By Frances Chaves, Managing Editor
If you think your name is holding you back from getting a job, you may be right.
While considering someone’s name as part of the decision-making process is illegal, a 2001-2002 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with white names needed to send about ten resumes in response to newspaper job ads to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback (NBER Working Paper No. 9873).”
Now, ten years after the study took place, most resumes are reviewed electronically. However, a 2007 study reviewing data from an Internet-based CV database found that “even when we control for other differences, searchers who have non-Nordic names, are old or unemployed receive significantly fewer contacts. Moreover, we find that this matters for the hiring outcome: Searchers who receive more contacts have a higher probability of actually getting hired.” (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCIQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fciteseerx.ist.psu.edu%2Fviewdoc%2Fdownload%3Fdoi%3D10.1.1.187.493%26rep%3Drep1%26type%3Dpdf&ei=oQBmUNfxBKqo0AH204CgBg&usg=AFQjCNEFnFeXHEyMvByl5Eii2HtIlFSroA&sig2=j35zX40Sizp9sdef2jbcfA&cad=rja)
Another study rated how people perceived certain first names: “John, for example, was seen by those polled as largely “wholesome,” while Juan was rated higher when it came to being “devious.” And as far as the “strange” rating on the two names: 44 percent thought John was strange, while nearly 70 percent thought Juan was strange.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34063244/ns/business-careers/t/it-or-not-name-can-impact-your-career/#.UGC-dVEdw3s).
One professor suggested that if you are unsure if your name is holding you back, use an initial.
But that won’t work with last names. My last name is Chaves. Not Chavez, like Cesar; not Chivas, like the whiskey; not Chaves, rhymes with braves. Chaves pronounced shah-vess. It’s Portuguese and means key. My father was Brazilian and so was I, until I was six years old. Here’s the kicker: I don’t look Latina; I have blond hair and blue-eyes. When people hear my last name, they ask me if my husband is Hispanic. My sister, who has brown hair and brown eyes, has never been asked about her husband’s nationality.
When people find out that I am Chaves (not the Spanish Chavez), I am often asked if I speak Portuguese, like it’s proof that I am really Brazilian. How many African-Americans speak Swahili or Italian-Americans speak Italian? Why do people expect Latinos to speak Spanish? Is it the prejudice that we are the most recently arrived immigrants, still wet from swimming the Rio Grande, intent on forcing all Americans (true-born that is) to speak English? OR do people assume that Hispanics refuse to assimilate and learn English, thus forcing white American children to learn a (shudder) foreign language: Spanish?
Some people still use the term “Hispanic” for people who come from “south of the border.” But that excludes everyone from Brazil, the largest country in South America, because the country was colonized by the Portuguese, not the Spaniards.
That Brazilian heritage is important to me and my family: Samba was for parties, late nights, Latin rhythms. Soccer; Pele was king when I was growing up. Ipanema Beach was a real place. On her eightieth birthday, my grandmother, who had lived in Sweden for fifty years, served a huge feijoada, course after course, with all the little side dishes, and lots of liquor to wash it down. I’ve never been to Brazil, but it’s there inside me, even if I don’t look Brazilian.
Nowadays we’re told that employers want to see what we look like—before we even get in the door. To be 100 percent on LinkedIn (which moves you up the rankings) you need to have a picture. But do HR people only want to see if we look professional or are they looking at more: race, age, weight…? Employers are looking for diversity in the workplace. Does that mean I won’t get hired because my photo doesn’t fit the Latina stereotype?!
HOW TO COUNTER NAME-DISCRIMINATION:
The way to counter name discrimination, according to experts, is to focus on the aspects of your image that you can control, particularly your online presence. Here are some suggestions:
- Google your name frequently to monitor what is out there.
- Assert your positive qualities through comments and posts with relevant groups.
- Make sure your photograph on LinkedIn addresses any misconceptions that might be raised by your name; for example, dressing professionally, smiling, using a neutral professional background.
- Include references on your LinkedIn profile that use specific language to counter misconceptions.
- Have a website with your name in the URL (firstnamelastname.com); it is likely to be the first thing that comes up when people search your name.
- Create a UTube video of yourself doing a presentation related to your profession.
- Publish a book on Kindle which gives you an author page on Amazon, which both positions you as an authority in your field and ups your search ranking.
- If you feel you have to post personal information on the web, make it more difficult to access by using custom privacy settings.
- If people post things about you that you don’t like, politely ask them to remove the material.