Should You Include Your Dressage Hobby on Your Summer Associate Application?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 13, 2017 1:57 PM

Chad wonders whether he should mention his years at Choate when interviewing for a 2L summer associate position at Kirkland & Ellis. Bronwyn wants to include her water polo championship on her resume for K&L Gates, next to that alternative spring break work in Honduras, of course.

Should they? Yes, Chad should. But no, Bronwyn should not. Turns out that class signifiers, like boarding schools and blue-blood sports, make firms more likely to hire wealthy men for summer associates spots, while harming the chances of female applicants.

The 1 Percent Wants to Hire the 1 Percent...

When hiring for elite positions, such as summer associate spots at BigLaw firms, class matters. Research has shown that highly selective employers prefer applicants from wealthy families. Since you don't include your parents' wealth on your resumes, those class signals are often sent through more subtle means, such as awards (junior squash champion at the West Palm Beach Bath and Tennis Club, perhaps) or extracurricular activities (stallion breeding, maybe?).

We know that these signals make a difference in law firm hiring thanks to two researchers. Lauren Rivera, an associate professor at the Kellogg School of Management, and András Tilcsik, an associate professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, sent out fictitious law school resumes to 316 offices across 147 firms to see how class impacts legal success.

All applicants were largely the same except for differences in economic background. They were all in the top 1 percent of their class, were all on law review, and were all from second-tier schools without OCI (thus the need to send out individual resumes).

Genders were signaled through names, class through a more complicated symbiology:

For example, to capture the economic component of class, our lower-class applicants received an award for student-athletes on financial aid. To incorporate its educational competent, they listed being a peer tutor for fellow first-generation college students. By contrast, our higher class candidate pursued traditionally upper-class hobbies and sports, such sailing, polo, and classical music, while the lower-class candidate participated in activities with lower financial barriers to entry (e.g., pick-up soccer, track and field team) and those distinctly rejected by higher-class individuals (e.g., country music). But crucially, all educational, academic, and work-related achievements were identical between our four fictitious candidates.

...Well, the Male Half of the 1 Percent, at Least

The experiment went somewhat as expected. Employers overwhelming favored higher-class candidates, the researchers found, but with one major caveat: Those candidates had to be men.

Men from wealthy backgrounds had a callback rate four times higher than other applicants. They received more interviews than all other applicants combined.

Rich women didn't get the same benefit. A woman who had an identical resume, except for the name, performed much worse than her male counterparts. Indeed, women from a lower-class background were almost twice as likely to be invited to interview than women from more privileged origins. Only lower-class men performed worse than rich women.

When the researchers interviewed attorneys, they found that lawyers rejected lower-class candidates because they did not think they would be a good fit with the firm's culture. Wealthy women might blend in, they found, but hiring lawyers viewed them as uncommitted to working a demanding job. Such women were "flight risks" who would leave the law to raise a family, the attorneys assumed.

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