After graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree from McGill University nearly a decade ago, I was excited to begin my job search for an entry-level position in the business world. After all, I had a degree from a prestigious school, spoke several languages and had solid work experience having held jobs throughout my studies. I was also open to any location within the greater Montreal area and was open to a low salary, as long as I could get a foot in the door, prove myself and work my way up the corporate ladder. After dozens of applications and not a single call for even a phone screening, I started wondering – what could be wrong with my resume or my cover letter? Why wasn’t a single potential employer interested in at least speaking with me?
I did consider the possibility that my Eastern European last name was not working in my favor, but kept pushing that thought aside. After all, we are in Montreal – a multicultural mecca, a world of equal opportunity. It was only a few years later, once I entered the recruitment field myself, that I realized that name-based discrimination was alive and well.
My direct boss in one of the positions I held upon graduation was teaching me how to pre-qualify resumes. “The ones with difficult-to-pronounce names go to the end of the pile. I call those only if I am absolutely desperate”, he told me.
A hiring manager of a publicly-owned corporation asked me to send her candidates with ‘local’ names. Confused, I asked her why a candidate’s name would make a difference for the position, if she had all the qualifications and was flawlessly bilingual in English and French. My soon-to-be former client was unable to give me a clear answer, but insisted that it was a criterion.
Although this is a sensitive topic that most recruiters hesitate answering truthfully, here is an honest answer for you. A ‘different sounding’ name is definitely an obstacle in a job search, especially for an entry level position.
What I recommend to my candidates that find themselves in the same position I did all these years ago, is to state their language proficiency in bold at the top of the resume. If your command of either English or French is flawless or that of near native proficiency, then you certainly want to make it clear and prominent. You should also call the hiring manager the day after submitting your application to follow up and showcase your communication skills. After all, this is how I got my ‘foot in the door’ and moved my resume up from the end of the pile.