Callback Rates Higher for Minority College Students Who “Whiten” Their Resumes, Reveals New Study

Posted By Terri Williams on May 19, 2016 at 11:45 am
Callback Rates Higher for Minority College Students Who “Whiten” Their Resumes, Reveals New Study

“Diversity” may be the current workplace buzzword, but research shows that some minority applicants aren’t taking any chances. They believe they can improve their chances of being considered for a job by altering parts of their resume to change foreign-sounding names and omitting college activities that could reveal their race.

According to a new study by researchers at the University of Toronto and Stanford University, 36% of minority college students admit to resume “whitening.” And even among respondents who didn’t engage in this practice, 66% of them knew other people who did.

In the study, the researchers tested whether or not “whitening” resume techniques resulted in better outcomes for job applicants. The results reveal that students eliminating elements of diversity from their resumes are in fact seeing better job response rates than those who are not.

Below are some of the whitening practices that researchers found:

Whitening Technique Example
Altering first name Changing traditional Chinese name to a more American sounding name
Using additional name Including both Korean and American name “so it sounds less foreign”
Omitting experience Not including involvement with the National Society for Black Engineers
Changing description of experience Instead of writing [University] Black Christian Fellowship, just write [University] Christian Fellowship
Adding white experience Being sure to include involvement in white campus social clubs


Respondents who believed in whitening their resumes listed two motives:

  • Get their foot in the door
  • Be familiar, relatable to employers

Respondents who refused to engage in resume whitening listed the following reasons:

  • Can’t omit an integral part of their resume
  • Wouldn’t want to work for a company that would hold ethnicity against them
  • Consider ethnicity a crucial part of their identity
  • Believe that being smart is more important than ethnicity
  • Assume that targeted employer values diversity

The researchers also sent both untouched and whitened resumes in response to regular job ads, and also to ads that specifically claimed to value diversity. However, there wasn’t much difference in responses between the two types of organizations.

Callback Rates for Black Applicants Callback Rates for Black Applicants Callback Rates for Asian Applicants Callback Rates for Asian Applicants
All job ads Job ads with pro-diversity language All job ads Job ads with pro-diversity language
No whitening 10% 11% 11.50% 11%
Whitened first name 13% 15% 18% 18%
Whitened experience 18% 20% 16.50% 20%
Whitened first name and experience 25.50% 25% 21% 22%


The solution? Not always hiring people like you.

GoodCall spoke with Simma Lieberman, also known as “The Inclusionist,” who has trained such organizations as Boeing, Kaiser Permanente, UC Berkeley, and the Department of Transportation in their diversity and inclusion efforts. She’s not surprised by the study’s results and says hiring managers in her workshops have also looked at identical resumes and drawn different conclusions based on an applicant’s name and other identifiable factors.

“No matter how well-intentioned people in the hiring process are, unconscious bias that is unchallenged will be an obstacle to creating a more diverse workforce at all levels,” says Lieberman, who adds that recruiters tend to view the candidate most similar to themselves as the best hire. “And unfortunately, potential innovators and brilliant minds will be lost due to who is considered the ‘perfect fit.’”

She advises minority students to network and develop strong relationships in diverse venues in order to get connected. “Do what you can to be seen and heard as experts in your field to create a “halo” effect, and attract companies to you.” Knowing that these biases exist, Lieberman says the next step is to identify and develop ways to countermand these preconceived notions.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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