Is Your Name Hurting Your Chances of Landing a Job?

by Safani, Barbara Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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My son has a name that is very common in some parts of the world but not very common in the United States. When you hear a person’s name, do certain thoughts and associations come to mind? I started thinking about how birth names might affect a job seeker’s candidacy and wondering if they can actually play a role in the hiring process or lead to discrimination. Here are three situations where I think in some cases, a job seeker’s name could potentially influence the hiring decision.

Names associated with a generation
I recently read a list of the top baby names for the last decade. Some of the names for girls that made the list this decade were Madison, Cheyenne, Sydney, Destiny, Makayla, and Brianna. Forget about finding names like Karen, Donna, Debra, and Barbara high up on the list. They are the names of generations past. It makes you wonder if hiring managers will try to peg the age of a candidate once they hear their name and if their decision to bring that person in for an interview could be influenced by this.

Ethnic sounding names
Names that have come to be associated with another culture or are hard for some to pronounce may be scrutinized more than those that are more mainstream American. I’ve had clients tell me they “Americanize” their name on their resumes to avoid this. And remember all the media around President Obama’s middle name Hussein? Is it possible that candidates are being judged on their names on a regular basis and this impacts their ability to land the interview?

Names shared by multiple people
In this Internet age, more and more hiring managers are surfing the web, typing the names of applicants into search engines and reviewing the results before they even call the applicant in for an interview. But what if your name is Fred Smith or Mary Jones? How many pages of results will the hiring manager need to sift through before finding the right one? And will they have the patience to do this or will it just be easier to move on to another candidate?

I’m certainly not recommending that anyone change their name, but I think the nuances of a name are important to pay attention to during a job search. If you have a difficult-to-pronounce name, you can try including your American nickname in parenthesis on your resume or just use an abbreviated form of your given name. If you have a common name, you can use your middle name to further differentiate you from all the other people who share your name. And if you think your name somewhat “dates” you, try to include content in your resume that proves that your skills are relevant in the current economy.

Obviously we are more than our names and we want to presume that hiring managers have good intent when screening applicants. But it doesn’t hurt to ask ourselves “What’s in a name?”