Is Your Name A "Résumé Blocker"? Navigating Name Discrimination During Your Job Search

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I absolutely love my name. It’s only four letters, and growing up, I was the only Niya in school. I felt original and special. I can’t say firsthand that I have been discriminated against because of my name. However, I‘ve been asked many times about its origin — I think out of curiosity. Nowadays, I encounter more variations of my name, like Sha’Niyah, Anaya, La’Niya, among others.

But my name is fairly simple. I’ve heard many names that parents give their children that make me scratch my head. I think, “Why would a parent do that?” And in casual conversations, I’ve heard these unusual names called “résumé blockers”.

Recently, I had a client who was reluctant to use her full name on her résumé. It was a name you could call overcomplicated and hard to pronounce due to its unique spelling. Generally, I don’t get into a lot of name debates in my profession, and it was difficult to convince her that her paranoia was invalid.  

Still, even though we’re in the 21st century, the name your parents gave you can have more weight than your qualifications. Let me explain. Do you remember the “Jose” vs. “Joe” experiment? José had been sending out résumé after résumé, without so much as a call back. He decided to conduct an experiment and took his exact same résumé but changed his name from José to Joe, resending it to the same employers. He was shocked by the results, but I wasn’t.  

Can you guess what happened? He received responses from the same employers that passed previously. Even someone with as unusual a name as Raven-Symoné made headlines in 2015 with her opinion on the subject, stating she wouldn’t hire someone with a “black-sounding” name. And a name study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “A White name yields as many more callbacks as an additional eight years of experience.”

But the statistics and opinions I’ve shared on résumé discrimination shouldn’t discourage you. It’s not a secret that ethnic names on résumés come with stereotypes about being uneducated and “less professional,” but what can you do about bigotry and the name you were given? You can’t change other people’s perceptions. If your name is all it took to disqualify you, did you really want the job? (And imagine what it would be like to work at a place like that.)

As a professional résumé writer, I tell my clients to not alter their names in any way, but there are exceptions. If you have a name that’s hard to pronounce, you may want to add a phonetic pronunciation in parentheses or quotes. At times, I’ve had Asian clients add their American name to their résumé to avoid confusion. For example, Kuong “Steven” Cho or just Steven Cho. It all depends on what you’re most comfortable with. Doing so will not hide your ethnic origin, but it will make it easier for the reader to identify with you.

Discrimination of any kind is wrong. I will never ask a candidate to disguise their ethnicity for the sake of employment. You may wonder, “How do I improve my chances of getting my résumé seen?” Have a well-written, achievement-focused résumé that no one can ignore, and make sure your online presence coincides with the image you’d like to convey.

And as for my client? She kept her name as is, and was hired within 30 days. If we can learn how to pronounce celebrity names like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Zach Galifianakis, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, then your name should be easy enough. Be proud of who you are, and have confidence in your abilities.



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