International first name, avoiding of

In Mildred Culp’s syndicated “Business Matters” column, as found in the Palo Alto Daily News, 1/1/09, p. 15, she fields a query from “Hopeless”, who reports having “an excellent work history, but I have just not been getting any good hits off my resume”, and asks Culp to review the attached resume. Culp replies:

Before reading your resume, I considered possible discrimination because of your international first name. Consider using a middle name to job hunt [note very common back-formation] or first and middle initials followed by your last name.”

Culp goes on to say that the resume is

filled with writing errors, beginning with the lack of a comma between your city and state and an erroneous abbreviation of your state. Your writing marks you as a business outsider.

from which Culp disputes Hopeless’s claims to have “excellent communication … skills.”

On this second point, we don’t really have the information needed to judge Hopeless’s writing abilities, but Culp’s complaints seem minor (though I suppose I shouldn’t downplay employers’ passion for finding fault with resumes).

But the “international first name” stuff especially disturbs me. Culp is advocating “covering” a possibly non-mainstream-American identity by concealing the writer’s first name. That’s “covering” as in Kenji Oshino’s 2006 book of that name. Here’s Yoshino (p. 79) on gays, though the discussion applies, with some adjustments, to other “problematic” identities (female, Muslim, African-American, Hispanic, etc.):

… gays can cover along many axes.  I believe there are four. Appearance concerns how an individual presents herself to the world.  Affiliation concerns her cultural identifications.  Activism concerns how much she politicizes her identity.  Association concerns her choice of fellow travelers–lovers, friends, colleagues.  These are dimensions along which gays decide just how gay we want to be.

I do wonder what Culp would advise if Hopeless’s middle or last name (or both) is “international”. An alias? A legal name change? And what happens if Hopeless interviews for a job and “looks international”?

2 Responses to “International first name, avoiding of”

  1. SDT Says:

    I agree that the advice is disturbing and for two different reasons. First, it seems that the advice and the practice it recommends might have a tendency to perpetuate the prejudice against “international names” that seem to make it hard for Hopeless to get a job. Second, Hopeless may lose something that has value to him by suppressing a part of his identity.

    Obviously, there are times when such strategies make sense and time when they don’t. Barack Obama didn’t use his middle name much during the election campaign, but he is going to use it in the inauguration. Like Barack, each individual has to decide how to present themself.

  2. Mildred L. Culp Says:

    Both of you have misunderstood the reason for downplaying one’s international status on a resume. It’s easy to discriminate on that basis (or any other) when reviewing a resume and seeking excuses to reject candidates, less easy to do so face-to-face in an interview. In addition, if the interviewer is the least bit uncomfortable with internationals, he/she may discover in the interview that they are interesting people who bring something special to the table.

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