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Recruitment and Weeding Out Process

The article on job recruitment (October 13, 2007) makes interesting arguments but there could be a basic flaw in the methodology, which prevents one from concluding that there is a bias in job recruitment.


Recruitment and Weeding Out Process

Arun Kumar

were actually checking the veracity of the applicants before calling them for the second stage? They were checking the address or verifying the educational qualifications from the institutions in which the candidates claimed they studied. If this turns out to be the case, then those candi-

The article on job recruitment (October 13, 2007) makes interesting arguments but there could be a basic flaw in the methodology, which prevents one from concluding that there is a bias in job recruitment.

Arun Kumar ( is with the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Economic & Political Weekly

february 23, 2008

he paper ‘The Legacy of Social Exclusion: A Correspondence Study of Job Discrimination in India’ by Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attewell (EPW, October 13, 2007) is significant because it confirms what many have suspected, namely, that caste- and community-based discrimination in employment continues even in the “most modern” sector of Indian society – big business, Indian or multinational companies (MNCs). The authors have referred to studies showing that the self-perception of this sector is that they do not discriminate.

The method used in the paper under reference is innovative in the Indian context and rather obvious and simple. It is called the “correspondence method” wherein “experimental” (“manufactured”/”false”) applications were sent in by the researchers in response to jobs advertised in selected daily papers. “A total of 4,808 applications were made to 548 job advertisements over 66 weeks.” These applications controlled for all other factors and only allowed the caste and community name of the hypothetical applicants to vary so that any observed differences were on account of this factor alone. “Success” was defined as being called for the second round of the application process. The success rate for the high caste names was significantly different than that for the dalit names and even more so in comparison to the Muslim names. This result, showing discrimination is powerful but simple.

However, one needs much more information from the researchers to analyse and understand the significance of the study, especially for policy purposes.

Recruitment Practices

First, one needs to know more about the recruitment practices of the firms under reference. What if the firms (all or some) dates who present false information are unlikely to be called. One needs to control for this. It may appear that this factor would equally affect the chances of all the candidates. Hence there should be nothing to worry.

In India, is checking plausible? Indeed, yes, because there is substantial illegality in most aspects of social functioning. In the field of education itself, there is much illegality with doctored degrees, false mark sheets, leakage of question papers, cheating in examinations, etc [Kumar 1999].

Under these circumstances, employers are likely to distrust the content of applications. This is not only true of employers but in the case of other institutions. Embassies may have their own biases (like, against Muslims after 9/11) but perhaps not a caste bias. On a visit to obtain a visa to go to one of the developed countries, when this author presented a letter of employment from his institution, he was casually informed by the visa officer that a large number of Indians present false certificates so that verification of genuineness of a certificate was required. While this was demeaning to one’s self-esteem, it indicated that a distrust of certificates and qualifications is widespread in India and checking perhaps the norm.

False Applications

The fact that the researchers writing the paper under reference themselves managed to submit such a large number of “experimental”/manufactured/false applications and get some positive responses from potential employers is a pointer to the ongoing fraud which any potential employer confronts and has to be careful about.

This builds defensive mechanisms into the recruitment processes. Campus recruitment is one way out. This author has noticed that postgraduate students applying to the corporate sector are required to submit the names of referees (including


teachers who have taught them). In several cases, this author has received phone calls enquiring whether the applicant under reference was a student of the institution.

It is unclear whether Thorat and Attewell took the factor of checking for fraud into account in their experiment. From a reading of the paper this is not obvious. Further, it is unclear how the researchers could have controlled for this factor. A discussion with a human resource (HR) manager in one of the multinational companies revealed that the hiring is either outsourced or the manager had himself developed a sense of where fraud may be involved and checking found necessary either with the referee or the previous employer.

If checking for fraud is a plausible assumption, the data presented by Thorat and Attewell is consistent with the hypothesis that as compared to the upper caste candidates, there was greater checking in the case of dalits and even greater in the case of Muslim candidates. It is possible that due to the checking (with the institution or the referee or the address), the percentage of successful applicants (9.4 per cent overall) was rather low even for the upper caste candidates.

This brings one to the second point. The researchers should have investigated why in spite of their presenting “strong applicants for the job”, the success rate turned out to be so low. The paper does not probe this question. It may be argued that whatever be the weeding out process, the basic conclusion of the paper would not be vitiated because fraud cannot be community-specific so the same amount of rejection due to this factor should have occurred in all the cases.

Underlying Bias

This leads to the third point. Namely, in the absence of an answer to the question raised above, one can only conclude that the results suggest that the hirers suspect greater fraud in the case of dalit and Muslim candidates than for the upper caste ones. Consequently, they may be rejecting more applications from the former cate gory than from the latter one. This itself may be a reflection of an underlying bias amongst recruiters.

Here a fourth point arises, namely, for the sample companies covered under the “experiment”, this bias is likely to be selfperpetuating. Starting with the assumption that a larger percentage of the dalit or Muslim applications would have some false information, there would be greater checking of these applications and since more would have been found to be presenting false information, the initial assumption would stand confirmed.

In brief, what is being suggested here is that there could be a basic flaw in the methodology of the study which would prevent the researcher from concluding that there is a bias in recruitment. One can only conclude that there may be a bias amongst recruiters regarding the extent of fraud in applications by different sections of the population. The result based on the “success” of the applications may only be reflecting the percentage of the “experimental” or manufactured applications that were not detected.

If what is argued here is correct, this changes the nature of the results obtained in the paper under reference so that the conclusion being sought to be drawn may require some further clarification/investigation. Three things need to be crucially answered. Why only 9.4 per cent of the experimental/false applications of strong candidates were successful? What was the weeding out process followed? Was there a checking of the data provided in the applications?

The paper under reference suggests a basic problem of research methodology in India. In analysing the Indian reality, most researchers either ignore or are unable to take into account the influence of the large amount of illegality occurring in India on account of the growing black economy. This leads to unexpected results or a vitiation of the expected results as is possibly the case with the paper by Thorat and Attewell.


Kumar, A (1999): The Black Economy in India, Penguin, New Delhi.

february 23, 2008

Economic & Political Weekly

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