Leave Religion Off Your Resume, With One Big “Unless …”

Science, man. Always bringing us down. The ice caps are melting, the coral reefs are dying, restaurants are less safe than food trucks, everyone’s a little bit racist. The latest blow comes from UConn, where experts took some time off from cheering for their women’s basketball team to figure out whether resumes from job applications that list affiliations with campus religious groups get fewer responses than resumes that don’t. The short answer? Yes, with an “and.” (The “and” being that the effect held true for every religion tested, even a made-up faith, except one.)

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that applicants who included a religious reference in their applications were less likely to get responses than those who did not, an effect that held true across most faiths. … The study used Catholic, evangelical Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, pagan and a made-up religion called Wallonian identities across different applications. All in all, résumés with a religion mentioned got 33% fewer responses than the completely secular ones.

There was one outlier — according to the report, résumés listing a Jewish affiliation received more responses than those listing other religions. “Not only did Jewish applicants not face discrimination but they also actually may have received preferential treatment by some employers — that is, they were more likely to receive an early, exclusive or solo response from employers, compared with all other religious groups combined,” the researchers wrote. “This suggests there is a subset of employers who show a preference for Jewish applicants.”

What’s going on here? Scientists don’t like to speculate — as bloggers, that’s our job — so they don’t draw any conclusions except, maybe, leave even your leadership role in your worship group off your resume if you want to get more calls. But we have some deeper thoughts.

First, Vox’s write up of the study includes a few more details:

In general, this “antireligious bias” was not specific to any religion — even those resumes with the made-up religion of “Wallonian” on them received the same treatment. Certain groups did fare worse than others, though. Muslims, for instance, received 38 percent fewer emails and 54 percent fewer phone calls than the control group. Although this study concentrated on the American South, it was a replication of an earlier study conducted by the same researchers looking at religious discrimination of job applicants in New England. In that study, applicants with religious affiliations on their resumes received 24 percent fewer phone calls than the control group. Again, Muslim applicants were discriminated against at the highest rate.

Seems like this isn’t a regional phenomenon, since this study specifically sent resumes throughout the South, one of the most densely religious areas of the country, and still found an anti-religious bias by hirers. But it’s not simply religious affiliation that turns employers off; atheism is bad too. Identifying as an atheist on one’s resume was as damaging as identifying as a Muslim. According to the research itself:

Muslims, pagans, and atheists suffered the highest levels of discriminatory treatment
from employers, a fictitious religious group and Catholics experienced moderate levels,
evangelical Christians encountered little, and Jews received no discernible discrimination.

Since my PhD is in drawing lightly-substantiated conclusions, I’m going to guess at what might be going on. Everyone hates activists. (Possibly everyone except activists, but then, I’ve known some self-haters, too.) They’re loud and pushy and demanding and can’t we all just get along? Progress will happen eventually, inevitably, without all this strident marching and shouting, won’t it? God, relax. You’re bumming us out almost as bad as the scientists.

If you put on your resume that you’re the leader of a pagan, Muslim, Catholic, or Wallonian organization, a potential employer might peg you as not merely a person of faith (good!) but a true believer (bad), someone who will agitate for what you believe in and ensure you make yourself heard. Who wants someone like that at their office if they could have someone who’s more go-along-get-along? To test that hypothesis, it would be fun to send out resumes that include leadership in activist groups from across the spectrum — The Ayn Rand Fans! Vegans Against Everything! — and see if those individuals also get fewer calls back from corporate America than their less pesky counterparts.

What’s up with the exception for the Chosen People? Perhaps it’s a halo effect. Jews are, in the American public imagination, associated with money and business (for better or for worse). Any given Zach Roth could be a member of the tribe, or he could be Episcopalian; but a Zach Roth who lists that he was President of Jews United for Justice signals that he’s a mensch. A fun way to test the theory would be to run the same experiment with Mormons, who are seen in a similar way, and discover if they too benefit from a religious affiliation often considered a plus.

In short, it seems like corporate America prefers its applicants to be religious, i.e., not atheist, in an understated way, not all in your face about it. Don’t “flaunt” your spirituality. Whatever happens in the Wallonian Church is your own business, as long as it stays behind closed doors.