Although daunting, it’s possible to avoid hiring discrimination based on race when job-hunting. If you’re an ethnic minority, browse the tips below on how to excel during the hiring process. Don’t let racial discrimination keep you from getting work.
What’s in a Name?
By some estimates, names edge out experience and education in importance on a resume. Consciously or subconsciously, employers weed out applicants with names affiliated with ethnic minorities. If you have a so-called “ethnic” name, try the strategies that follow to get your resume noticed.
Think about your name. Can it be Westernized—say, from Barack to Barry? If you feel comfortable going by a Western nickname on your resume, make the switch. The idea isn’t to permanently Westernize your name but increase the chances that a prospective employer will read your resume.
If doing this makes you feel like you’re betraying your culture, use your first and middle initial in lieu of your first name. If you have a Western middle name, initialize only your first. Of course, you can’t shorten your surname without raising eyebrows, so leave that intact.
You might wonder what difference a name change makes if an employer is racist. Clearly, if an employer intentionally discriminates, you’ll be rejected during the interview. On the other hand, some employers only subconsciously eliminate an applicant based on an “ethnic” name. Once a job candidate appears in person, the employer might be more moved by the applicant’s persona and interview skills than by ethnicity.
Still reluctant to alter your name? Then, conduct an experiment of sorts. Send two resumes out to the same companies: one with your name as is and the other with your name Westernized. Afterwards, tally which resume gets the most callbacks. If you still decide to leave your name as is, remember that you’re in good company. Barack Obama managed to become the president of the United States after abandoning his Western nickname. Keanu Reeves managed to become an A-list actor despite having a Hawaiian first name that agents said would stand in his way.
What Do the Clubs on Your Resume Reveal About You?
Can an employer guess what your ethnicity is by scanning the awards and groups on your resume? If so, abbreviate the names of the groups or shorten the names of the awards to make it harder to determine your ethnicity. Remove such affiliations completely if they are mostly social and don’t make you a more competitive candidate.
On the flipside, perhaps you want a prospective employer to know what your ethnicity is. Giving a recruiter a hint about your ethnicity may save you time and energy if it turns out that the employer indeed racially discriminates. In Gloria Naylor’s novel Mama Day, African-American protagonist Ophelia Day wishes employers told her outright when they weren’t interested in hiring blacks. Obviously, such a disclosure would be illegal. Nonetheless, Ophelia thinks:
“—There was a time when the want ads…were clearly marked colored or white. It must have been wonderfully easy to go job hunting then. You were spared a lot of legwork …What I was left with were the ads labeled Equal Opportunity Employer, or nothing—which might as well have been labeled Colored apply or Take your chances.”
If you don’t want to waste your time on a potentially discriminatory employer, use your full name and list all of the ethnic organizations you belong to on your resume. This ups the odds that an employer who calls you in for an interview knows your ethnicity and won’t hold it against you.
Religious symbols, Afro-centric hairstyles, ethnic garb—these aspects of physical appearance can reduce an applicant’s chances of landing a job.
For example, a Muslim woman who wears a head covering wrote to the Washington Post about her struggles finding work. While interviewers seemed excited to meet her during phone conversations, their excitement waned in person when they saw her head scarf.
“When I walk into interviews, I find that literally interviewers’ jaws drop,” she commented.
After such interviews, the woman remarked that she considers sending follow-up emails, "explaining that she is Muslim woman, that she hopes no one was taken aback by her manner of dress and that her faith has nothing to do with how well she works or what level of commitment she brings to a job.”
This is a good route for applicants to take who’d rather not part with their cultural manners of dress. Others may feel comfortable temporarily altering their appearance, such as a black woman with natural hair who straightens it for an interview. Some applicants may choose to remove all signs of cultural ties while interviewing.
In The 7 Keys to a Dream Job, Dilip G. Saraf advises job seekers to adopt a Western appearance while job hunting.
“Do not wear any cultural or religious symbols…,” Saraf writes. “Do not wear ethnic clothing for an interview... You are signaling that you have not integrated into this culture, and may come across as making a statement.”
This may or may not be true. A culturally aware employer may not bat an eye if you wear ethnic dress. However, if you’re desperate not to give an employer any reason to rule you out, err on the side of caution and assume that your interviewer won’t be receptive to a job applicant with a non-Western look. Once offered the position, you might ease back into your cultural dress after the probationary period ends. You might also decide to don a Western look and nickname at work and a traditional look and name at home.
No one should be forced to give up their cultural identity for a job, but modifying your name and look may increase your chances of finding work. To what extent you change your persona depends on your comfort level. Listen to your conscious. Don’t appear to be a totally different person in a job interview than you actually are. Getting your foot in the door doesn’t mean doing away with integrity.