Several decades ago, clear employment laws were put in place in the U.S. to ensure that employers would make hiring decisions based only upon information that directly related to the requirements of the job. But despite these laws, many excellent job seekers sometimes still get passed over based on personal information that the hiring managers should never have known in the first place.
If we assume most employers abide by these laws, how do they get this information? It’s actually very easy. For the most part, it is given directly to them by candidates themselves. Ironically, candidates will (albeit unknowingly) cause their own demises by providing various details about their personal lives–without anyone ever asking them for a single detail.
How Can Employers Use Personal Information to Make Hiring Decisions?
Legally, they can’t. Unfortunately, while most employers tend to follow the law when it comes to what they can ask candidates, many find it difficult to overlook personal information that is voluntarily provided to them by the candidate. Most often, this information isn’t related to race, religion, nationality or any of these larger protected classes, but moreso on smaller scale details that most people do not think twice about when mentioning it to a potential employer.
While most HR professionals try to educate managers who practice this behavior and have likely even swayed some to act otherwise, the facts still remain- once candidates have left the building, and as long as nothing was said directly to them, who knows what type of discussions go on behind closed doors or even within someone’s own thoughts?
Part of the reason these type of hiring practices exist is because of various beliefs and assumptions that hiring managers might hold or make. But it is also partly because while job seekers can voluntarily share personal details about their life, managers still cannot ask questions about this information even if they really want to know more information.
Ironically, if the personal information provided would have been expanded upon a bit further, it may not have even had the same result. Without having all the information, hiring managers are left to draw their own conclusions to answer their own questions. As would be expected, their own conclusions almost always err on the “safe” side–the company’s side.
So that begs the question, what types of details are job seekers revealing that cause hiring managers to turn them away? Below are some examples of details that commonly get disclosed:
Random disclosure: “I am a single parent so I have learned ….”
Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “A single parent? I wonder how old the kids are? The fall and winter are our busiest time periods. I bet she’ll miss a lot of work when the kids get sick and we can’t really afford to have this person out so much…”
Random disclosure: “I only have a 3 year old son so I am free to.….”
Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “She only has one son but she looks pretty young. I am sure she will have more kids soon as this one is already three. This is such a key position though, I would hate for whoever we hire to go out on maternity leave because we wouldn’t have anyone to fill that role. We should keep looking…”
Random disclosure: “I recently went through a divorce….”
Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “I wonder how long ago that divorce was? He could really be going through a rough time right now. We should probably find someone who we know for sure can fully commit to the job without distractions…”
Random disclosure: “My spouse/other family member (or even worse, him/herself) was having all sorts of medical problems back then….”
Hiring Manager’s thoughts: “I wonder how long ago that was? I wonder what the problems were and if they are over and if it will affect his work.“ And this one, mostly applicable to smaller businesses–“Can you imagine what that could do to our health insurance premium”?
All of these random disclosures are typically revealed in an innocent way and for the most part, do remain that way and are not acted upon in a negative manner. But unfortunately, since employers can’t ask for further details, sometimes the ramifications can be far more than one would ever imagine. And sadly, the job seeker will never find out that it was a disclosure like this that caused the opportunity to slip away.
How do Job Seekers Avoid this Demise?
There is good news on that front! Since most employers do follow the letter of the law and do not ask questions about personal topics, job seekers can easily prevent themselves from falling into a situation like this by not revealing any personal details about their life. It’s that simple. And never list any personal information on a resume either. It is very important to either be intentional about not disclosing any personal details or if a disclosure has to come up to explain a circumstance, it needs to be detailed enough to explain away any future concerns.
Although much less common, it is also important to keep in mind that some disclosures could even cause prejudices to arise. We all know that some people do have very extreme opinions toward certain issues (divorce, single parenting, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, political views, age,etc). It should go without saying that some of these people might be in a capacity to make hiring decisions and could very quietly discriminate against those who disclose anything that goes against their personal, moral, or religious views despite the fact that it is not legal to do so. Since no person can ever really predict what other people might think or believe, it is best to not provide that information in the first place.
Lastly (and as always), job seekers should always do a Google review of their online content to assure that personal life details and circumstances are not viewable to the general public. Online content can easily prevent a job seeker from even getting an interview in the first place, so this is definitely a step that should never be overlooked.
Jessica Simko is a seasoned senior level Human Resources professional with over 15 years experience in all facets of Human Resources Management. She is a Career Coach and Consultant specializing in helping all levels of professionals create, build, and sustain a strong career brand. She strives to help connect people to their passions and to leverage their brands in their job search and in their careers. Utilizing the career branding model, she offers job search and career branding articles as well as a variety of coaching services at the Career Branding Guide. Feel free to connect with her on: