Mind the Gap If You’re a Woman Returning to Work

There’s been a steadfast, if unwritten, rule that if a woman wants equal footing professionally, any information related to home life stays at home. This concept is so strong that many people on both sides of the hiring process think it is illegal, or at minimum inappropriate, to ask personal information about children or marital status. And recruiters and career websites often advise women to find “creative ways” to disguise resume gaps caused by family matters.

New first-of-its-kind research from two Vanderbilt Law School economists contradicts conventional wisdom and finds a female applicant strongly raises her chances of getting hired if she gives personal information clarifying her resume gaps. And employers are legally allowed to ask these questions.

“Our study provides the first-ever evidence that women who conceal personal information dramatically lower their hiring prospects,” said Joni Hersch, professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt Law School. In their experiment, Hersch and co-author Jennifer Bennett Shinall had 3,022 subjects act as “potential employers” and choose between two job candidates, described as mostly similar except for their openness about a 10-year gap in their job histories.

“Employers overwhelmingly preferred to hire candidates who provided information to explain a resume gap, regardless of content. Any information that could flesh out a woman’s job history and qualifications improved employment prospects relative to no explanation for an otherwise identical job candidate,” added Shinall.