Is Your Letter of Recommendation Holding You Back?

Your letter of recommendation might be hurting your chances at a job, a new study suggests.

That is, if you’re a woman.

Rice University professors Michelle Hebl and Randi Martin and graduate student Juan Madera, now an assistant professor at the University of Houston, reviewed 624 letters of recommendation for 194 applicants for positions in academia. They found that letters that praised a candidate’s teamwork, helpfulness, and kindness were viewed less favorably by hiring managers at the university.

That’s just one part of the picture. The second part is this: the letters of recommendation pretty much fell along gender lines: writers praised male applicants’ assertiveness while it was female applicants’ agreeable personalities that warranted mention.

While the study was only for academic jobs, the authors believe the results have implications in other fields. Except, presumably, ones where being a nice person is actually valued.