Case Study: The Dangers of Assumptions


A highly-qualified candidate deals with a common reality in hiring practice; a well-known company celebrated for its commitment to and investment in diversity and inclusion has a blind spot in their identity. The result: a recruiting lesson about how assumptions can cost employers far more than just great employees.


We recently met with a job seeker whom we had been working with, providing guidance and recommendations with their job search. We began with reviewing their resume and providing feedback to help “fill in the gaps” to ensure that their strengths as a candidate would be highlighted. One of our suggestions to the candidate was to clearly indicate that they were “Authorized to work in the US without sponsorship.”

One can guess the regrettable reality candidates face if we are suggesting that kind of resume edit to an already exceptionally qualified job seeker. Too many otherwise eligible candidates find themselves in the rejection pile because companies can’t or won’t sponsor employee work visas – but go one step further into careless discrimination.

It is a common struggle – employers are often flooded by applicants who misrepresent their work status or seem like a great fit but cannot obtain a visa. But it is more often the case that employers don’t want to take the time and effort to screen intentionally and it is simply easier to screen candidates negatively based on surface assumptions. This practice is pervasive – and also illegal. But we’ll come back to that in a moment.

Back to our job-seeker. The candidate took our suggestion and had seen a marked difference in response from employers. We met again over coffee to check-in and see what other avenues they could pursue in their job search. Based on our prior work together, we had a really good sense of the type of position, company, and environment they were looking for.

We always want to provide our candidates with sound leads, contacts, and confidence, so we curated a list of five companies in Portland that we thought would make an ideal match for the candidate’s experience, skills and career desires.

Company #1 had unfortunately provided a cautionary tale and a really bad experience for the applicant. A few weeks prior, the candidate met a company director at a diversity event and had followed up with her after the event to express interest in career opportunities with the company. Much to the candidate’s (and our) dismay, the follow-up was met with a response that went something like this:

“Unfortunately, we can only hire people authorized to work in the US.”

Regrettable Irony: the job seeker is, of course, authorized to work in the US, and the director neglected to ask, assuming based on the applicant’s name and having no interest in finding out more about the candidate.

That is discriminatory hiring practice and it kills your employment brand (not to mention the whole workplace culture thing).

This applicant had the skills, knowledge, and experience to be a great fit for this company. The company had staked a large part of their brand identity on their value of cultural diversity and inclusion. But even when we are trying our best, we can fall short of our values. The question is – what are we willing to do about it?

We realized that if it could happen at Company #1 (who were TRYING to address equity issues and model inclusive practice), it must be a terribly common occurrence elsewhere, too. We viewed the unfortunate situation as an opportunity to work with the company, challenging old habits and building awareness as some first steps. The result: policy and process changes to avoid future missteps and clear guidance to set expectations of hiring managers.

Our cautionary case study provides wisdom for employers and job-seekers alike.

For Job Seekers- While it’s legal for employers to ask about a candidate’s work status in the US, many fail to do so appropriately, relying on discriminatory assumptions born of habit and convenience. To make it easier on yourself and the hiring manager, answer the question before they ask. If it’s a matter of being able to work in the country, or possessing the necessary certification, make sure that your resume reflects that key element the employer is looking for can help you make the cut in applying. On the flip side, you should NEVER be subjected to lines of questioning or other communication about your name, country of origin, or any other protected information. If an employer is doing that kind of behavior, it’s a red flag.

For Employers- First, we all know that making assumptions is human. But basing hiring decisions on them is illegal. Your snap judgments on the eligibility of a candidate on basis like national origin, sex, gender, age, or physical ability are a good way to land your company in hot water legally. Second, take a good hard look at what you are doing to ENSURE that qualified candidates like the job seeker we worked with aren’t “slipping through the cracks” of a broken or ill-conceived process. It would dismay the senior leadership more than a little to realize that they missed out on this candidate (and who knows how many others) simply because the organization was working with preconceived ideas about candidates.

REAL TALK: Diversity isn’t just a watchword or a statement on the careers page of your website. Having diversity events and ensuring that your organization is staffed with diverse team members is good, but it requires meaningful engagement and intentional regard for an equitable process. Headcounts aren’t enough.

For HR- It’s the company’s responsibility to make sure that discrimination in hiring, however unintentional or incidental, simply doesn’t occur. It’s also important to realize that every interaction with prospective applicants impacts your employment brand. Are the values your organization has identified being expressed in the hiring process and the candidates who are applying? If not, it may be time to “look under the hood” and ensure those values are translating as they should.

Do you see some of these challenges in your hiring and recruitment process?

We can help you address them with support and expertise you can trust.