If you think about it a moment, an early experience with bias was our first job application. A job announcement is essentially a statement of bias. The employer can write the job application any way they choose. They determine the skills, qualifications, requirements, educational standards and salary levels for the job. They decide how long the job announcement stays open. They can even influence how the job notice is distributed. And ultimately, they decide who gets interviewed as well as who gets hired.
I have been thinking about this issue after talking to some of my Generation Boomer friends who lost their jobs as a result of the Great Recession. Some of them think they are being victimized by age bias in their current job pursuits. They are advised to not include a personal email address from AOL since employers will assume they are too old for the job. Get a Yahoo or Gmail email address they are told to make them appear more contemporary. A Latina friend of mine was instructed by a recruitment expert to drop Maria from her name and use the Anglicized version of Mary. Since she married a citizen of the USA and kept her maiden name, they suggested she use her husband’s red, white and blue Irish last name and not her birth name in job searches.
To make matters worse, here comes the US Merit Systems Protection Board in a January 2015 report which concluded that based on a 2011 survey of 10,000 federal government Human Resource professionals, that Uncle Sam may be biased in his hiring practices.
Some of their findings include:
• Overreliance on special hiring authorities that limit the size and composition of applicant pools.
• Misuse of hiring flexibilities by managers selecting favored candidates.
• Human resource professionals seeing their role as customer service agents to supervisors as opposed to protectors of merit and opponents of prohibited personnel practices.
The late President Theodore Roosevelt must be turning over in his grave as remnants of the spoils system appear to be raising their ugly heads at the federal level. Is the current meritocracy system advocated for by our 26th President of hiring the best qualified candidates under attack by biased hiring officials?
John and Rhonda Hunter back in 1984 out of the University of Michigan wrote about how challenging it is to select the best applicant. They indicated that a typical job interview only increases the likelihood of choosing the best candidate by less than 2%. They concluded that if you combined that 2% with the 50% chance of landing a job by flipping coin, you only stand a 52% probability of selecting the right employee.
Is getting a job more luck or science? The late Lefty Gomez a Major League baseball pitcher may have had it right when he said, “I would rather be lucky than good.” Based on our current hiring climate, I think most federal government hiring officials would probably agree.