Job Search Advice

Is Your Last Name Affecting Your Job Search?

 

What’s in a name? Apparently, if you’re job hunting, it can mean everything.

Implicit Biases

As a nation and as individuals, implicit biases inform every aspect of daily life, from which neighborhoods we’re willing to visit to our job hiring practices. A good job correlates directly to improved living conditions, happiness, health, and a plethora of other positive incentives. However, as a minority, obtaining a quality job in a country rooted in predominantly white history and culture can be tough. Even people who are white-identifying, but have an ethnic-sounding surname, face this problem: they receive less callbacks and less offers for interviews, despite their resumes clearly indicating they’re qualified for the job. Why?

Otherness and Race

This phenomenon has been studied extensively in academia, whereby surnames that fall outside of an established norm (i.e. a culture of whiteness) inevitably elicit a knee-jerk response of distrust and “otherness.” A study conducted in 2003, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, evidences this point.

In this study, fictitious resumes were sent out in response to wanted ads in Boston and Chicago. Each resume was rife with references, relevant experience, and deftness of form—the only difference was the name attached to each. Resumes had either stereotypical white-sounding names or stereotypical African-American names. The results were staggering.

For white-sounding names, callbacks for interviews occurred at a rate 50% greater than African-American names. And that wasn’t all: even when African-American names were attached to glowing resumes, they still received incredibly low levels of interest. White-sounding names attached to similarly stellar resumes received a 30% increase in callbacks. The conclusion? The amount of discrimination is uniform across all occupations and industries, and when an applicant has a white-sounding name, it is the equivalent of having eight more years of experience.

Unfortunately, phenomena haven’t changed since 2003. In 2014, another study was conducted that substantiated the findings of the 2003 study—proving that employers, in their hiring practices, are inferring something apart from race in a potential employee’s name.

In fact, it seems employers are making several assumptions based on preconceived notions about the cultures attached to ethnic-sounding surnames. When a white-sounding name is held as the golden standard, anything that falls outside of that realm finds itself faced with accusations of being unreliable, a less productive worker, or incompetent (i.e. an untrustworthy, “othered” individual). Certain ethnic names might carry with them the weight of assumed criminal responsibility, too, and be subject to excessive background checks or even more scrupulous Google searches for social media accounts.

Names Do Matter

In a culture like this, names are everything. Employers want the best candidate possible, and in that search, it is difficult, if not impossible, to detangle oneself from the web of preconceived notions and implicit biases that inform our culture of whiteness. As such, white-sounding names, names that are “easier to pronounce,” “more familiar,” and, most importantly, “non-other,”  unfortunately, take precedence, and equally talented minorities struggle to find a job they are more than qualified for.

Dr. Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Be Honest with Potential Employers to Manage Skeletons in Your Closet

Business Hand Shakes

(Photo Credit: Buzzle)

These days there’s too much competition for jobs to leave anything to chance.  You must make every effort to present yourself as responsible, professional and capable.  A background blemish like a poor driving record could force a potential employer to disregard your application, or to select another candidate, especially for a position that requires you to spend time behind the wheel of a vehicle.

Remember your driving lessons?  Or maybe you don’t, which is part of the problem.  Well, those instructions about defensive driving and avoiding moving violations were taught for a reason.  Those classes are intended to keep you and other motorists safe.

If you’re working a job with company safe-driving policies, any hint of irresponsible driving could make you an outsider.  Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this:

Understand your background check

Many companies will search criminal records and civil traffic records as part of a routine investigation before they hire you.  Criminal charges for reckless or impaired driving will obviously raise questions. Jobs that stress safe driving could raise issues with a history of multiple violations in a short period of time, however.

The Society for Human Resource Management notes many companies have a standard for “unacceptable” driving histories, which tends to include a suspended or revoked license, or “three or more moving violations in the past 36 months.”

You can get ahead of that by searching public records laws in the states where you live to gain a sense of the information available to employers and the general public.  You can also check with your local Department of Labor to see what information a potential employer can search.  These steps won’t erase a criminal charge or civil citation, but at least you’ll be prepared.

Some employers simply want to see if you’re honest.  U.S. News careers editor Jada A. Graves cites a 2013 study that showed 52% of employers said “they’d be more inclined to hire a candidate who disclosed a conviction before a background check revealed one.”

Learn the rules of the road

Scofflaws and routine traffic offenders do not inspire confidence in potential employers—not when they have a stack of applications from people with clean records.

Perhaps it’s time to do a little due diligence and let your next boss know you care.  Making mistakes in your youth is especially common.  In the U.S., where motor vehicle crashes is a leading cause of death among teens, plenty of entry level workers have repeat traffic violations on their records.  Sites like Driving-Tests.org provide free and interactive tests to understand traffic safety standards in greater depth to prepare drivers for DMV tests.

If you’re seeking a new job, try to view yourself through the eyes of your potential employer.  Show potential employers you have a grasp of your past and what you aim to do to be a more responsible person in the future.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison