Finding a job while having an “ethnic” name

Does your name matter when it comes hiring decisions? Many times it does – even more so when you factor in race. In fact, the way names of people from different races are perceived may provide some insight into why the black unemployment rate is sky-high at 15.1 percent – almost double the 8.9 percent for whites – and has remained nearly twice the average of whites for some 30 years.

According to a study for the National Bureau of Economics, resumes and applications with names more commonly given to white Americans were 50 percent more likely to be contacted for job interviews than those applicants with names more associated with black Americans.

It has also been found that employers download resumes from applicants with “white names” – such as Molly and Daniel – 17 percent more often than those of applicants with “black names” like Maesha and Darius. Some speculate that it is not about race but that names are indicative of social background. Either way, assumptions are being made independent of a person’s capabilities.

Instead of getting depressed or wondering whether or not we should give our children less culturally telling names, it’s best to ask how we can overcome the lingering racial biases in the minds of too many hiring managers. We have to become stealth job seekers and have a strategy that makes an HR professional’s stereotype of what a Teisha or Tyrone is capable of crumble at the sight of a gifted, black professional.

For African-American candidates, being aware of which subtle social and racial contexts you need to overcome is key to outperforming the competition. I remember a psychologist and executive career coach telling me that most African-Americans do not realize that once you have the job interview, the employer already feels you are qualified but needs to determine if you are a “fit” with the organization. Do you “fit” in with the other employees? Do you have a high likeability factor? “Fitting” often requires nimble choreography in today’s contemporary career dance.

Since many whites have had limited experience working and being with blacks in social settings as colleagues and friends, a good deal of their impressions of African-Americans are based on the barrage of negative images that saturate the airwaves. Consequently, we have to show examples of who we really are and define our own achievements even more than our white counterparts. So how do we ensure our voice is heard, and that we have a chance in the bid for employment?

Here are 5 strategic job search moves to help increase your chances of getting an offer:

1. Change your name (temporarily). If you have a name more commonly found in our community, consider adapting your name or using a middle name that is less telling of your cultural background for your job search campaign. Remember, this is about marketing yourself and just as marketers use slick advertising to win the hearts of customers, you have to do whatever it takes to get in the door.

For example, if your name is “Daquan Justin Woods.” Go with “Justin Woods” for now, you can always change it up once you get the job. Or, how about combining your first and middle initials? “DJ woods” is a lot more race-neutral.

Now you may be asking, ‘Why should you change who you are?’ That’s not the suggestion at all. This is merely a strategic and offensive tactic to overcome bias in the hiring process and to allow employers to meet you and evaluate you in person versus never giving you the opportunity to sell yourself at all.

2. Never put your address on your resume. In this digital age, there’s no reason to disclose your address. Your email and phone number are enough for employers to contact you. It’s not uncommon for hiring managers to note where you live and to make assumptions of your race and status based on zip codes.

What about e-applications? Only put your address if it’s absolutely required. One of my white friends told me that they use their parents’ address, which is in a very affluent neighborhood. So that goes to show that everyone is aware of zip code profiling and the impact it has on perception.

3. Conquering phone interviews. Can people discriminate against you based on if you “sound black?” Absolutely. It’s not about sounding “black” or “white,” it is a matter of communicating clearly and articulately so that people can not linguistically profile you. How you communicate on the phone, your tone, and your ability to express yourself go a long way in selling your talents. Every company wants to hire someone who can communicate effectively. Find an honest friend, ask them to interview you or tape record yourself. Do you say “umm,” or “basically” too much? If so, practice your public speaking. Try joining a local Toast Masters chapter to enhance your communication skills and to be more comfortable speaking in front of groups.

4. Energy. An interview, whether it be on the phone or face-to-face, is a performance. So bring your A-game. Pump yourself up mentally, get excited, be happy and smile especially if you are on the phone – it will amplify your voice and indicate confidence.

5. Stand out from the crowd of candidates. Bring a portfolio or a sample of a previous project or a plan of action showing that you’ve already thought about the job and how you might tackle upcoming projects. Show your creativity. If you are applying for a marketing position; prepare a short one-page marketing plan. Do something different that is memorable and shows your intellect.

Ultimately, we would all like to think that race is still not a factor when it comes to hiring processes and does not influence decisions. However, empirical data just doesn’t support a completely unbiased hiring process. When we identify the obstacles and combat them with a stealth offense to get in the door, we have better control in defining who we are as individuals and showing that we are indeed the right fit for the job.

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