The Name Game

The Name Game

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“Should I change my name?”  he asked me.  It’s the type of question likely posed by someone going into hiding. Think witness protection program, or a celebrity checking into a hotel, trying to stay under the radar.

But in the resume game, changing one’s name has become a tactic for those seeking attention, those craving to get noticed.

I don’t have a common name, is the refrain I’m hearing more and more these days in my role as a career coach. Would changing my name improve the chances of me landing a job, or at the very least, an interview?  It is this question that I’m more than a little uneasy about. My heart, in fact, sinks when I hear it.

I was recently told a story of a graduate who changed her name (to a very common and familiar one) after several failed attempts at securing a desired position. As if seemingly on cue, she was interviewed and hired under her pseudonym at an ASX200 company. In what must have been a most awkward conversation, it took her a year to reveal her real name to her new employer.

Countless studies have borne out the claim that rational decision-making often shares the driver’s seat of our brains with some pretty silly biases, with more sensible considerations sometimes taking a back seat. People by nature are attracted to things familiar, and I’ve written before about this and other biases.  If you happen to share a name with the hiring manager’s child, do you imagine that would help or hinder the chances of your resume getting a little more attention?

So what’s the savvy job seeker to do? On one hand, transparency is the best policy when beginning a relationship, and bonds built in the world of business are certainly no exception to this rule.

On the other hand, while it’s true that a rose smells just as sweet under an alias, it’s just as true that names can cast a spell all their own.  Names are words, and it’s an unhappy, unfair fact that they can play games with the perceptions and biases of that person poring over a stack of resumes.

Knowing this, it’s hard to fault the applicant who submits her or himself under an alias in order to keep their resume in play, to get at least a fair hearing on their qualifications. You may be that highly qualified candidate, have industry experience, tertiary qualifications, a home loan to service, a family to feed and you have been out of work for four months. But you are also a name on a sheet of paper in that stack of 84 resumes atop someone’s desk. You want every edge you can find to stand out from the crowd.

In the end, that’s why this is such a wrenching choice for career coaches and job applicants alike. It’s because doing the right thing will in some cases mean they don’t get that job they’re after. Is that fair? Certainly not. But it is the reality. On a positive note, companies are catching on, recognising these biases and removing names, genders, addresses and photos from job applications to create a more level playing field.

So, what’s your verdict? Will you fudge your birth name to get a foot in the door, or will you wear your given name on your sleeve?

While a part of my career coaching has been focused on how to be more relatable, changing one’s name entirely seems to me a bridge too far. A foot in the door is all well and good, but best to start off on the right foot with a new employer. Assuming you’re not caught in the act of your deception by a potential employer (or worse, after you’re hired), the lie will likely follow you like a cloud around the office and potentially beyond. Understand also that a 5-minute Google search would be all that stands between you and the revelation of your falsified job application.

My advice: Own Your Name.  Or, as was wisely once said:  “Be yourself – everyone else is taken.”

Looking for more job and career tips & tricks? Keep an eye on my weekly blog.

Quote of the week: Familiar things are comfort to us all. Andy Rooney