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Does the name on your resume count you out?

The name on your resume can carry a lot of weight

I’ve seen a lot of first resumes in my day. I’ve advised on a lot of first resumes in my day too. Living in a diverse environment means that one of the more common questions I get about resumes is ‘what name should I use on my resume?”

I know some people reading this are thinking, “duh, your name.” But it’s not always as straightforward as it sounds. Let’s take a look at how complex this issue really is.

Racism and gender bias

Over the years, plenty of studies have demonstrated that minorities who “whiten” their resumes have the best chance of getting a call from a prospective employer. In these studies, employers are given two resumes to compare, and they will consistently rank the person with the whiter-sounding name as more qualified. The catch? The resumes are identical except for the name at the top.

Women don’t fare much better. One of the most famous studies done in this area was based on auditions for a number of orchestras in the US back in the 1970s. Women made up only 5% of the musicians in the top orchestras in the country at the time, until orchestras initiated a blind audition process (kind of like the concept behind the TV talent show The Voice). Women’s participation in orchestras went from 5% to 25%.

A more recent study examined the application process scientists use to schedule time using the Hubble Telescope. By anonymizing the applications, more women were accepted to schedule research time.

Removing any indications of gender from applications meant that women researchers were more likely to be able to book time with the Hubble Telescope.

So really, what name do I use on my resume?

I have fielded this question in a tonne of different ways over the years. Here are a few examples:

  • “My full name is Serafina but everybody calls me Sera. Do I have to use my full name?”
  • “Kara is on my SIN card, but I go by Kevin now. I haven’t had my top surgery yet, so do I have to use Kara?”
  • “My last name is like 17 letters long and my friends from my culture all get calls if they shorten their names on their resumes. But isn’t it illegal to do that?”

First, as far as legalities go, your resume is a legal document in the sense that you are responsible for the qualifications you list. If you say on your resume that you have a trade ticket as millwright or an MD with 15 years of experience, it better be true.

When it comes to your name, however, the simple answer is that you should use what you’d want your coworkers to call you. Legal names go on HR forms with SINs on them. These conversations should be confidential and inclusive. In an ideal world, any employee would feel comfortable disclosing whatever they need to in these meetings.

However, we live far from an ideal world.

Weigh your options

It comes down to this. You might be more likely to get a call for the interview if you put the name Amy on your resume, but then you’ll likely have to hide being Aarohi once you get the job. Online debates are all over the map. There’s a firm “change it, employers will never call you” side and an equally firm “never, ever change your name to make someone else more comfortable.” But really, it’s not about other people. It’s about you.

First, consider your situation right now. Are you struggling to make ends meet and you need a job as a temporary means to an end? Are you looking for a meaty role where you can build your experience and grow your career?

Next, think about who you want to be at work. How do you want your work to gel with the rest of your life? When future employers call past ones for references, what will work best? What name is or will be on any credentials you earn? (And can you easily get new ones printed with a new name?)

The fastest way around this is networking. Before you apply to an organization, start making inroads. Get to know people who work there and build relationships. This is going to set you apart from other applicants no matter what. But it also will take away that barrier they think exists between hiring you and being able to pronounce your name.

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