November 29, 2009
Is your name hurting your career?
On a scale of 1 to 10, the name Michelle Goodman rates a 4 in the originality department. Although not an earth-shattering setback, going through life as sort of a Jewish "Jane Smith" hasn't exactly been a boon for me (no offense to the Jane Smiths of the world).
As a writer, you want a byline that's easily searchable, unique enough that you won't be mistaken for anyone else. This has not been the case for me.
Just yesterday, I received an e-mail from a woman who was distraught about her dog's fatal heart defect and had mistaken me for a veterinarian who specializes in the condition. Usually, though, people confuse me with Michelle Goodman, the oncology author, or Michelle Goodman, the fine artist -- nothing too troublesome, and certainly not as heart-wrenching as losing a beloved pet.
Of course, if I had wanted a one-of-a-kind name that badly, I would've changed it or begun including my middle name in my byline years ago. But I haven't.
A fascinating piece by MSNBC career columnist Eve Tahmincioglu -- who's been asked by editors if she prefer to shorten her last name in her byline -- made me realize how lucky those of us with cookie-cutter names have it.
Forget the insulting factor. Apparently, if your name sounds "ethnic," "foreign," "unfamiliar," or anything less than "mainstream," it could cost you the job.
As Tahmincioglu reports:
"One study by researchers at MIT and the University of Chicago found that job applicants with names that sounded African-American got short shrift when it came to the hiring process. The researchers sent out 5,000 fake resumes, and it turned out that resumes with names such as Tyrone and Tamika were less likely to get calls from prospective employers than their Anglo-sounding counterparts, and qualifications seemed to have little impact."
Other anecdotes in Tahmincioglu's column are equally disheartening:
An entrepreneur named Shuki Khalili changed his name to Andrew Warner after having trouble making headway with potential clients. Once he did, he had a much easier time getting his business off the ground.
A Pakistani engineer named Raheem couldn't find a job for 18 months after September 11, 2001, save for a position as a hotel cleaning staff supervisor.
A resume consultant has repeatedly heard from HR professionals and hiring managers that when they see a name that's "ethnic" or "black," they think "low education" or "lower socioeconomic class."
A Taos, N.M. hotel owner ordered several Hispanic employees to change their names to something more Anglo-sounding (goodbye Marco, hello Mark!) so that customers could better understand them on the phone.
Talk about stirring the melting pot! Will discriminatory wonders never cease?
Readers, has your name held you back in the workforce? Have you changed your name for this reason? Did doing so improve your results with hiring managers and customers? Do tell.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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