The CV Gender Gap: Word Choice

Last year, recruiting platform Oleeo partnered with University College London to conduct the largest statistical linguistic analysis of male and female resumes across industries. Sure, there was bound to be a difference between the genders. After all, experiences are partly shaped by gender and when you are asked to condense your accomplishments to a CV, some of those differences are bound to shine through. However, I was shocked at the magnitude of difference, and you may be too.


So first, let’s set the stage. This study surveyed a whopping 200,000 applicants across four major sectors: financial services, management consulting, retail and buying, and technology. The aim of this study was to establish features that may differentiate male from female candidates based on lexical, syntactic, and semantic differences in text. A secondary aim was to determine whether these differences were amplified or perpetuated in machine learning, but this article will focus on just the lexical differences between resumes.


Let’s have a look.

First, financial services. The top ten words found on men’s resumes were: equity, portfolio, investment, capital, analyst, finance, market, stock, interest, and technical. For women, the top ten words were: organize, event, volunteer, assistant, social, student, marketing, community, department, and plan.

In the financial sector, men’s resumes are filled with concrete nouns and language related to the industry, which is indicative of technical knowledge and experience. Women’s resumes are much more action driven with all of the verbs, but also non-specific. It’s my observation that these words could apply to any sector and still make sense. The word order may also contribute to this judgment, but check it out: organize, event, volunteer, assistant, social, student– did anyone else’s mind jump straight to a PTA fundraiser? These are the sorts of associations that need to be accounted for in building a competitive resume.

Next, let’s move on to management consulting. For men, we have: engineering, sport, investment, finance, analyst, club, cost, financial, technology, and technical. For women, we have: volunteer, assistant, event, social, organize, write, community, student, communication, and research.

Similarly to the examples in financial services, men tend to go for punchy nouns, while women go for nearly the same non-specific verbs. For women, volunteer ranks first on this list, indicating that this word appears more than any other word on management resumes. Volunteering is great and I totally support it, but in this context, it seems to indicate extra-professional events. What would you need to volunteer for in a management setting? If it’s not a work retreat, organizing birthday parties, or a canned food drive, then perhaps it’s volunteering to head up a committee? In that case, you’d probably be better off saying ‘formed a committee’.

Alright, on to technology. For men, the top ten are: PHP, C, software, Linux, C++, computer, have, developer, engineer, and network. For women, they’re: volunteer, event, assistant, organize, analyze, plan, student, social, conduct, and excel.

It’s really clear here than men seem to feel more comfortably flaunting their technical prowess while women are still stuck in volunteer assistant land. For jobs in IT, women are already up against a thousand challenges, entering the (arguably) least hospitable environment in terms of promotions and turnover. It breaks my heart to think that this is how a smart, savvy, tech-genius woman would present herself against Mr. PHP C++ after going through all the trouble to break into such an industry.

And finally, let’s look at retail and buying. For men, we’ve got: football, play, sport, business, club, technology, computer, mobile, IT, and leadership. For women, the top ten are: art, child, volunteer, shop, assistant, assist, social, design, organize, and create.

For this category, I believe that we are working with the greatest possible variety in candidates, since retail means a lot of different things. Are we talking about a buyer for Saks or a greeter at Walmart? Either way, it doesn’t matter because no matter your experience, you deserve to have a resume that accurately demonstrates your professional accomplishments. The male profiles seem to be focused on the sector and the technical work that they did to contribute to that sector. Meanwhile, women seem to focus on how they contributed to the overall community and potentially, the company environment or shopping experience. Which of these is more important? Of course, that’s not for me to say and will depend on the type of job that you are applying for. However, I will point out that women’s resumes still tend to fixate on the same words as in resumes from the other sectors.

So, what are we to make of all this? I think the major takeaway is that women can be doing more to make their resumes specific to the industry and include technical language that says “I’m a woman who knows what she’s talking about.” In doing so, you can help to alleviate some of the implicit bias that may be negatively impacting your odds at scoring your dream job.

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