How To Discriminate-Proof Your Resume

This topic has been a favorite of mine for over a decade. I have taught countless classes, seminars and webinars on this very topic. People long to be examined by their skills and experience, not their age, race, gender or religious affiliation. Granted, the very thing that one person can be discriminated against another can be found desirable for the very same attribute. So, as with all things in life there is a give and take balance to achieve.

For my regular readers, you already know that I am big on definitions and defining phrases or terms. What exactly does “discriminate-proof” even mean? “Discriminate” , as defined by the Google dictionary states this, “make an unjust or prejudicial distinction in the treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, sex, or age.” To discriminate-proof one’s resume is simply to lessen the vulnerability of an individual in being discriminated against based on components of an applicant that are not relevant to the actual role in which one is applying. Let it be clearly stated, the reality is that there is no real full-proof plan in eliminating discrimination all together.

Before we even begin dipping our toes into creating a discrimination-proof resume, let’s discuss why this is even a topic worthy of discussion. The reason this needs to be conversed over is because each and every resume that is viewed, is viewed by a human being. Yes, there are many technical steps that can sort down to a top few candidates, but when a resume is truly viewed that task is completed by a recruiter or manager of sorts. OK, so tell you something you don’t already know!

That recruiter or manager could be twenty-five, or thirty-five or fifty-five or sixty-five! They could be male or female. They could be Christian or Atheist or Muslim. Maybe that recruiter is Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Latin. Let’s dig deeper, maybe this recruiter reviewing your resume is gay, or had an abortion or is Democrat or Republican. I bet you have never seriously considered the person reading your resume is a mixture of these (and others) components.

So what does that have to do with my resume? PERSPECTIVE

There is a saying that I use all the time when teaching this class and other one’s like it…”Right, Wrong or Indifferent”. Consciously or sub-consciously there is a little discrimination in everyone, many are professional enough to subside it. Right, wrong or indifferent, your resume has, does and will come under scrutiny. For the twenty-five year old when they receive a resume that begins with an “objective” paragraph that says, “With over 25 years of experience”, they might find themselves thinking that person is really old! Remember when you were a ten year old and you thought thirty was ancient? For those today who are fifty-five, when you were twenty-five you thought that you were ultra mature and life savvy, now what do you think of twenty-five? Of course I am painting with a broad brush, but hopefully you get the picture.


Your resume speaks for you when you cannot speak for yourself. Do not allow it to say more than it can defend. The reality is that your resume cannot defend itself on its own. Do not offer information about yourself that ultimately becomes an identifier. Remember, not everyone thinks like you, agrees with your ideologies or comes from where you come from.

A basic resume includes, but not limited to:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Education
  • Employment History
  • Special Skills & Certifications

These are all good things and the goal is to leave these in their purest of forms. Lets go through this list and point out some best practices for each:

  • Name
    • Face it, not much we can do here and gender can be identified easily
    • Some people choose to use initials such as, “M. Walker” – Not really a best practice.
    • Do not identify as Mrs. or Ms. – Marital status can be discriminating factor
  • Contact Information
    • Email Addresses – Personal email addresses can be telling of someone’s personal life. Make sure you have a professional, personal email address. (i.e. – -this is an identifying email address)
  • Education
    • Dates are not necessary, especially beyond 5 years – this is a great indicator of age. Dates will be provided on an application which is the legal document.
    • Education obtained is most important (B.S. Mechanical Engineering, University, City/State)
  • Employment History
    • Dates ARE necessary, but stick with the last 10-15 years tops
    • Dates are necessary to show stability which is a legitimate factor
  • Special Skills & Certifications
    • Only provide professional certifications. It is not necessary to let anyone know you are a certified firearms instructor unless that is part of the job requirements.
    • Ordained religious official – this is clearly an identifier

Now that we have covered some basics, lets dive into the areas that are often found on resumes that create the most trouble for applicants. Again, a person may never know that they are being discriminated against and it could very easily be for one of these reasons.

  • Photos – Probably very little need for explanation. Please leave them off.
    • Insider tip – Photos on a resume create immediate liability for a recruiter. Any time I receive a resume with a photo I send it back to the candidate and request they remove the photo and re-apply. As an applicant you have immediately told me your race, gender and approximate age, this is a problem. I am very clear that one’s appearance is irrelevant to the qualifications for that particular role. CYA all day!
  • Objective – DANGER ZONE – People love to write objectives at the very top of their resume. Often they shoot themselves in their own foot before they even get out of the gate. Here are some common mistakes that could be potential discrimination targets:
    • Years of experience –With over XX years of experience, I am seeking…” BOOM, the recruiter or manager now knows about how old you are.
    • Stay At Home Mom – “I am seeking an opportunity that will allow me to jump back into the professional world after taking the last 10 years off to raise my kids to school age.”  No one needs to know you have children. This is a hot topic for many. There is a famous talk show host here in Atlanta, Neal Boortz, that often stated that if he could, he would not hire any woman with young children because they always need time off. Trust me people, this happens so be careful what you offer up!
  • Affiliations and Organizations
    • Racial Specific Groups: “Coalition of Black Engineers”, “Asian-American Association of Software Developers”, National Association of Hispanic Educators”, etc. You have now just identified your race. Again, you have no idea who is reading your resume, don’t give them more information than is necessary.
    • Religious Specific Groups: “National Association of Christian Athletes”, “Jewish Community of Political Leaders”, etc.
    • Volunteer Work: “Intake Volunteer at Planned Parenthood”, “Youth Leader at Sample Baptist Church”, “Campaign Volunteer for Ronald Reagan”, “Quit Smoking Hotline Representative Volunteer”, etc.
    • PLEASE NOTE: I am very aware that many of these types of organizations are steeped in great tradition, identity and prestige. Any individual should be very proud that they participated or held office and it is understandable the desire to share that. The reality though is it is an identifier and not everyone sees from the same perspective.
  • Hobbies
    • Marathon/Triathlons – True story. I have had on more than one occasion hiring managers tell me that they didn’t want anyone big in either of these because it takes too much time to train for them. Based on what they shared with me there reservations came from honest places, due to experience, and they were jaded. I couldn’t discriminate but the managers quietly, without my direct knowledge, did (at least that is my hunch).
    • Long Lists – When a person provides a dozen or more hobbies this could lead someone to believe that a job simply will get in your way. Yep that is judging, but it happens; right, wrong or indifferent.
    • Coaching/Teaching  – This can immediately inform a potential employer that you have kids and that you have a dedicated time you must be somewhere several nights per week. Your resume doesn’t tell this recruiter or manager that you only coach on Saturday mornings or the piano lessons you teach can be moved to any day or time.

What may be true for you a this moment is what I often find true for my participants during my classes. You may be feeling the need to defend every bullet in these lists.

Maybe you are thinking: 

  • My age should be an asset
  • My religion should show my commitment and honesty
  • My race can offer diversity
  • My experience running a household is transferable (which it really is)
  • The fact I have kids show I need to work and I will be loyal
  • My marathon running shows I am driven and healthy

I get it, trust me, I get it. The goal is to try to lessen the amount of discrimination that you may endure (knowingly or unknowingly) when someone reviews your resume. There is no magic bullet to this, people are still people. Some recruiters feel the pressure of their managers who are so adamant that a woman can’t lift those boxes, that they find themselves subconsciously screening female resumes out. The reality is that you do not know who is going to pick up your resume first and what their perspective is. One person will see you as the tenured, well-experienced fifty year old and others will think you are past your prime. Some may think you have too much going on, with the kids and all, to really take your job seriously yet the single mom recruiter will view you as the best possible person for the team because you have a reason to come in to work each day.

These tips and techniques are simply provided to be one more tool in your job search tool belt. Ensure that the information you are offering about yourself is relevant to the role, the level of the role and possibly even take the company’s industry into consideration. The goal is to strike enough interest to get to the big show, “the interview”. Your resume is your golden ticket and hopefully considering some of these strategies it can cause yours to shine a bit brighter than the rest.

2 thoughts on “How To Discriminate-Proof Your Resume

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