiring managers and more contemporary personnel-screening practices to test changes in the direction and strength of the relationship between hiring manager–job candidate race and hiring manager evaluations. Thus, the authors’ findings have implications for hiring bias and understanding of system-justification processes, particularly regarding how, when and why hiring managers support the status quo (i.e. perpetuate inequity) even if they are disadvantaged as a result.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

Funding: This research was supported by a grant from the Bert Trucksess Foundation and CSCRL.

Citation

Moore, O.A., Livingston, B. and Susskind, A.M. (2023), "Résumé screening heuristic outcomes: an examination of hiring manager evaluation bias", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 42 No. 1, pp. 104-134. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-04-2021-0115

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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