3 Hiring Practices that Disadvantage Black Students

Learn how to address systemic challenges by modifying your qualified student search criteria.

From day one, our mission at Handshake has been to democratize access to opportunity and ensure any student, including Black students, can build a great career—no matter who they know, where they live, or which school they attend. This ethos trickles down to how we enable leading employers to recruit with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Employers tend to have a lot of discussion with inclusion leaders about how they can leverage digital tools like Handshake to find diverse pockets of qualified students, without ever thinking about how they’re defining the term “qualified” and more importantly why.

With our world engaging in a movement to ensure minorities, especially Black Americans, are treated with equity, inclusivity, and respect, we went back to the drawing board to attempt to find answers to these questions supported by data.

As part of that process, we identified a few standard employer practices that are actually disadvantageous to Black students, who are a big target segment for employers looking to fill their recruiting goals.

We crunched data from our network of more than 6M+ active students across 1K+ partner schools, including 170+ minority-serving institutions like Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 150+ diverse student groups like the National Society for Black Engineers (NSBE).

Here’s what we found:

1. GPA cut-offs for roles exclude a large percentage of Black students

GPA requirements reduce a large percentage of Black students from your applicant pool.

Last year we first reported that GPA isn’t an accurate predictor of performance and what attributes employers should look for instead.

When employers filter for GPA criteria, they end up overlooking and unintentionally excluding nearly 1.5x Black candidates from their ideal talent list. Our data found that, while nearly 6 in 10 of non-black student applications submitted have a GPA above a 3.5, only 4 in 10 of Black student applications submitted have a GPA above a 3.5.

Handshake network data is supported by findings from the US Department of Education during the ‘07-’08 academic year, which confirms that while 75% of white bachelor degree recipients had a GPA of 3.0 or higher, for Black bachelor degree recipients that number was closer to 55%.

Now that we know the numbers, what are the underlying causes behind this disproportionality? First off, equity isn’t exclusive to GPA. Inaccess to equity permeates across all facets of society.

The Black-white achievement gap extends from which school districts get more funding on a macro-level, to which students perform better in standardized tests on a personal level. While these disparities have narrowed in recent decades, we’re still a way to go before we can truly democratize access to opportunities.

Unequal access to key educational resources, including skilled teachers, class size, and quality curriculum, all play an important part. And even if a Black student makes it to dorms on leafy-green campuses, disadvantaged students still live in poverty’s shadow.

A large portion of jobs posted on Handshake don’t have GPA requirements listed. In reality, candidates offer more to employers than just their GPA, so employers should focus on other qualities like skills, coursework, experience, and extracurriculars to determine qualifications and fit.

When The Whirlpool Corporation reduced their use of GPA as a proxy for skills and potential, for example, they saw their percentage of underrepresented minority hires increase from 35% to 40% YOY. Learn how they did it by reading their story here.

2. Rigid recruiting windows give little time for students to prepare and perfect their resumes and job applications

Recruit year-round to open the door for busy Black candidates to complete applications on their own time.

Black college students worry about those back home just as much as those back home worry about them, according to a personal account in The New York Times. This narrative implies that these students, who are more likely to be first generation college students, are prioritizing making a living alongside their coursework.

A 2011 study shows that white Americans tend to have more wealth than Black Americans—regardless of education level. The study furthers that “rather than education leading to wealth, it’s wealth that facilitates the acquisition of an expensive education.” Not to mention the privilege of not having to work multiple jobs to be able to afford that education.

In the same vein, Black students tend to have more on their plates than their peers. This leads us to the assumption that Black students don’t have the same opportunities to iterate on their resumes, cover letters, transcripts, and letters of recommendation within the three week window when applications are typically open during the fall and spring.

Remarkable employees and qualified candidates shouldn’t be measured based on how many homework assignments they turned in, or whether they are able to complete their applications in time, because often, there are underlying factors to consider.

Having an always-on talent engine, meaning a strong recruiting presence throughout the year, allows for these students to submit applications when they have the time, space, and most importantly, the means to do so.

3. Nontransparent applications discourage Black students from applying to your roles

Clarify compensation and reduce documentation beyond a resume to increase applications from Black students.

Similar to our findings around GPA criteria, Black students are likely going into the application process with less foundational knowledge from their parents and their networks.

A higher proportion of white adults in America have a bachelor’s degree or higher as compared to Black adults. This means that when Black students go to college, they are more likely to not have parents that finished their undergraduate degree or attended a higher education institution at all.

Additionally, this means that folks in their parent’s networks are also less likely to have a college degree, which already leaves them at a disadvantage when it comes to navigating the application process, networking, and relying on resources to help with applications.

Navigating the application for your first job is already a challenge for many, so not having that support from the people you hold dear can contribute to the never-ending systemic cycles of oppression Black students tend to face.

The more information employers can disclose in their job criteria, the more applications they’re likely to receive from Black students. Additionally, simplifying the application process can help, too. To complement our findings around recruiting windows, Black students are more likely to get stuck or not have enough time to perfect the application process.

This can lead to their inability to submit supplemental content like cover letters, transcripts, work samples, and letters of recommendation because they have more going on in their lives than just the courses they’re working through.

Supplementary application material may be considered worthwhile for cutting down resume volume and weeding out unqualified candidates when comparing apples to apples, but that’s simply not the case here. We have a very antiquated recruiting process designed to disadvantage and create stumbling blocks for Black talent that have often already had to overcome the hurdles involved in getting to college in the first place.

It’s 2020. Let’s change how we go about the application process and find more meaningful and accessible ways to find top talent.

Closing thoughts

These findings confirm the need for employers to help level the systemic inequality gap by leaving behind antiquated measurements that have traditionally defined a candidate’s likelihood for success, like GPA. And to give Black students more time to complete their applications, while providing information that’s critical to their decision-making.

Low grades already sap the academic self-confidence of Black students. Let’s not add insult to injury here, and make a commitment to look at better measure than GPA to truly assess candidate potential.

Instead, employers can be proactive in answering Black student’s questions through personal one-on-one messaging, and provide those FAQs for all to see on their Employer Page. Employers should also lean on soft skills assessments to identify growth mindedness, as opposed to test scores and GPAs. Finally, employers can lean on their ambassadors to create more meaningful relationships and identify great additions to the team.

We hope that these findings provide you with a good place to start. Together, we can truly carve the path for democratizing opportunities for all students and level the playing field for Black talent.