Can your name keep you from getting hired?

These job seekers think their unusual names are getting in the way of their job search.

Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- For job hunters, that very first line on your résumé can influence potential employers. Just ask Glenn Miller.

Miller, 56, was out of work for about four months earlier in the year. On every interview he went on, the senior software engineer had to field jokes about his namesake, the great American jazz musician.

"They say, where's your band? And I say, they're all dead."

Even though Miller became adept at responding with witty one-liners, "it changes the tenor of the interview to have that opening dialog ... I think it makes people not take me seriously," he admitted.

For other job seekers, it's no laughing matter.

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Colleen Rzucidlo, 27, has been actively looking for a public relations job for about nine months, but believes her hard-to-pronounce surname has hurt her chances of landing a position.

"While I certainly can't prove it, I often wonder if my last name hinders me when it comes to the job search process," she said. "Nobody knows how to say it -- that's a turn off. If they can't say my name they are not going to bother reading my résumé."

Of course, considering someone's name as part of the decision-making process is not only wrong but illegal, says San Diego State University Human Resources Professor Christine Probett. "Discrimination of those sorts are well protected under the law," she said.

But that doesn't mean it's not happening.

For example, résumés with white-sounding names have a 50% greater chance of receiving a callback when compared to those with African American names, according to a study performed for the National Bureau of Economic Research by the University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sendhil Mullaina.

Many job seekers agree. Nakores Sameita, 26, believes her ethnic-sounding name works against her. The former credit analyst for Chrysler was laid off in June and recently decided to go back to school for a masters in finance because her job search has been fruitless.

Hiring managers often question her immigration status, Sameita said. "I've had a couple of interviews and the first thing they mention is my name and ask me where I'm from," says the Kansas City resident, originally from Kenya. "Even though I'm a citizen it puts me at a disadvantage," she said.

Recruiters say that an applicant's name has no bearing on their chances of getting hired, and many states require employers to establish and enforce anti-discrimination policies.

"As a recruiter, the name is usually the last thing I look at," said Thad Schiele. "My job is to get the hiring manager the best candidates for a position."

But cynics suggest that if résumés can be scanned for appropriate terms and keywords, then someone's name could also play a role in the initial screening process, whether consciously or unconsciously.

While hiring managers may not intend to discriminate a candidate based on a name or ethnicity, the name could still signal something about the applicant's skills or background that is relevant to the job.

Duram Gallegos, 25, believes that potential employers call him assuming he speaks fluent Spanish because of his name.

Gallegos has been looking for a job near his home in Elgin, Ill. for six months and thinks his last name gives hiring managers a false impression that he can't back up in an interview.

If a job seeker does feel that their first name conveys an image they are uncomfortable with, then they could just use their first initial on a job application or résumé, Probett of San Diego State University suggested. But deemphasizing a last name is obviously not realistic.

Instead, job seekers should focus more on the aspects of their image that they can control, Probett said, like their online presence or the email address they use for correspondence.

"For example, 'PartyDude@BeerU.Com' might project an image of someone who is not too business savvy," she said.

Next: Does Your Name Spell Success? >>


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637 Comments

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Jay Jay

My parent's were the hippie breed of the late 60's when I was born. They were into the entire nature trip. I have a sister named Skye and another one named Raine. Then there is me. They had me while into the entire save all the planet's living creatures.

February 20 2010 at 12:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tie

I hate to say it..but I agree with the article. I am white but I have an African American sounding name and cannot get an interview. It's a sad commentary of our society. Thrown into the mix the fact that I am female and pushing 50 and I am doomed.

January 24 2010 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cody

I've never had any troubles getting and interview or a job, for that matter. My last name is hard to pronounce nearly no one gets it right and my first name is Cody, and i'm female. I usually quickly correct it when people get my last name wrong or just let it slide depending on how it seems they will take it. As for the first name, many people assume I'm a male and thats what they are expecting, than I show up. That's been a the biggest problem with my name i've had so i chose a career where having a bit of a different name will make you memerable. Its not the lawyer career I wanted but i'm happy either way

January 19 2010 at 1:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
bob

hey john, i'm there with you. not only do i get "trashed" but i feel all potential employers look right through me because i'm white... and they're white. i'm seriously contemplating "going out in style" and yes, it can be done.

January 10 2010 at 2:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
johnny

OH PLEASE WHAT NEXT,WHAT COLOR UNDERWEAR TO WEAR,RUN,STOP,MOOO KINDA LIKE CATTLE THATS HOW THEY WILL HAVE YOU.MOOOO

January 08 2010 at 12:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hugh Jass

Having a name that described my body has never been a problem for me.

October 29 2009 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Carla

Name is not the only factor that can keep you out of a job... there's also age, people discriminate against younger people. (I had a law firm once tell me FOUR TIMES during an interview that women under 25 are 'flaky'!)

And, there's living in a small town in a backwards state that seems to be drying up jobwise...

October 12 2009 at 4:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
inf

I think what this article is saying is that John and Juan apply for a job, Juan is more qualified but was eliminated in the first round because of his name and John gets the job. Juan misses out AND the company misses out.
I started using my American sounding middle name on all my resumes and cover letters two weeks ago and the difference is somewhat upsetting. I went from receiving 0 responses in 7 months to 4 calls in 2 weeks. While I am ecstatic that I am getting all these calls, I wonder how many potential opportunities I missed because of my name.

September 28 2009 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ms.tinkerbell

my daughter's name is TaKeyla, i kno she's gona have a lot of problems with it, but i liked da name

September 27 2009 at 10:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
big johnson

My cousin Butthead thinks that his name may be responsible for not getting hired at the slaughter house in Des Moines....he said, "Shit if they're killing and grinding up cows, what the hell does a name have to do with it?"....

September 19 2009 at 4:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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