Experts will tell us that there are many factors that play an important role in determining whether or not a job applicant is accepted. Some employers look at experience. Others consider reasons like attitude, intelligence, problem-solving skills or compensation requirements. But there's something else that many employers consider and it has very little to do with how well an employee can perform the requirements of a job. It's where he or she lives.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame sent 2,260 resumes from fictional people - all from different proximities - to a collection of low-wage jobs in the Washington, D.C. area in 2014 as part of a study to prove this theory. Four out of five of the fake applications received no response, a handful were rejected and about one in five were invited for an interview.
The result? According to the study, job applicants who lived further away from a potential employer were accepted less frequently for the position than those who lived closer. That distance didn’t have to be as far as you think, either. The study also found that applicants who lived even as little as five or six miles from a prospective job received about one-third fewer callbacks for another interview.
As an employer, I don't find the results surprising and I’m sure neither do most of my clients. We like to hire people that live as close to our location as possible. Why? It’s because I’ve seen - anecdotally - that employees who live further away sometimes get sick and tired of the commute and are more inclined to find work closer to home. Does race or class bias also factor in? It's of course possible but the study's authors were careful to keep these factors out of the data.
"When I presented employers with two applicants from neighborhoods with similar levels of affluence but different commute distances, they still preferred the nearby applicant," writes David Phillips in the Harvard Business Review. "I also edited all aspects of the fictional person’s name, work history, education, etc., so people from different neighborhoods appeared similar on average. Other factors equal, proximity matters.”
Phillips says that greater awareness, an improvement in urban transportation options and funding and an increased involvement by local government and social services organizations would help improve the chances of job applicants getting hired even when they live in a more distant location.
However, I think that one big factor is being overlooked: the economy. In 2014 the nation's unemployment rate was as high as 6.6 percent and economic growth was still struggling to regain momentum from the last Great Recession. Today, things are very different: growth is stronger and our unemployment rate has fallen to levels not seen since the late 1960’s. Good employees are at a premium and most of my clients are desperately looking to fill unfilled positions. I'm not so sure a five to six mile - or even a fifty-mile commute - would play as big a part in their decision to hire someone as it did just a few years ago.
But that still doesn't undermine the value of Phillips' research. All things being equal, it seems that we employers do have a bias towards hiring people that live closer to our companies. That bias - whether recognized or not - may be taking away jobs from good people - and it may be costing us good people to help grow our companies. My advice is to ignore the address at the top of the resume and focus on the skills listed within it.