Leave the Politics Off Your Résumé

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Studies about résumés are a pretty established tool of the trade for social scientists. For decades, researchers have been sending out fake résumés to employers to determine whether, given two otherwise equally qualified candidates, companies are more likely to show interest in men than women, white people rather than black people, or people with “normal” names rather than weird ones — among other variations.

Despite all this research, there had not been, to this point, any studies of whether political preference mentioned on résumés affects employer interest. And given recent evidence of increased polarization and “partyism” in American political life — Jon Chait wrote about the latter last month — it’s an important question.

Karen Gift and Thomas Gift, both professors at Duke University, decided to examine this in a study recently published in the journal Political Behavior. They figured that common sense would hold here: It would be beneficial to send slightly politicized résumés when the politics of the employer matched those of the applicant, and it would have a negative impact otherwise. Instead, they found that the potential benefits of flying your political flag are more than dwarfed by the potential costs.

For the study, the Gifts created some relatively impressive-sounding résumés for hypothetical recent graduates seeking entry-level work. Some randomly included information indicating the applicant worked for the 2008 Obama campaign and served in the College Democrats, others listed the McCain campaign and the College Republicans, and a third group included equally impressive-sounding, but politically neutral, activities.

Over the course of six months, the Gifts sent 1,200 résumés out to jobs based in two counties — one, Alameda County in California, rather liberal, and the other, Collin County in Texas, rather conservative (based on 2008 presidential-election results) — and tracked which résumés elicited follow-up interest. The results? Overall, “employers disfavor job applicants of opposing political stripes more than they favor like-minded candidates.” The benefits to like-minded candidates, in fact, weren’t even statistically significant as compared to politically neutral résumés.

Sure, if all of your prior work experience has been in politics or if you’re applying for an explicitly political job, it’s not realistic to leave politics off your résumé. But for everyone else, it’s probably the best bet.