It’s the year 2014. You’ve got a brand new degree, some great references, a batch of perfectly targeted resumes, and matching cover letters. You’re geared up and ready to get a job. There’s just one “problem” that might be holding you back — the name your own parents gave you.
You’re geared up and ready to get a job. There’s just one “problem” that might be holding you back — the name your own parents gave you.
Despite being well into the 21st century, some people still believe that you can guess everything about someone from their name — enough to know their gender, class, racial ethnicity, or even their level of work competence. Name discrimination is less spoken about and harder to detect, but remains a quiet reason why many people struggle to even get to the interview stage.
You may have seen the recent viral video where a man tried changing his name on his resume from “Jose” to “Joe” and received surprising results.
Resume Genius took a hard look at some interesting research about characteristics of how our name can affect our job success. We asked for HR and Career experts to share their insights and advice on this issue. Here are our top 3 findings:
1. ‘White’ Names Are Worth More
Numerous studies have shown that job seekers with Western or ‘white’ names have a significant advantage over those with ethnic undertones on their resume.
Incredibly, the study also estimates that “a White name yields as many more call backs as an additional eight years of experience.”
A study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? measured racial discrimination in the workplace by creating applicants with identical resumes to apply for the same role, with name being the only difference.
The results showed applicants with white names received 50% more call backs for an interview compared to those with African American names. Incredibly, the study also estimates that “a White name yields as many more call backs as an additional eight years of experience.”
One of our expert respondents is career coach and author of Careeranista Chaz Pitts Kyser. Chaz shared with us her experience dealing with hiring managers, including African American ones, who she explains are often “reluctant to hire people with “black-sounding” names (e.g. Tawanda or Deshawn) because their names make it seem like they may be “less professional.”
Reluctance to hire people with “black-sounding” names stems from negative perceptions of ethnic and African American groups as having lower standards of education or lower socio-economic status.
The reality of such prejudiced thinking is why unemployment is twice as high amongst African Americans than whites.
2. Easy Names Are Easily Liked
Research on the name pronunciation effect from the Journal of Experiential Social Psychology shows that easy-to-pronounce names are judged more positively than difficult-to-pronounce names. The understanding behind this is that when information is easier to process and understand, it’s evaluated more positively than information that is difficult to process.
We’ve been told cases where when it came down to choosing between two equally suitable candidates, recruiters would decide on the one with a less “hard-to-pronounce” name simply because they did not want to “mess up the person’s name.”
With thousands of resumes to sift through daily, it’s understandable for hiring managers to automatically lean towards information that they find easy to process.
Recruiters would decide on a resume with a less “hard-to-pronounce” name simply because they did not want to “mess up the person’s name.”
3. Popular Names Are More Likely To Get You Hired
The popularity of a name also has an effect on how that person is perceived. A study by Marquette University found people with common names were more likely to be hired compared to those with unique or unusual names. Separate research by Mehrabian, A. & Piercy, M. (1993) also identified names that were unusual or that had unconventional spelling (e.g. Nicky as Nikki) were perceived by hiring managers as being less successful, less popular and even less cheerful than their traditional counterparts.
While that may be far from the truth, our tendency to like all things familiar to us, be it brand names or real names explains why a common name like Madison may yield a more positive impression than a less conventional (not to mention phonetically incorrect and beyond ridiculous) ‘Maddisyne.’
We can take a lesson here not to go overboard with creativity in naming our children, but for those of us already living with a less than palatable name, have no fear. HR guru and author Tiffany Murray of tmurrayhrtech.com says, “Recruiters and hiring managers are human and whatever natural biases they may have will come into play subconsciously. An unusual name may stick out more but a professional human resources person will not let that impact their decision.”
What Can I Do About It?
Never let the fear of discrimination make you feel demotivated.
Never let the fear of discrimination make you feel demotivated.
For some ethnic minorities, there seems to always be reason to suspect that you didn’t get a fair go in your application or interview. However you should never let those fears discourage you from finding your dream job.
Name discrimination is not only illegal, but there has been a huge focus on creating a more diverse workforce within corporate recruiting departments. Having diversity within candidate pools is also highly desired by hiring managers. With diversity recruiting departments becoming the norm across corporate America, recruiters are embracing this and actively seeking more diverse candidates to exceed leadership’s expectations for this demand. (Nina Parr, Co-Founder of The Love Your Job Project)
Have a well written resume
Keep in mind, employers are far more likely to reject a candidate over a poorly resume with spelling errors and grammar inconsistencies as opposed to name, gender or racial bias. Having a well written resume is also often overlooked in the rush to get out as many applications as fast as possible. Learn the details of what makes a perfect resume here, or, if you need to make a resume in a short period of time, you may want to consider using Resume Genius’ resume building software here.
Be professional online
Nowadays, employers can and will look you up on social media sites to see if your profile matches your resume. That means, no selfies of you in a swimsuit as a LinkedIn or Facebook profile picture (unless you’re applying to be a bikini model). According to Andrea Berkman (Founder of The Constant Professional) “The best way any candidate can overcome discrimination is by having a well written resume, a professional profile as well as an online presence that showcases his/her professionalism.”
Change your name
Resume Genius has never suggested applicants change their names when applying for jobs. We believe you shouldn’t have to conceal your identity to accommodate for potential bias from hiring managers. In an ideal world where the system works, that makes perfect sense. However, while conducting our research on the topic we found that name change is not uncommon and at times even suggested by experts to help those who might otherwise be overlooked.
We found that name change is not uncommon and at times even suggested by experts to help those who might otherwise be overlooked.
For instance, longer and more ethnic sounding names are more likely to raise an eyebrow. In cases where the applicant is concerned about their name affecting the likelihood of a call back, the use of a middle name is suggested or an abbreviated form of your first name for example Jerrikeisha can be shortened to Jerri, incidentally making it gender and ethnic neutral.
Some careers consultants have actually recommended candidates to legally “westernize” their names to increase their chances of job success. Ultimately, you need to feel completely comfortable with whatever change you decide to make and not feel pressured by setbacks in your job search.
Know your rights
It’s important to understand your rights as an individual if any discriminatory action is being taken against you from an employer. During job interviews, it’s important to know what kind of questions are acceptable or illegal.
Do Not Respond to Illegal Questions About:
- Marital status
- Sexual orientation
If you believe you were rejected by a potential employer due to any of these reasons, contact your local Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO), Human Relations agency or speak to an employment lawyer. (Cynthia Calbert, Workforce 21C)
This post was written by Carmen Tu, a resume expert and career adviser.