When you are looking for a new job, your Cover Letter and Resume act as a formal introduction to a potential employer. These documents advise hiring managers of who you are, your past experience and education, and how you, compared to all the other candidates, are the ideal person for the job.

With your Cover Letter and Resume, you want to showcase the best possible version of yourself and provide any information that is necessary for you to be considered. You also want to ensure the details you disclose about yourself don’t give an unprofessional hiring manager an opportunity to discriminate against you. 

In this post, we cover whether it is legal for an employer to discriminate against you when reviewing your application, and a few areas of your Cover Letter and Resume that you can modify to avoid discrimination in this stage of your job search.  

Is it Legal to Discriminate as an Employer?

It is not legal for an employer to do or say anything that can be construed as discrimination on the basis of skin color, sex, ethnicity, religion, disability, marital or familial status, and more (called the “prohibited grounds for discrimination”).

Discrimination can occur as an obvious prejudicial statement (for instance, if someone were to say they don’t hire women for a particular role because they aren’t strong enough) or it can be camouflaged and may sometimes seem unintentional (such as when an employer asks when you graduated and then uses this information to determine your approximate age). In fact, there’s a number of questions that employers should avoid asking applicants as they could be considered discriminatory if certain information—information protected by discrimination laws—is revealed and used to make a hiring decision.

The problem is that it can sometimes be difficult to prove that you’ve been denied employment based on discrimination, especially during the hiring stage. This is why you should do your best to give prospective employers only what they need to consider your job application and avoid providing information that could open you up to discrimination.

How Your Cover Letter or Resume Could Lead to Discrimination

Your Cover Letter and Resume are used to show a potential employer why you are the best candidate for a particular position in their company. Though employers should never use information that falls within prohibited grounds to make a hiring decision, you may be unable to prevent it from happening and, if it does, you may have difficulty proving that it did.

What you can do is tailor your Cover Letter and Resume so that it doesn’t include details that could be used to discriminate against you, particularly with your past or current experience, your graduation year, and your picture.

Your Past or Current Experience

Understandably, you want to include all your relevant experience on your Resume; however, if your past or current experience involves anything regarding prohibited grounds (such as volunteer work for your local church), you may want to try rewording the job item to help prevent discrimination.

For instance, let’s say you’ve volunteered at your heritage center for the last three years and have done numerous tasks that are relevant and transferable to a position you are applying for. Though this experience is great and those skills should be included in your Resume, you want to be cautious about including anything that could disclose your ethnicity to a potential employer (like the name of your heritage center).

Instead, candidates can use generic terms to describe a past or current position. For instance, instead of using the name of your heritage center (e.g. the “Portuguese Cultural Center”), simply use “Cultural Center”.

It’s not always easy or possible to use generic names for places you’ve worked, such as a church or mosque, but do what you can in order to ensure your resume is reviewed objectively.

Your Graduation Date or Picture

Employers are not allowed to ask for an applicant’s age or for any information that may reveal their age. Because of this, it may be in your best interest to remove things that could reveal or imply your age, such as:

  • Your graduation year, especially the year you graduated high school (the year you graduated can often tell someone your approximate age)
  • Your picture (though this can be a common practice outside of the United States, you should avoid including a picture as it informs prospective employers of your age as well as your gender, ethnicity, and other details that may fall under the prohibited grounds)
  • Your unrelated hobbies or extracurricular activities (certain hobbies or activities can imply your age, such as involvement in a college improv group may suggest that the person is part of a younger age group)
  • Past courses or certificates (in some instances, the date you received a past course or certificate can also date you; consider removing ones that aren’t relevant or removing the year of completion to avoid this)

Keep in mind, there are instances when being asked your age can be legal, if the question is worded properly. For example, if a position involves the sale of alcohol, the person who is hired needs to be above the age of majority and legally capable of selling those items to others. In this instance, it is legal for a prospective employer to ask an applicant if they are above the legal age for their state.

Sending in Your Resume

Whether or not you make changes to your Cover Letter and Resume is up to you (they’re your Cover Letter and Resume, after all), but being aware of how certain details can be used against you is important. Although employers are legally prohibited from discriminating against applicants under the protected grounds, it isn’t always easy to prove discrimination has occurred, especially during hiring.

Tailoring your resume so certain details (like your age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and more) are not included can help you avoid potential discrimination in the workplace. Use your judgment, and, no matter what you do, be sure your Cover Letter and Resume showcase your best skills and abilities for prospective employers.

Posted by Ashley Camarneiro

Ashley is an experienced researcher and writer with an interest in real estate, contract, and family law. Before starting at LawDepot in the summer of 2017, Ashley worked as a legal assistant in the corporate and family law sector.