Ethnic Names on Resumes: Cause for Discrimination?

July 27, 2008 | Uncategorized | Written by: admin

Do you have an “ethnic”-sounding name? Do you suspect you may be discriminated against when submitting your resume to employers? If so, have you tried to come up with a strategy to prevent this from happening again?
As a resume writer and career coach, some clients ask me how to handle their “ethnic”-sounding names on their resumes. “Is it ok to use initials only?” “Should I include or omit academic or volunteer affiliations that indicate ethnicity?”

There is no hard and fast answer and I hear both sides of the argument from job seekers. Some refuse to “hide” their names as they wouldn’t want to work for a company that is willing to discriminate against them based on their names – and thus their backgrounds.

Others say they want to make it through that first round to be able to judge for themselves if they’d be interested in the organization. After all, the actions of an HR manager or recruiter making these selections are not necessarily representative of an overall discriminatory sentiment within the company.

Also, what may be perceived as discrimination could be a hiring person’s preference to call back a candidate with an easy-to-pronounce name. This way, the recruiter or HR person saves him/herself the embarrassment of mispronunciation.

This article (The Regional Economist, 2006), details several studies that have been conducted on the topic and shows contradictory, even inconclusive, outcomes.

The flip side of the coin is applying with an organization you know is trying to diversify when you actually fit their profile.

In another part of the world, in the Netherlands, temp agency Manpower and the city of Nijmegen performed two experiments last year with “anonymous applications” to see if this would increase the employability of, mainly, the Muslim population. The tests have been halted as all tests indicated this was not the case. If these experiments had been successful, the measure would have been implemented for all government applications.

While we’re on another continent, and in case you’d like to get very technical, this article focuses on discrimination in the Swedish labor market against candidates with an Arabic name.

In the end, it is up to the candidate to determine what he or she is comfortable with when it comes to masking or emphasizing ethnicity. For most people, this will be based on a combination of their convictions, their own experiences in the job market, and possibly the experiences of relatives and friends. There is no right or wrong in deciding how to deal with it.

If you do want to disguise your ethnicity, and it’s mainly your first name that sounds “ethnic,” consider these options:

  • Use initials only – followed by your last name.
  • Use your first initial and your middle name in full if that one is not “ethnic” – followed by your last name.
  • Shorten your first name if it’s very long and “ethnic” (as in some African or Indian names) – but only if that results in something that makes sense as a name.
  • Use your “nickname” your peers, friends, colleagues, etc. consistently use for you. This works only if your nickname is an actual name, not something goofy.

Here are a few additional ideas on how to maximize your identity on paper.

Something I also wonder is whether having a black presidential candidate with a very “ethnic” name will have an effect on people’s perceptions of “ethnic” names – and with that, these people’s capabilities. Do you think it will?

What is your personal experience with having an ethnic name and your job transition? Have you tried masking it? Or would you never do this?

Alternatively, have you emphasized your ethnicity or gender by using your name and affiliations when you thought it might be to your benefit?

Share you experiences and comments!



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