Work History and Hiring

American workers are increasingly employed in jobs that are temporary, part-time, or mismatched with their education and skills. Despite this trend, little is known about how these employment histories affect workers’ labor market opportunities by gender.

In a recent American Sociological Review article, David Pedulla presents results from an audit study and survey experiment that tested how “nonstandard employment” (work that is not full-time and not expected to continue in the long-term) and “mismatched employment” (when a worker’s skills or preferences do not fit the characteristics of their job) affected long-term unemployment. The audit study was conducted in five cities, testing resumes based on gender and most recent work experience. The survey experiment had 900 respondents who make hiring decisions. Respondents rated matched resumes, differing only by the applicant’s work history, on scales of competence and commitment—key aspects employers seek in the hiring process.

Pedulla’s findings suggest that the consequences of nonstandard work are contingent on gender. Women were penalized in the hiring process for skills underutilization (having excessive skills, education, or experience for their recent jobs), but not for reporting part-time jobs, temporary work, or periods of unemployment. In fact, women’s resumes with part-time work histories had nearly identical callback rates to those with full-time, standard work histories. The author suggests employers may believe women regularly and voluntarily seek part-time work due to their (assumed) parental status.

The results are more scarring for men. Men with part-time and skills underutilization in their reported work histories had similar competence and commitment ratings to men with a full year of unemployment. Among men, nonstandard work histories may signal negative characteristics, while for women, nonstandard work is acceptable as an assumed product of parenthood.