Cancer Center

Cancer Survivors Less Likely to Receive Callbacks from Potential Employers

Job applicants who are cancer survivors are less likely to receive callbacks from potential retail employers than those who did not disclose their health history, according to a 2015 study done by Rice University and Penn State University researchers and published in the Journal of Applied Psychology by the American Psychological Association

A release from Rice explains that the study focused on retail employers and compared two groups of job applicants: applicants who ostensibly never had cancer and applicants who indicated on their resumes they were cancer survivors and wore a hat that read “cancer survivor” when applying for a job.

Applicants disclosing a cancer history received fewer callbacks from managers than the applicants who did not disclose a history of cancer. For the cancer survivor group, 21 percent received callbacks. For the control group, nearly 37 percent received callbacks, a statistically significant difference, according to the researchers.

The release quotes lead researcher Larry Martinez, assistant professor of hospitality management at Penn State, as saying, “This is especially problematic as people with chronic and past illnesses are protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and our findings indicate that cancer survivors do tend to disclose their cancer histories with interviewers at relatively high rates,” said

Martinez, who earned his undergraduate degree, master’s degree and Ph.D. at Rice University under the guidance of co-author Mikki Hebl, professor of psychology and management, began the research for this study as part of his graduate work.

“This study is based on this idea that Mikki has been working on for a while now,” Martinez said. “Basically, people are more likely to discriminate in very subtle interpersonal ways. There’s less eye contact. There are shorter interaction times when speaking with managers. There are more negative interpersonal behaviors from managers, like frowning, brow furrowing and less smiling – fewer cues that communicate to applicants that they are interested in hiring them for the job.”

Part of the study targeted 121 retail managers at three large shopping malls in a metropolitan area in the southern part of the United States. Five undercover researchers, two men and three women between ages 21 and 29, were assigned randomly to disclose a history of cancer or provide no information about a history of cancer. Prior to data collection, researchers confirmed each establishment was hiring. Researchers excluded employers who used a strict online-only application process. Only one applicant entered each store.

Participants presented managers with resumes that included their actual work experience; however, resumes were modified to fit the work history and job requirements for the retail position and to remove any experience that would make the applicant overqualified. Participants’ resumes were also standardized for length, formatting and level of experience.


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