by Eszter Hargittai on May 8, 2009

I’m starting a new research project (if I manage to get some funding) related to job searching. I was talking about it with my friend danah and she sent me a link to the McDonald’s online job application site for Singapore. (That latter bit is not obvious from the site at all, but it seems to be the one for Singapore.)

McDonald's Singapore job application snippet I looked at the first page an applicant has to fill out and found a question about religion with the options to the right on the screen shot. To be sure, this is not signaled as required information, nonetheless, I found it curious. For one thing, why is there no “Other” option? Anyone know anything about why such a job application would have this field in Singapore? Could this have to do with handling certain types of food? And somewhat unrelated (presumably), any thoughts on why McDonald’s doesn’t make it more clear on the site and form that this is the Singapore-specific job application form?

I’ve uploaded a copy of the full screen here in case you’d like to see the question in context and don’t want to click through to it.



Stuart 05.08.09 at 5:42 pm

Interesting that Singapore has banned Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church. I suppose from the same wp article this might be a reason for asking:

There are official holy days for each major religion in the country: Hari Raya Haji and Hari Raya Puasa for Muslims, Christmas and Good Friday for Christians, Deepavali for Hindus, and Vesak Day for Buddhists.

So maybe religion determines what holidays the workers will be entitled to?


Matt 05.08.09 at 6:49 pm

This sounds like a job for John and Belle! (The explaining, not the working at McDonald’s.) But, the ‘sg’ in the url is some indication it’s in Singapore, no? (Putting “McDonald’s Job application” in google doesn’t turn up this page in the first twenty results, and I didn’t see it in the 1st 20 even when I added “Singapore”, though this post did come up.) I’d guess they just give out the address to people in Singapore who ask for it and that very few other people find it.


Eszter Hargittai 05.08.09 at 7:01 pm

Matt, I can certainly decipher sg in the URL as Singapore (even though it’s not the top-level domain and just part of a list of letters), but I don’t know if the average person applying for jobs at McDonald’s has those skills. In fact, given my research on people’s Internet-related skills, I’d argue they likely don’t.

Not sure how danah came upon this page.

And yes, I’m hoping John or Belle will let us know what they think about this.


Witt 05.08.09 at 7:20 pm

Eszter, I realize this is probably far beyond the scope of your research, but one of the issues I’m most curious about with regard to online job applications is how HR professionals develop work-arounds for them. There is so much social pressure on job applicants to USE online applications (particularly for low-wage jobs, where often even at job fairs the only thing the recruiter will say to you is “Here’s our kiosk, do the app.”), that it seems to me to be valuable to document the degree to which this widely hailed “even playing field” can be less than even.

For example, I’ve had a fair bit of experience with human resources folks at local affiliates of national corporations developing fairly low-tech ways to circumvent or shape the web-based application software they’re forced by HQ to use.

Often this seems to be just a tech issue — that is, after a week or so of the software swallowing all of the apps and the headquarters being unable to help the local office extract them, the HR person gets fed up and says “Oh, just fax it to me!” — thus privileging anyone who was smart and persistent and connected enough to track down his/her phone number in the first place.

But other times it’s very clearly a work-around to sift out pre-screened candidates — that is, HR is getting flooded with 1,000 or more applications for a hotel housekeeping position, and rather than look at each one, they fall back on their personal network of contacts from employment agencies or elsewhere, who are calling them on the phone to say “I just submitted so-and-so’s application through your website.”

But again, I realize this may be beyond the scope of issues you are able to explore.


Eszter Hargittai 05.08.09 at 7:57 pm

Witt, at this stage, any feedback is welcomed around this topic. The whole issue of different access to various relevant resources is very much part of the project so this is not unrelated. Interesting points, thanks for sharing.


Donald A. Coffin 05.08.09 at 8:33 pm

Do you suppose “Other” is assumed to be subsumed under “Free Thinker”?


Eszter Hargittai 05.08.09 at 8:47 pm

I thought of that, but it seems problematic to group every religion not listed (plus atheists and agnostics) all into one such category.


Witt 05.08.09 at 8:51 pm

Oh, well, in that case, a few other issues I’ve seen crop up:

1. Online applications with no way for jobseekers to indicate education or diplomas obtained in a foreign country (i.e., dropdown menus with US-only choices). This hurts internationally educated applicants because the software may assume they are lying if they mark “HS diploma” on one page, and then are unable to select a US state on the following page. Many of these online apps have tricky questions, where they ask several times in different ways if you graduated from hs, if you have a GED, etc.

2. Applications that cannot be saved mid-point, thus penalizing applicants who have to use public internet terminals with strict time limits. Many libraries have a 30-minute limit and many applications are too complex to complete easily in that time period.

3. Job postings that may be unreal — e.g., openings that are eternally posted on the company’s website with no “freshness date,” making it difficult for the applicant to determine whether the job truly exists.


Anders Widebrant 05.08.09 at 8:52 pm

Singapore seems to have some standing policies on ethnic quotas. I can only find examples of them applying to housing and education, but I guess it’s possible that McDonalds is going above and beyond the minimums of the law in an attempt to be a good corporate citizen. McDonalds restaurants in western countries tend to do this when it comes to nutrition (baby carrots instead of fries is a standard option at least in Europe) and the environment (CO2 declarations, locally produced meat, etc). It seems plausible that McDonalds in Singapore might want to advertise their commitment to a multicultural workforce inspired by mandatory quotas elsewhere in society.



David Weman 05.08.09 at 11:00 pm

That was my thought too, but then they should straightforwardly ask about ethnicity, you’d think.


sarah1rene 05.09.09 at 12:06 am

I’m currently working in Singapore, and I had to select from the same set of options when I was filling out my work visa forms. (I was amused to be able to check off ‘Free Thinker’.) So I would assume McDonald’s uses these categories because the government requests that they collect data in this way.

So that shifts the question of ‘why these categories’ from the company to the national context. I don’t have a good answer to that, but I will add (re: comment 7) that Singapore has a tendency toward problematic lumping-together. Most significantly, the official approach to ethnic diversity — and how the concept is conceptualized in society more broadly — is referred to as ‘CMIO’: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Other. The list of religions above maps onto this schema pretty closely.


Jonathan Lundell 05.09.09 at 1:07 am

If you hit the BACK button from the linked page, it’s clear that you navigate to this site from a Singapore McDonald’s page.


notsneaky 05.09.09 at 1:37 am

I like how the implication is that all those other religions are unfree thinkers.


Peter 05.09.09 at 1:40 am

My first thought was that McDonald’s is trying to identify applicants who cannot handle certain food items, e.g. Hindus = no beef, but why not simply ask that question?


ringisei 05.09.09 at 2:10 am

@ David Weman

The form does directly ask about ethnicity under the ‘Race’ pulldown menu.


I agree with you that it’s likely to be a ‘lumping together’ issue. There’s some good scholarship on the CMIO issue by Dr A.E. Lai (

If you look at the 2000 Census figures (via, the largest religious categories in descending order are Buddhism accounted for 42.5% of the population, followed by Islam (14.9%), No Religion (14.8%), Christianity (14.6%), Taoism (8.5%) and Hinduism (4%). It’s probable that Taoists were lumped together with Buddhists (both groups being largely ethnic Chinese) but a sizeable number of Singaporean Buddhists, like Hindus, do not eat or (lesser) handle beef. MacDonald’s had a PR issue a few years ago when it was reported that its french fries were fried in oil containing a beef additive.

@ Peter

Religion is also a compliance issue as MacDonald’s is certified Halal by the Maljis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) and a certain number of Muslim food handlers per outlet may be a requirement.

I agree it makes a lot more sense to just ask the question. But I suppose there are limits to the customization of the form.


jholbo 05.09.09 at 2:20 am

The options are standard for the MoM (Ministry of Manpower). I have to pick one from that menu every time I fill in my work pass papers. I don’t know exactly what it means, but I’m guessing McDonalds has to give this info to the Ministry. The oddly old-fashioned language (freethinker) probably reflects the fact that, somehow, this all dates back a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised (though I have no special information about it) if it turned out the language is pre-independence (1965). It would probably be considered a moderately big deal to officially change the relationship between work and religion, by law. So it probably just sits there. But I suspect there wouldn’t be any practical consequences to leaving it blank if you were, say, Jewish. I’m really not sure. (Do not take me as an authority on Singaporean employment law.)


david 05.09.09 at 2:59 am

Also from Singapore.

In my experience government forms like to ask for race and religion (I’ve got a form sitting right next to my laptop here that does so): typically in the CMIO structure sarah1rene mentions. Religion is also treated the same way; it’s just that McDonald’s web designer forgot to include the Other box.


Wilson 05.09.09 at 3:56 am

Hi! I was linked to this entry by a friend. I second jholbo’s idea that it’s part of a census deal.

I can’t say that they’re necessarily adhering to a racial quota though. ‘S true for allocating Housing Board flats, but the serving staff in most fast food centres are predominantly Malay. Which is interesting, considering that Malays are an ethnic minority over here.

Macca’s also doesn’t serve pork products here, period (I have never tasted the fabled McRib), so it’s not a question of food handling in their case at least .


PeWi 05.09.09 at 8:23 am

Why would they be interested in the Marital status?


Katherine 05.09.09 at 8:23 am

3. Job postings that may be unreal—e.g., openings that are eternally posted on the company’s website with no “freshness date,” making it difficult for the applicant to determine whether the job truly exists.

To follow on from Witt’s point in comment 8, I have got the distinct impression from my partner, an IT professional, using online job search websites that most, if not all, of the jobs advertised are just fishing exercises to get people to post their CV, and a way to match people to the kind of jobs in which they are interested.

I have no hard evidence for this, but anecdotally, the posting of the CV is really a way of attracting the interest of the appropriate agent/headhunter.


Anders Widebrant 05.09.09 at 12:43 pm

By Occam the census idea seems better than a quota system at McDonalds, but it’s odd that they’d put it on an application form if it doesn’t in some way affect how they filter potential employees. I don’t see that they would want or need to report details about everyone they didn’t hire as well as those who made the cut.

It could just be a boiler-plate personal details form, of course, with the recruiters only looking at some subset of the information collected.


Eszter Hargittai 05.09.09 at 1:07 pm

Thanks for all the thoughts on what’s going on here.

Re JL’s note:
If you hit the BACK button from the linked page, it’s clear that you navigate to this site from a Singapore McDonald’s page.

It’s an interesting question to know how many people hit the Back button on a page rather than in their browsers. It’s not clear, however, how one might have gotten to the page originally. For example, this site is the third result if you do a search on Google (from the US) for the following:
mcdonalds online application


Peter 05.09.09 at 6:38 pm

Why would they be interested in the Marital status?

Many employers in the United States probably would ask marital status on applications, if they were allowed to do so.


mollymooly 05.10.09 at 8:37 pm

It seems that other Singapore web forms give Other, Sikh, Taoist and/or Catholic as options


Zamfir 05.11.09 at 6:34 am

It’s an interesting question to know how many people hit the Back button on a page rather than in their browsers. It’s not clear, however, how one might have gotten to the page originally. For example, this site is the third result if you do a search on Google (from the US) for the following:
mcdonalds online application

This seems compeltely unintended, the makers of the site just assumed everyone would enter through the main Macdonalds Singapore site, and then it accidentally turned up high in Google.


Henri Vieuxtemps 05.11.09 at 9:15 am

No, they’re just wrong to call their button “back”. Common-sense definition of “back” is history.go(-1) in javascript; and what they mean is something like navigating “up” in the website’s structure. That’s different from “back”.


Ginger Yellow 05.11.09 at 3:51 pm

“Common-sense definition of “back” is history.go(-1) in javascript”

Heh. Clearly techie common sense is differenct from common common sense.


belle waring 05.13.09 at 3:09 am

Yes, as John says, it seems that the ministry of manpower requires this. There are racial quotas of a sort in Singapore, with regard to public housing; within a certain estate or group of estates the ratios of the varying races are supposed to mirror that of the country as a whole. This is religion rather than race, though. There are issues about food handling, I suppose, but all the big fast food places are halal–they just don’t serve any pork at all. I agree with John that this is probably a holdover from an earlier time. The British had explicit policies along these lines (though, again, I tend to think of them as race rather than religion based).


max jacobowitz 05.13.09 at 5:47 am

As an orthodox jew, I’m definitely not a “free thinker” and not any of the other options, so I guess I’m unhireable.

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