The ‘seat’ I don’t want at the resume table
Why hiding who you are on resumes will only get you jobs you hate
Don’t include political or religious affiliations. Stay away from organizations that are historically race-based. Never mention fraternities and sororities. Make your name and email address simple. Do not disclose if you’re a parent. Make sure the work and personal references have names that can easily be pronounced. This is the kind of advice I see on resume writing sites often, especially for Corporate America jobs. I’ve never followed any of it from ages 16 to 38, and I’ve worked for as many well-known companies as I have startups. Here’s why I refuse to hide who I am before the job interview.
Staying away from racial topics won’t stop racist bosses.
I have never had any interest in being in a black Greek organization. But if I was in the Divine Nine, there’s no way in the world I’d leave that off of a resume. These organizations are affiliated with a massive amount of fundraising and charitable events. Why downplay it?
I have, however, worked on political canvassing projects such as sign-ups for the Affordable Care Act. I’ve covered aldermen debates and local government fundraisers for startups. And I have no problem telling hiring managers or clients this. Do I understand why it’s controversial? Certainly. From working with mainstream newspapers, the goal (pre-Trump) was to have an unbiased opinion. So if I’m reporting on a topic all while ridiculing it on Twitter, I can understand the conflict of interest.
What’s not said enough is this: “Why would you want to work for an organization that goes against everything you believe politically, ethically and/or spiritually?” A bleeding heart Liberal is going to be unhappy working with a conservative-leaning team no matter what, just as a FOX News enthusiast will despise Democratic-leaning employees.
Additionally, why should employees hide their opinions when entirely too many racist bosses don’t hide theirs? While I’m generalizing here, I wholeheartedly believe it’d take me a lengthy amount of time to find an African-American employee who has not experienced some type of passive aggressive racism at work. Somewhere along the line, politics, religion and/or social justice news will come up — whether it’s a blabbermouth at the holiday party or some odd comment made during a conference meeting. But if applicants put more energy into jobs that back their personal and professional beliefs instead of applying to jobs that are completely against it, they will more often find themselves happier and wanting to stay at that job.
I don’t need you to like my name. Just learn to pronounce it.
Since I was 16, people are more confused when they hear my voice. As I’ve been told hundreds of times, the pronunciation of my name sounds French. Do they expect someone black? Always. But more often than not, they’re expecting a female Idris Elba as opposed to a Chicago native with a southern drawl. So my name is a bit tricky. I realize that. More importantly though, I don’t shy away from it; it’s been my website domain name since 2008 and I learned the hard way to never tell work professionals my nickname. If I do, they’ll avoid learning how to say my real name and keep introducing me to people by nickname.
There is a flood of content explaining that complicated names are often overlooked by hiring managers. But I often wonder why people are so upset with the small-minded hiring manager who skipped them. If this person is that obsessed with a three-or-four syllable name versus one-to-two syllables, you can pretty much guess what it’s like working for this team or company.
During my time in Corporate America, the one time I went to an interview with a woman who clearly wasn’t into my name, we talked for 10 minutes. The eye roll when I repeated my name to her and the finger tip handshake she gave me was all the information I needed. I thanked the receptionist (who said it correctly) and typed an email before I got to the elevator. I turned the job down before I even knew if I was hired. If you’re oddly uncomfortable during the job interview, expect even more discomfort as an employee. And don’t overlook international clients for work-from-home jobs. From my own experience working with clients in Singapore, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Cairo, they couldn’t care less what my name is. They just want to know if I can do the job.
The reference list tells a lot about you — or not.
I hadn’t thought much about the pattern of work and/or professional references until I encountered a former work friend (black and female) who was desperately trying to find a new job. This was a focal point of every one of our conversations. I’m not sure why, but somehow I ended up seeing her resume. I noticed that all of her references, including professionals, were older white men. The names were “safe” and “simple.”
I doubt I would have cared about this, but I’d just recently had two 20-something white, male colleagues ask me to be a reference for them. I agreed immediately. I couldn’t have been more elated when one of the two got a job after my recommendation.
When I asked her, “What made you never ask me to be a work reference or a personal one?” she paused. She stumbled. She stuttered. She tersely said, “I don’t know” and changed the subject. Now whether she really did know why she never chose me as a reference is a question only she can answer.
A name like mine could’ve certainly “soiled” her resume and gave away what was otherwise a pretty bland, safe two-pager. But I was still left wondering why two of my white, male colleagues had absolutely no problem using the same name. My work experience didn’t change. My mid-level management position didn’t change. And I was going to give them a glowing review regardless. But have job applicants gotten so paranoid about getting the job that even the work references have to be as simple as the applicant’s name? I’m not sure. Again, I ask, is this really the job you want?
Everyone has a mom, but employers don’t want you to.
I am not a mother — by choice — but I have heard so many stories I lost count regarding the parenthood debate. Women who are currently pregnant and don’t disclose it risk being laid off because employers don’t want to deal with maternity leave. New mothers risk losing out on jobs because of suspected absences. And women without children altogether? They get weird looks too. Apparently no man wants them and they have a house full of cats. Women just can’t win.
The gig economy and work-from-home jobs have made it much easier to get a seat at the work table without having to hide one’s children. (Please stop putting them on video conferencing though. You’re still “at work” even when you’re home.) While I still believe a company’s staff that shuns women for having children — all while posting photographs of their own moms and shamelessly tweeting about Mother’s Day — are hypocrites, similar to charitable organizations and social justice groups, I think applicants should disclose this early on, too. Anti-mom employers get entirely too much attention even though there are plenty of other companies who fully understand how parenthood works. If it says “family friendly” or “work-life balance” in the job description, that’s a pretty good indicator.
While it is largely up to each individual applicant to decide what (s)he will and won’t disclose, before submitting that resume, consider this: You’ve dodged your political views, racial views, social justice concerns, family and even the name on your birth certificate. You have the job interview. It went well. Now you’re hired. But after you got that seat at the table from erasing your entire existence, do you even respect your tablemates?
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