malay graduates

Are Malay Graduates and Job Seekers being Discriminated in Malaysia? Yes, finds this study.

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High number of unemployed graduates, especially Malay graduates are not news in this country. We hear them blaming everything but themselves. But what if the Malays are indeed being discriminated against?

Yeah right, I muttered at first, as someone who is sometimes ashamed by my own race (how could I not, when I’m assumed to be ‘easily swayed and confused’ half the time?). EDIT: I’ve since penned the Malay and Money: A Reflection article, taking ownership of my heritage

Trying to keep an open mind, I read this study, and was quite puzzled by the findings. It was entitled ‘Discrimination in high degrees: Race and graduate hiring in Malaysia‘ and was published in the Journal of Asia Pacific Economy by UM and UKM researchers. Here’s the paper abstract (bold is my own):

This paper investigates racial discrimination in hiring fresh degree graduates in Malaysia through a field experiment. We send fictitious Malay and Chinese resumes to job advertisements, then analyse differentials in callback for interview attributable to racial identity, while controlling for applicant characteristics, employer profile and job requirements.

We find that race matters much more than resume quality, with Malays, Malaysia’s majority group significantly less likely to be called for interview. Other factors, particularly language proficiency of employees, language requirements of jobs and profile of employers, influence employer biases.

Applicants fluent in Chinese fare better, and Chinese-controlled and foreign-controlled companies are more likely to favour Chinese resumes, indicating that cultural compatibility explains part of the discrimination.

Malay resumes tend to be perceived and prejudged adversely, and employers’ attitudes towards public policy outcomes, particularly pertaining to education quality and employment opportunity in the public sector, also account for the observed racial disparities.

Let me simplify that for you:

When researchers sent fake resumes of Malay and Chinese fresh graduates, the Malay applicants are much less likely to be called back for an interview. Employers perceive Malays negatively, think that they have lower-quality education and always have the safety net in the form of government jobs to fall back on.

Huh. I’ve never been pro-Malay, but I hate discrimination more. How was the research conducted to come to this conclusion?

How the research was conducted

The research:

  • Sent over 3000 fake resumes, divided into 4 categories: AA Malay, AA Chinese, BA Malay and BA Chinese (AA = Above average; BA = Below average).
  • CGPA, university, language and technical skills were randomly assigned.
  • Sent the resumes to job vacancies in finance and engineering sector
  • Did not include other races

The researchers:

  • Found that in general, AA applicants get more callbacks than BA applicants. Interestingly, AA Malay have lower callback rate than BA Chinese.
  •  Showed that Chinese resumes received 22.1% callback rate on average while Malay resumes received 4.2% callback rate on average. 
  • Malay applicants for engineering jobs get the lowest callback rate at 2.9%
  • Malay graduates from private universities get the lowest callback
  • Showed that UTAR graduates get higher callback rates, but there is no penalty for UiTM degrees
  • Malay resumes stating proficiency in Chinese get higher callback rates.
  • English and Malay proficiency and good English in cover letter have ‘negligible impact on call rates’
  • Calculated callback rates among Chinese, foreign and Malay-controlled companies. Malays get lower callback rates in ALL of them. Even Malay-controlled companies favour Chinese applicants 1.6 times more than Malays.

As I read, it dawned to me the long-forgotten early struggles in my career, where I struggled to hear back from potential employers despite sending job applications after job applications. I thought it happened to everyone. I thought all job seekers faced the same problem.

Was it… caused by my (very Malay-sounding) name instead?

What caused this?

The research said that the data generated cannot give conclusive reasons. But some important points to highlight:

  • Cultural compatibility and language ability matters. Employers with predominantly Chinese employees perceive that Malays are less likely to take jobs offered anyway (or quit within a few months), as Malays have the tendency to feel uncomfortable in these settings. The researchers theorise that Malays prefer environments where their religious customs and spoken language in work environment are catered to.
  • Malay applicants are negatively prejudged. This explains why BA Chinese get higher callback rates than AA Malays. No conclusive reasons are given, except that the negative stereotypes may be reinforced by past experience and lack of contact between these two groups to prove otherwise.
  • Appears to be the result of pro-Malay affirmative actions. People tend to think that Malays have lower-quality education and higher opportunities in the public sector anyway. This is a very complex issue, and further research is needed, but the researchers suggest that pro-Malay policies may in fact hurt Malay graduates’ job prospects.

What does this mean?

For the longest time, I have thought, ‘Man, Malays are complainers’ when they say they can’t get jobs or get high pay or have limited opportunities. I thought: ‘The PM is Malay, the Parliament is majority Malay, the Kings are Malay, the policies are pro-Malay… what more do you want?’

There’s substantive proof now to back up this discrimination claim. 22.1% callback rate vs 4.2% callback rate is a big difference. 1 in 5 Chinese applicants get called for interview, while less than 1 in 20 Malay applicants get the same. Remember that the quality of resumes were already factored in.

Less callbacks means less opportunities, more likelihood to take lower-salary but stable jobs, and being stuck in lower-economic power for longer time.

This is only one research though, and I’m happy to be pointed to other studies to disprove this or question the methodology of this research (for example, I didn’t like that it only compared Malay and Chinese resumes). But until then, won’t you agree that discrimination is discrimination?

How now, brown cow?

I hate the blame game, so I’m going to end this with a few suggestions on how can we level the playing field a bit more, so deserving Malay candidates get equal and fair chance in the job market, too.

Employers (of ALL races):

  • If your employees are predominantly composed of a single race, get more diversified. Diversified workplaces earn more profits. It’s literally to your advantage to have a racially-balanced workforce.
  • Know that you (even Malay employers) have a negative bias against Malays, and that potentially makes you lose out on those good Malay candidates.

Malay graduates and job seekers:

  • If you have Chinese proficiency, put it in your resume. If you don’t and have difficulty getting callbacks, take Mandarin classes at the same time. This research proved that Chinese proficiency increased callback rates.
  • Make more friends outside of your race. Make more friends outside of your race. Make more friends outside of your race. You’re the majority. It’s up to you to reach out to others, not the other way around. Actively attend and network in events, not just Malay-organised events. Be a good friend, be a respectful person.
  • Even though you believe in your faith and race 100%, stop making remarks that make you sound stupid, non-accommodating and even violent. Be easy to work with.

HXSM illustrated some stereotypes of Malay behaviour. We are often portrayed as intolerant, close-minded bunch. There’s a grain of truth in that, unfortunately.

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  1. Interesting articles. However, 3000 resume might be too small a sample size especially if you use random data/info on each resume. A better test (if sample size cannot be increase) might be to send identical resume (except the name & race) to 1000 employers. This should reduce noise from data.

    Other than the 3 points being highlighted, another possibility I can think of while reading is that population of Malay/Chinese is not equal. What if there are already many Malays engineers already employed? What if there are less Chinese applied for the vacancy?

    1. The study explained why they can’t use identical resume, as Malay and Chinese people tend to have very different education backgrounds. For example, majority of Malays come from Sekolah Kebangsaan while a significant percentage of Chinese come from Chinese Schools.

      Re:another possibility. Interesting variables. I can’t remember if it was addressed, but is it enough to justify over 20% callback vs 4% callback rates?

  2. I like the article. you have also touched some very obvious reasons . but in actual and globally at many countries it is a fact that minorities always struggle and value for hardship. this explains the difference. thanks keep writing and keep shining. you are a star.

    1. Thank you Suwana for the link. Already expected polarised feedback. Let’s all progress for the better anyway 🙂

  3. I saw in freemalaysiatoday there was an reply article regarding to Malay graduates issue and what I want to say, good job on the article! To me it’s a fair, balanced (some may differ) opinion without leaning (nor whining) to either race which I find lacking whenever I read articles discussing about the issue.

    If I may suggest, it would be hard (or too late) for Malay graduates to make friend outside thier race circle since each ethnic in Malaysia nowdays tend to roll around their own race (there are some exceptions to his, brava!). Hence, I guess to compensate they should really put their time and effort in their first job so one day they would have good reference from their other ethnic employer or bosses.

    I know I did them myself and it turned out pretty well in my case 🙂

  4. Another point that is quite sensitive to state, religious issue and time costs amid the perception of hardworking and utilisation of medical leave, such factors are often not mentioned by many but is obviously a significant consideration of employers.

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