Could your Name Make or Break your Resume?

You might be a newcomer to Canada or a well stayed immigrant knocking on possibilities to get into the job market in your skilled profession. You might understand the road would be bumpy to get what you are looking for considering that you have foreign credentials and your lack of Canadian Experience. But this could be fixed in time. You might consider taking some training and doing volunteer jobs to fill this gap.  While working on increasing your employability focusing on writing a resume that would stand out, one factor you might not consider to work for or against you is your name.

I was in the same boat a few years ago as a newcomer in Canada, Hamilton, Ontario. The first job search advice I got from a fellow immigrant was to shorten my long, difficult to pronounce name: Yehualashet. I didn’t listen. But after sending hundreds of applications with no positive outcomes, I have decided to research if my name on my resume have a role to play in getting me no interview invitations. The answer was a resounding yes. Here is what I found out.

A recent research reveals that one’s name might play a crucial role in granting her/him that long awaited interview call. The research conducted by Philip Oreopoulos , entitled ‘Why Do Immigrant Skilled Workers Struggle in the Labour Market? A Field Experiment with Six Thousand Resumes’ found out that applicants with English sounding names have a high probability of getting a call back over applicants with ‘ethnic’ sounding names.  Having a major objective of finding out which factors have more weight in determining Employers’ decisions to call an applicant, the study sent out 6000 resumes to job opening in the Toronto area purposefully diversifying the names (ethnic/ English sounding), education and work experience (Canadian vs. foreign ). 

When it is not at all surprising that employers give a lot of credit for Canadian experience than Canadian education, it is very astonishing that applicants’ names play also an important role. Call back rate for interviews dives down by 40 percent from a Canadian resume with an English sounding name (16%) to the same resume with an ethnic sounding name (11%). The gap can’t simply be ignored since unemployment rate is high among immigrants and educated immigrants are more likely to be underemployed, deskilled and work in low-paying jobs. The setback in having ethnic names is not only a concern for immigrants but other Canadians with ethnic names, who have hundred percent Canadian credential and experience. The study also showed that jobs that need more communication skills in speaking and writing are more likely to lead employers to put aside resumes with ethnic names. Employers tend to think that applicant with ethnic names might fall short in communicating in English or French even if it is clearly indicated on the resumes that the applicant is fluent speaker of one or two of the official languages. This demonstrates how racial discrimination works in the job market, making the employment equity statement on most vacancy ads an ideal shenanigan. reported a similar pattern in UK where undercover civil servants conducted the same kind of experiment. Applicant who appeared to be white have to send 9 application in average before getting a positive response while those with ethnic names have to do so at least 16 times. Sometimes back, similar results were also documented in US in a research that compared black vs white sounding names.

If Canada has to benefit from immigration, this issue should never be overlooked. Work is the first important aspect of integration that will benefit both the host country and the immigrant. Not only concerning the name issue, but also the general mindset of employers should be changed, which might be possible in different workplace diversity and inclusion training. Discrimination does not only hurt the person who is being discriminated against but the society in general by creating an alienated group, which in turn makes a fallacy in terms of why immigration is needed in the first place.  The solution for this of course should go deeper than proposing a nameless application for job openings. At a time like this challenged by the recession, the competition is high and dire. What this indicates is that if you are an immigrant job seeker, your personalized job search strategy might have to start at the very top of your resume. 

Yohana Otite

Yohana Otite is the co-founder of BornBlack and writers on issues that revolve around the intersection of race, gender and class. Yohana also manages the Hamilton DiverseCity onBoard program at Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion.

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