Bias Among Recruiters Based on Distance to Work

There has been much research about the effects—whether conscious or unconscious—of certain “indicators” on a job applicant’s résumé. For example, having certain “ethnically identifying” names can lower an applicant’s chances at a job.


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It may be better on your job application to be named Brian or John than Jamal or Lakisha, according to these data. But recent research suggests there may be even more hidden clues that impede an applicant’s chances.

Long Commutes Impact Applicants’ Job Chances

Oddly enough, an indicator that many may not have even considered shows up as a potential detractor for job candidates, according to some recent research: commute time!

According to David Phillips—who shares the results of his research into how employers respond to similar candidates who live in different areas and, potentially, have different commute times—”I tested how employers respond to similar applicants who report different residential addresses. I was particularly interested in whether perceptions of place can perpetuate poverty and inequality.”

Phillips and his team examined the impact of location on a number of low-wage jobs in the Washington, D.C., area in summer 2014. The researchers sent 2,260 résumés from fictional individuals to apply for these jobs.

Applicants were intentionally varied in their proximity to the job’s location and their neighborhood’s level of affluence. Of the 2,260 applicants, approximately 80% received no response whatsoever, while 20% received at least an invitation to interview.

Location, Location, Location

The results of this study showed that those living in close proximity to the job location typically had a better chance of getting a positive response. Phillips notes that there are potentially a number of reasons for this result.

For example, low-wage jobs tend to have high levels of turnover, and transportation can be a significant obstacle for many people working low-wage jobs.

At the same time, neighborhoods located farther away from certain urban centers tend to be less affluent and, therefore, associated with certain racial or socioeconomic preconceptions.

At a glance, this research certainly reinforces the idea that recruiters need to be constantly vigilant against potential unconscious bias, including bias that can be related to such seemingly innocuous factors as where an applicant lives.