Six seconds isn’t long to make an impression – especially not one that will determine the path of your future. But six seconds is all it takes for recruiters to make an initial ‘fit or no fit’ decision from a CV. In light of this, it is all the more concerning that the definition of a good CV remains so male-centric that it places many women at a significant disadvantage. Read on to explore this concept and learn a few top tips to overcome this challenge – whether as a candidate or as a recruiter.

The ‘Science’ of CV Screening

In 2012, thirty professional recruiters were subjected to a scientific eye tracking study over a ten-week period (TheLadders); their eye movements were recorded and analysed as they reviewed candidate CVs. This demonstrated not only how quickly recruiters will form a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ impression but also which specific elements of the CV were zoned in on, in order to reach this crucial conclusion. Perhaps not surprisingly, the key areas of visual focus were name, current title and company, current position start and end dates, previous title and company, previous position start and end dates, and education. The question is, does this suggest some pretty fundamental gender bias? The answer is – yes.


How so? Well it boils down to the immediate assumptions made from the above information. Assumptions that will be made very quickly (six seconds, remember!), often in the absence of supporting background information. Here are a few typical examples:

* He/she left the last job two years ago and has not worked since. Assumption: lacks recent market experience or contacts.

* There’s no sign of career progression in recent years. Assumption: lacking ambition. Either that, or simply not cut out for promotion.

* There are some gaps in employment. Assumption: can’t hold down a job, hops from one thing to the next, and might well have been fired on more than one occasion.

* Recent years are populated by lots of short contracts or freelance work. Assumption: could be a bit flighty, and may not be cut out for a traditional full time permanent role.

For recruiters, it is far easier to eliminate such candidates from the process, in favour of those whose CVs present a clear and fluid story of progress, success and reliability. Easy, but most definitely not fair, appropriate or rigorous, and highly unlikely, therefore, to bear weight in an employment tribunal (at least in the absence of any additional, more solid reasons for rejection).

Defining the ‘Good CV’ – It’s all a bit Male-Centric

To be fair on recruiters, when they’ve multiple candidates applying for every role, it simply isn’t feasible to meet or contact every single one for a detailed Q&A. The CV is, in itself, the very first sifting tool within the process. Inevitably, some must get rejected in favour of others. What matters, though, is that this is for reasons that are justifiable and appropriate, non-discriminatory and fair. If, as a recruiter, you couldn’t comfortably stand face to face with the rejected candidate, look them square in the eye, and explain the basis for your decision to decline … well, then it’s time to rethink the decision.

When the definition of a ‘good cv’ is based on continuity of employment, longevity in each role, steady and progressive career trajectory, and a largely ‘traditional’ nature of full time permanent

employment, then there is one demographic that disproportionately benefits from a natural head start; and that’s men. And that, put simply, isn’t fair.

The intention here isn’t to embark on some sort of male-bashing feminist rant. Not least because the problem stems from a biological imperative – only Mum can give birth and legally she can’t go back to work for at least two weeks. But, in spite of attempts to level the playing field with Shared Parental Leave, uptake has been far lower than expected, indicating that, for a multitude of reasons (active choice, stereotype and bias, or financial constraints, to name but a few) it is predominately women whose roles in the workplace have to be either dovetailed alongside, or sacrificed in favour of the equally demanding role of Family CEO.

As for the financial constraints, according to The Sunday Times, the average woman in a full-time job earns £24,202. A parent assuming the role of primary carer needs to earn at least £40,000 / year to make any profit from going to work (deducting nursery costs, travel and pension contributions). So, it is only high income potential, pre-existing wealth, or a reliance upon wider family support (e.g. grandparents) that enables the primary carer to afford returning to a standard full time job. And, since, for most people the favourable version of events is to be paid to go to work, and not the opposite, this goes some way towards explaining the reason why the majority of mothers have little option but to take a career break. Equally, however, that doesn’t mean they should meet a brick wall when trying to re-join the workforce. A parental career break (whatever your gender, in fact) should, in an ideal world, bat no eyelids.

Overcoming the Career Break Bias: Practical Tips for Employers

Some CV sifting decisions are made very easy for recruiters: a CV that is littered with typos, bears no resemblance to the advertised person specification, and is poorly laid out is very easily tossed on to the reject pile. Equally, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those CVs appear to be the perfect fit (on paper, at least). It’s the middle ground that is trickier territory; assumptions that you make here more readily for female applicants than for male applicants can not only be dangerous but also discriminatory and therefore costly. Here’s some tips on avoiding bias:

* Best practice encourages candidates to remove personal data from their CV which could result in bias (e.g. name, marital status, and date-bound information which could lead to assumptions about their age). CVs presented in this way can still be written chronologically, but should reference purely the role details, and relevant skills and achievements. In the absence of start and end dates, you can simply ask candidates to state their reason for leaving each position. There is absolutely no circumstance in which it would be acceptable to reject someone on the basis that they had left a role in order to meet childcare needs.

* Consider a very basic, hassle free and structured assessment measure in between the CV and first interview stages. Your initial CV sift should eliminate only those candidates whose skills and experience do not measure up to the essential role requirements. An unexplained career break, or gaps in employment are a point for further discussion and query, but are not reason enough for rejection. All candidates through the initial CV sift should then complete a personality assessment; a valid, reliable and highly predictive tool which enables you to shortlist based on whose personality and work style best fits the role and the company. Personality tests usually produce detailed reports which are both informative and provide an excellent feedback tool. The assessment process means that you will bring through to interview stage only with those whose skills, experience and personality fit have already been identified as high potential, thus reducing the candidate pool considerably on very fair and reasonable grounds. The interview presents you with the perfect opportunity to enquire about any gaps in the CV and establish facts rather than make assumptions.

Overcoming the Career Break Bias: Practical Tips for Candidates

For candidates, returning to the workplace after a career break can be a very daunting prospect. Writing a great CV is the first hurdle, and not least because you need to find a way to make two years of negotiating with a toddler seem as valuable as two years of negotiating deals on the sales floor. What’s the solution, then?

* Don’t try to hide your career break – unexplained gaps allow too much room for assumption. Instead, openly note it on your CV – provide dates, and call it what it is (a planned career break, a parental career break, or maternity/paternity leave). No further explanation required.

* Do your research – many companies these days are openly advertising their positive stance on diversity and inclusion, and in particular on supporting women returners. Some even offer specific return-ship programmes. It’s well worth targeting companies with a strong leaning towards diversity and inclusion as part of your job search.

* Perfect your CV layout: Remember you have 6 seconds to make that impression. The last thing you want to do is waste a single millisecond of it. Your CV needs to achieve two things in this critical window; clarity and clout!

‘Clarity’ will come from the structure and layout of your CV. Start with a well- constructed summary (your ‘elevator pitch’, which needs to be short and impactful), then use clear subheadings or sections. Avoid a ‘skills based’ CV – recruiters tend to find these tiresome to navigate. Instead opt for chronology, and use short, succinct sentences and bullet points to illustrate each role in more depth.

‘Clout’ will be achieved through describing your achievements, not just listing your duties. Remember, this is a CV, not a job description, and its purpose is to sell you in.

* If you have made use of your career break to engage in any activities or projects that add value to your profile, then include them somewhere visible. Be sure to mention the related skills learnt, and any landmark achievements. Examples include voluntary work, running local community or charity events and activities, being a Governor or Trustee, or involvement in the PTA. All these things demonstrate a level of self-motivation and commitment, and draw upon many of the skills needed in the workplace.

* Include any project or freelance work, however minor you regard it to be. Again, it helps paint a picture of someone who keeps themselves busy, is proactive and has taken steps to keep their skills up to date and their contacts active beyond the world of Tumble Tots. Ditto any educational courses or qualifications – professionally related or otherwise. It all counts!

* Spend time sprucing up your LinkedIn profile, it is a valuable tool to supplement your CV. Updated and refresh your connections, maximise your profile by joining and engaging with professionally relevant groups. If you have any work examples, thought leadership articles and so forth, you could post links to these on your page. Once you have done this, add a link to your profile within your CV to demonstrate your current activity and engagement levels within your professional community.

* Finally, network, network, and network some more. If your CV can be put in front of the recruiter / hiring manager by a trusted mutual contact, you stand a much better chance of rising to the top of the pile. And if someone is recommending you for a job, equip them with your ‘elevator pitch’ so that they can sell you in with impact.

At great{with}diversity we assess how diversity and inclusion influences employee opinions and perceptions through every step of the employment journey with your organisation, and across multiple minority groups. We offer a unique range of questionnaires that focus on the perceived importance and impact of bias in the workplace, rather than census gathering and box ticking in the name of diversity and inclusion. We can support you in building greater diversity and inclusion into your hiring practices, and help you to be the brand and employer of choice.

If you need some help with understanding how to attract, retain and engage a diverse workforce we’re the right people to speak to. For more information on our products and services please visit our website